Garden of Fiends by Mark Matthews

First the Man takes the Drink,

Then the Drink takes the Drink

Then the Drink takes the Man.

The goal of GARDEN OF FIENDS: TALES OF ADDICTION HORROR is to shine the light on the dark truths of addiction through works of fiction. What happens inside these stories are true, even if they didn’t happen. Each story is a piece of fiction, with characters navigating through the world of drugs and alcoholic, but each story also represents some deeper truth of the internal struggles of an addict.

When putting together the anthology, I wanted the insidious nature of addiction to be showcased in all its gory details, but with a sincere empathy for the plight of the addict. As a recovering addict myself, I wanted Garden of Fiends to reflect a world I have come to know so well.

Here’s a summary of what I think each story says about addiction:



There are so many dynamics of this story that understand the mind of an alcoholic. The unquenchable thirst. The constant searching and yearning for alcohol to avoid living with what they’ve become, followed by a heavy and constant sadness that only leads drinking more. And of course, the damage that is created follows an alcoholic like a specter, haunting the alcoholic and always just a few steps behind. A Wicked Thirst is vintage Kealan Patrick Burke, and I am so honored to have it featured as the lead story for the anthology.



Heroin addicts have their own subculture. There is a tone and a language to their life, and it is best captured by transgressive and shocking fiction, for anything less would fall short. Jessica McHugh did not submit this tale for publication. I was doing research about Addiction Horror Fiction, and came across the Green Kangaroos, and was so happy when she agreed to have this stand-alone excerpt be planted in the Garden. This story captures the abject horror of the life of a heroin addict, with body horror and flesh that is for sale in order to get the next high. The story plays like background music, thumping and thumping, pounding into the readers’ head the thoughts and lifestyle of a dope fiend. And I use ‘fiend’ in all its gory glory, for to crave something illegal, one must become a fiend in order to satisfy the urges.



My own entry into the anthology is a homage to parents of opiate addicts who are always waiting for that phone call hearing their child has overdosed. Who pray that their child can somehow maintain recovery.  In the nightmare featured here, one father watches his daughter continually get triggered to relapse by her boyfriend. Most parents would do anything to protect their child from such a fate, and the father in Garden of Fiends does what he can, takes ‘out’ her boyfriend, and thinks he has ‘cut out’ her disease. Instead he has made it spread, and pretty soon, addicts all over Detroit are trying to get his daughter high. This story tells the truth of the horrors parents face, and about the sacrifices they make.



A short tale, that lovingly and wittingly demonstrates how many addicts get started as a fad or by that slightly odd friend of theirs. Once they get a taste of the high, they dive in head over heels, yet are certain they can quit anytime (and they do, until Thursday). This piece of flash fiction summarizes the lies that addicts tell themselves about quitting someday while their lives are destroyed.



While addiction is a sickness that feeds on itself and exists in its own right, so often substances are used as a way to avoid other types of pain and hurt. Getting high becomes a way to keep away other demons, which can be trauma, loss,  grief. In Torment of The Fallen, Heroin is used to combat actual demons, and this has torn a family apart and made a teenage girl live as an outcast, until she finally visits her dad, with pack of heroin in hand.



“Last Call” features an alcoholic who I know so well. This is the sad-sack alcoholic, full of self-pity, who often shows up at AA meetings drunk. It is there he may get berated by his sponsor out of frustration and multiple failed chances, which only makes him drink more and wallow in self-disgust.  Then he gets desperate to get sober at all costs, and, in the case of “Last Call”, we learn the dangers of trying to take a short cut to sobriety. This is such a great story by a writer who is partially responsible for the birth of this whole anthology.



Jack Ketchum didn’t write this story to serve as the perfect closure to Garden of Fiends, but sometimes I pretend he did. When a ghost shows up to see his lover alive but drinking herself to death, he ponders on his purpose in being summoned to that moment. It has to be something besides just watching her implode, right?   This story is about boundaries, about learning what we are responsible for, and what we are not responsible for, and how nothing can stop an alcoholic from self-destruction, as sad and tragic as it is to witness.  The reader, like the ghosts in this story, learn similar lessons, and when the page is closed, we move on, while those inside the book continue to suffer.


The best way to tell the truth is in a story, and these stories are filled with some horrific truths. You are invited to see for yourself. Spend some time in the Garden of Fiends.


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