“The stench of decaying children was palpable.”
That’s the opening line of my short story “Lex Talionis,” one of the eighteen tales in the new anthology Inferno, inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Released December 5th, Inferno was guided by editors Stephanie Ellis and Alyson Faye, both outstanding writers themselves.
I’d say “Lex Talionis” is my darkest short story to date, although “Birthday Boy” in Issue 1 of Cross+Decay magazine is a strong contender for the title. But only one baby died in “Birthday Boy.”
Stories about the death of children and babies are not fun to write for me, which is why they’re my most serious works. “Birthday Boy” is an exploration of how far a man will go to see his dead wife again. In “Lex Talionis,” I channeled my feelings about humanity and its institutions.
“Lex Talionis” is definitely the most difficult story I’ve ever written for two reasons. The first reason: one of the editors is Stephanie Ellis, an author whose poetry and prose often leave me in awe. The second reason: Ellis was exceptionally generous enough to extend me an invite to write for the Inferno anthology.
Talk about pressure.
I’ve read much of Ellis’s work, including her poetry collections and novels Asylum of Shadows and Bottled. They’re first-rate. Honestly, my initial thought when she sent me the invite for Inferno was to politely decline because I’m not a high-concept or literary writer. I mean I love stories about inbred hillbilly redneck cannibals who live off the grid and prey on unsuspecting campers. The 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes is my favorite horror movie of all time.
Ellis writes stunningly vivid poetry and equally powerful prose in the gothic and folk subgenres of horror. Me? I recently finished writing a short story about two priests named Father Rick and Father Astley trying to perform an exorcism on Halloween night (and yes, I work in the phrase “never gonna give you up” into the dialogue). Yeah, I’m that guy who still lives in the 1980s in his head.
So, when I accepted the invite to write a story for Inferno, I immediately felt nervous, knowing I had to step up my game. Dante wasn’t exactly light reading. Then I started seeing all the authors Ellis rounded up for the anthology: C.C. Adams, V. Castro, Cassie Daley, Alyson Faye, Shannon Felton, Kev Harrison, Irene Lofthouse, Lynn Love, Robert Allen Lupton, RJ Meldrum, G.A. Miller, TC Parker, Charlotte Platt, Daniel R. Robichaud, David Shakes, and Steve Stred. Plus the phenomenal Hailey Piper penned a beautifully written foreword for the book.
And the pressure mounted.
In my panicked state, I felt a strong urge to go dark and go deep. Thus, “Lex Talionis,” my attempt at gothic and folk horror, was born. I turned in the first version, and editors Ellis and Faye sent it back with several suggested revisions. Every one of their edits and suggestions made my story resonate more emotionally. It was an awesome learning experience for me.
And I hope Inferno is an awesome reading experience for you.
Here’s the Amazon description of Inferno: “Join us if you dare and step into Dante’s Inferno. Dive through his Nine Circles of sin and see what happens when you succumb to temptation and let your inner demons escape. Here are stories of the condemned and the damned.”
Inferno is available on Amazon at the link HERE.