‘Orphans of Bliss’ and the Final Fix of Addiction Horror

Horror author and licensed counselor Mark Matthews writes about addiction horror and his three anthologies.

Why addiction horror? Horror is most powerful when it reveals a larger truth about the world we live in. To hear about the nature of addiction in a story, to put readers into the body, brain, and spirit of the person with addiction as it morphs into something horrific, makes the larger crisis more personal than simply citing statistics. Just as many (if not more) people will die of an opioid overdose in the time it takes to read these three addiction horror anthologies [Lullabies for Suffering; Garden of Fiends; Orphans of Bliss] than actually die in the books. Horror shines a revealing light onto the demons, the dark truths of addiction, in a manner no other genre can. In this way, it can lead to a deeper understanding of addiction and offers compassion for the person who is sick and suffering. As Joe Hill so aptly noted, “Horror is not about extreme sadism, it’s about extreme empathy.” As a recovering alcoholic and addict, I’ve lived through this. As a substance abuse therapist, I see it on a daily basis.

Empathy and understanding for those who have lived with such afflictions has been one of my requirements for inclusion in these anthologies. The last thing I want to do is stigmatize addiction; rather, I hope to illuminate its impact and increase awareness. Until you’ve had your mind and soul hijacked by addiction, it is difficult to comprehend. In the throes of a craving, the desire to obtain and use substances equals the drive for survival itself. It’s a statement of the perseverance and power of the human spirit that people continue to fight, and recovery from addiction is something to celebrate. Horror as a genre is a testimony to this ferocity of the human spirit that faces our demons.

In all, 15 different writers contributed to the three analogies. A few writers appear in all three, including Kealan Patrick Burke, who has the lead story in each, and Gabino Iglesias, who was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for his work in Lullabies for Suffering. In Orphans of Bliss, Iglesias creates a dystopian world in which the government banishes those who are hooked on drugs, while making sure it infects the most disenfranchised.

I was ecstatic to include fiction from the legendary Kathe Koja, as well as stories from S.A. Cosby, Josh Malerman, and Caroline Kepnes. As she did in her novel You, Kepnes uses her mastery of second-person point of view in her story “Monsters,” as the legacy and stigma of addiction spreads through generations.

Many stories are told from the perspective of family and loved ones who are impacted by addiction, rather than the substance user themselves. Cassandra Khaw’s work in Orphans of Bliss is from the perspective of an adult haunted by the ghost of her substance-abusing father. In Jack Ketchum’s story, the protagonist is a ghost who returns to witness his grieving partner drown in alcohol and neglect a beloved cat.

Addiction comes in all forms, not only to substances. In John F.D. Taff’s cosmic “The Melting Point of Meat,” the high comes from the painful release of endorphins after self-harm. Samantha Kolesnik’s story is about the perpetual obsession with shopping and consumption. The cycle is the same— the craving for a bliss that eventually fails to deliver what it once gave freely, and then delivers its opposite.

I am not the anthologies’ only writer in recovery. Christa Carmen is another, and she tells the hellacious story, which is one of the greatest of the series, of a person with addiction desperately trying to recover. Other writers in the anthologies include Johann Thorsson, an Icelander with a fantastic piece of flash fiction; Glen Krisch, who wrote heroin-fueled Halloween folklore; and Mercedes Yardley, who wrote a heartbreaking story that was the perfect ending to Lullabies for Suffering.

I saved my own short story for last in Orphans of Bliss, the funeral for these monsters of the human heart. But nothing ever stays dead for long in horror. Addiction will live on and devastate well behind these pages, but so will those who fight the horror.

Horror has the capacity to speak to trauma in a unique fashion, and when readers journey through tales of trauma, it binds us together as if we’re part of a family, no longer living alone with our fears. Franz Kafka said that “books are the axe for the frozen sea within us,” and to take that a step further, books can be the axe for the frozen seas that separate us. That’s what I hope these books do: bring people together through increased understanding and awareness, since there’s no better way to tell a dark truth than through a dark work of horror.

*1-800-662-4357 (HELP) is a free, confidential treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing substance use disorders.*

Mark Matthews is a graduate of the University of Michigan and a licensed professional counselor who has worked in behavioral health for over 20 years. He is the author of On the Lips of Children, All Smoke Rises, and Milk-Blood, as well as the editor of Lullabies for Suffering, Garden of Fiends, and Orphans of Bliss. In June of 2021, he was nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. His most recent novel, The Hobgoblin of Little Minds, was published in January 2021. Reach him at WickedRunPress@gmail.com.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing