Allusionary Assembly

The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

Review: The Dark Sire Magazine edited and published by Bre Stephens

Review: The Dark Sire Magazine edited by Bre Stephens

The Dark Sire is a quarterly online and print magazine for short fiction, poetry, and art in the darker fantasy, horror, Gothic, psychological, and magical realism genres. As the title indicates, it is not opposed to vampire stories, which many publications shy away from these days.

The first issue debuted on Halloween, 2019 and featured 4 short stories, 6 poems, 2 works of art, and 2 novel serializations. My favorite of the short stories was “Grave” by W. C. Mallery, which was a Gothic tale inspired by the actor Christopher Lee. It provided a nice introduction to The Dark Sire’s aesthetic. I must say Gina Easton’s grisly “Tainted Love” stays with me, though, in a shudder-filled way. My favorite part of this issue, though, is Sarah Brown Wetzman’s introspective and beautiful poem, “Vampyre.” She uses lyrical insight to plumb the depths of the vampiric condition. 

Of course, after reading such an intriguing first issue, I was compelled to read the second edition released in January, 2020. At 91 pages, The Dark Sire’s Winter issue featured 5 short stories, 4 poems, 3 pieces of art, and 2 book serializations from authors and artists in the US, UK, and Finland. 

Kettering Hall by John Kiste is a humorous Gothic short story with hints at a rich back story and invites further installments. Carl Hughes’ The Mask features graphic justice. My favorite story was Amanda Crum’s allusive “A Metamorphosis.” Also included are author David Crerand and artist Paula Korkiamiki. 

Poets published in this issue include Bartholomew Barker, Ethan McGuire, and Clay Hunt, with my favorite of this issue, C. Christine Fair with “A Brother’s Revenge.”

Brenda Stephens and S.M. Cook’s serialized novels conclude The Dark Sire for the quarter, leaving readers hungry for Spring and the newest edition. 

To subscribe to the online publication or submit stories, poetry, or artwork that follows the darker vein, go to or or if you prefer physical copies to collect, they are for sale at the website or on Amazon.

Book Review: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Book Review: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Told in cell phone records, photographic and video evidence, clinical notes, and first person narrative, Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall presents an absorbing, scary story. Teens headed by a grieving sister undertake the potentially deadly journey along a mysterious “road” that only appears once a year. There are rules to survive the experience, though, rules many of them break. But Sara’s determined to find her sister, the beloved Becca, who disappeared on a similar journey the previous year. The group encounters perils and horrors along the way. Some prove their inner strength, loyalty, and bravery. Others face personal guilt. Friendship and love sees some of them to the end of the mysterious road.

Riddled with references to a myth from Brittany but with the feel of a modern urban legend, Rules for Vanishing is cinematic in its approach to story telling. The imagery is as lasting as it is disturbing. I couldn’t help rooting for the main character, Sara. I found myself baffled by some of the decisions of the group, but people in such an extreme circumstance make questionable decisions. 

This well-written book leaves questions and an obvious open-end that promises further journeys, be they along Y’s mythical road or populated with its pitiful inhabitants.

Book Review: Green Angel written by Alice Hoffman

Book Review: Green Angel written by Alice Hoffman

In this charming novella (the story’s told in about 120 pages), Alice Hoffman weaves poetry and repetition into a tale of survivor’s guilt and personal reconciliation. It follows Green, a fifteen year old who resents being left behind when the rest of her family traveled to the city. Green tended the garden instead of wishing them a successful journey. When she takes lunch atop a hill that overlooks her family’s destination, she witnesses a disaster. Someone set the place ablaze. Ash coated everything. Smoke blocked out the sunlight. Despair blighted Green’s heart when she realized her family would never return. However, this resourceful young woman recreates herself and helps many others along the way. 

Alice Hoffman’s magical interpretation of emotion, her grasp of parallels in nature and life’s events, and her lyrical language make a potentially sad story truly beautiful. In the final acknowledgements, I was touched to discover the author donated her portion of the profits from the book’s sales to The New York Women’s Foundation.

Esurient Mine

Our friend Charli Mills at issued a new challenge. Write a 99 word story including “tap.” I hope you’ll like mine. Mine. heehee. (You’ll see.) She’s promised some “PoeTree” next month, which should be great fun as well.

And, of course, Happy St. Patty’s to you all!

Esurient Mine

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

“We’re lost!” Tears bubbled into Layla’s trembling words.

Craig studied his chalkmark. They’d passed it twice already. Lost, indeed.

“Why’d we come here? There’s no treasure.” She slid to the hard ground. Stone snagged her long hair as though hungry for her touch. “Nobody even knows we’re here.”

“Shh, what’s that?”

She sniffed to silence and heard it. Tapping, alluring as the Pied Piper’s song.

She whispered, “Is it a miner?”

He shrugged. “Maybe.” 

They followed. Better to accept their punishment for trespassing than die lost in the mine. 

Knock, tap, tap. They followed deeper into the longing darkness. 

Clarice Vance in Court

Charli Mills and the Rough Writers are at it again, issuing the challenge to write a concise piece of writing using 99 words and a prompt. This week’s prompt: Clarice. Any Clarice. Real or fictional. I forewent Hannibal’s friend and instead went with an American Vaudeville and silver screen actress. I hope you’ll enjoy the story, and I do hope you’ll try your hand at a 99 word piece of writing. If you do, please let me know so I can cheer you on!

Clarice Vance in Court

written by Kerry E.B. Black in 99 words in answer to the weekly challenge put forth by friends at

Miss Kingston represented Mendel Kingston during the court case.

At over six feet, Clarice Vance commanded the courtroom. Her rich voice reverberated. “Your Honor, Mendel Kingston’s cloak material is a blatant copy of my famed dress’s material.” Clarice spun slowly. Mirrored material accented her waspish waist and full, jeweled bodice.

Miss Kingston objected. “My father invented that material over forty years ago. Back then, ‘flirtation numbers’ used hand mirrors to reflect the spotlight, so Papa designed the material to imitate that.”

Clarice smiled. “In 1870?”

Miss Kingston smirked. “Yes.”

“Well, the first spotlights were Jablachkoff Candles. Used in Paris. In the early 1880’s.”

Clarice won her case.

Book Review: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring

Book Review: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring

The Tenth Girl begins as an interesting Gothic-type tale set in an elite South American boarding school. The young teacher, Mavi, provides one P.O.V. A spirit named Angel provides another. The timeline jumps around, and there is a significant, and for many confusing, twist at the end. In fact, unless the reader is familiar with certain “lingo,” none of the early clues and foreshadowing will be easily interpreted. Additionally, this is not a “fast read.”

Fair warning: This story includes pedophilia, human sacrifice, and sexual assault. Also, to preserve the surprise at the end, don’t peek at the naked cover!

Book Review: Dear Laura by Gemma Amor

Book Review: Dear Laura by Gemma Amor

This novella is meant to disturb, and it succeeds. 

Told in the third person, limited perspective, the tale of an obsessed killer and a grieving, confused young girl fluidly jumps from past to present. The story feels like a bit of a gut-punch, which is a testimony to the author’s ability.

Poor Laura is a bit of a latch-key kid, but the lifestyle didn’t impede her. She’s a sweet girl, a good student, and as she turned thirteen, she and her childhood best friend Bobby began to “go steady.” On their way to school one day, Laura witnessed Billy’s abduction. Shortly there after, the grieving friend receives a letter from Bobby’s abductor. In exchange for information about her friend, the “pen pal” X demands a deeply personal item from Laura. 

The abductor manipulates Laura year after year, dropping a letter around her birthday. He stalks her into her adulthood and crushes any bursts of self-possession. After years of living in terror, the letters stop, and Laura allows herself to fall in love with a man, marry, and bare a son. As a middle-aged woman, Laura receives another letter, and this one threatens her son. Laura interprets the clues in the letters to finally confront her tormentor and find closure.

The limited perspective feels claustrophobic, which gives a glimpse of the anxiety Laura experiences. Her secrets distance her from everyone around. Her connection with X and by extension Bobby and her own lost childhood consume her. Sadness, guilt, and terror shroud her until she at last finds her way “always on, and never back.”

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Oh my gosh, let me wipe the mascara from beneath my eyes before I begin. 

Yes, if you read this book, there will be tears. It is, indeed, profoundly moving.

A boy named Conor struggles with the complicated and powerful feelings. His mother’s undergoing treatments for a serious illness (probably cancer). His father’s absent, his only school friend betrayed him, and the kids at school mostly act as though he’s contagious (except the polished bully, Harry, and Harry’s two cronies). Even the teachers treat him differently, and he and his posh Grandma (with whom he must live while his Mum’s at the hospital) don’t exactly get along. Conor is alone in his grief, unable to process how everyone else can carry on with life as though nothing was wrong. His days blur in a shrouded, gray loneliness until, at 12:07AM, a yew tree becomes a monster who comes for a call. The monster tells Conor three stories and demands a fourth from the boy, a story that may save the boy’s life. 

Stories, the boy wonders. Why, when there are so many important things to deal with, would this ancient being with more names than there are years to time itself tell stories, and why would it need Conor’s? “Stories are the wildest things of all,” the monster rumbled. 

Facing the mortality of a loved one is life-altering for anyone. For a child, especially if the death is of a parent, the experience is a monster.

A Monster Calls is beautifully written. It pulls the readers in and holds them in a strangle hold of emotion. It shows “there is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.” and “Many things that are true feel like a cheat.” Most of all, it shows how complicated and important it is to tell the truth. The deep-down, personal truth.

My copy was illustrated by Jim Kay in atmospheric black-and-white. Patrick Ness and the publishers at Candlewick Press drew inspiration for the book from Siobhan Dowd’s original four books. There’s a heart-felt introduction by Patrick Ness explaining Dowd’s quartet of superb books. She intended to write the fifth, but she died before she could. “…the thing about good ideas is they grow other ideas,” said Ness, and so he took up the challenge to complete the series.

I’ve not yet read those first books by Siobhan Dowd, but I intend to, and I will read more by Patrick Ness. I’ll be forewarned, however, to keep tissues on hand.

Book Review: Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwedolyn Kiste

Book Review: Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste

This charming novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste, leaves me with a warm smile. This clever, creepy story has a lot of heart.

The Marys of urban legends and nursery tales form a sort of family that stands together against an approaching darkness that threatens to consume them. 

The main character, Rhea or “Resurrection Mary,” haunts a stretch of highway. She collects the “fear energy” expelled by those she frightens when they offer her a ride and she disappears or transforms into something frightening. This “fear energy” is combined with what her sisters have collected, and the Marys feast in their dawn to dusk spirit home.

Five Marys in one house, each with her own personality, require their own nick names. Five Marys who collect fear energy from the living in her own way. There’s Mistress Mary who’s Quite Contrary whose flowers are deadly. There’s Bloody Mary who appears in a mirror when called upon. There’s sweet “Miss Mary Mack” who apparently is dressed in black with silver buttons down the back because she’s preparing for her eventual funeral. And not to be forgotten is the liquor-loving, horse-skull carrying Mari Lwyd (In Welsh folklore, this hobby horse is brought out to celebrate at Christmas).

Although time works differently in the land of the dead, several of the Marys form friendships with the living. These folks can be counted on to call upon their Marys, because who doesn’t want a little scare now and then? However, when the darkness takes substance, the Marys must unravel the mystery of their origins to save themselves from perpetual, tear-filled sleep.

This story harkens to the Gothic joy of “The Addams Family.”  It channels Tim Burton’s darkly nostalgic sweetness. And yet it is all and beautifully Gwendolyn Kiste.

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