First published back in Mark of 2017, US author Mike Duke’s novella ‘Warm, Dark Places Are Best’ set out to burrow its way under the readers’ skin, with a story of phobia-inducing insectile horror.

DLS Synopsis:
Ever since the workplace accident that ended in Carl breathing in a caustic chemical gas, Carl had been on a fixed disability payment, with only a minimal payoff for the lifelong problems he’d been suffering.  And now that his wife, Jessica, had been made redundant, money was getting increasingly tight.

In the end they’d been forced to move to a new apartment block.  The rent was cheap, and even before they entered their apartment, they could see why.  The hallways were swarming with cockroaches.  The residents just seemed to put up with the presence of the roaches.  The local kids, sitting around burning the vile insects for the sheer sadistic fun of it.

However, much to their delight, Carl and Jessica realise that their apartment is surprisingly devoid of the cockroaches.  Although not exactly a luxurious apartment to move into, at least it seemed to have escaped the infestation that was plaguing the hallways, just meters away from their front door.

After a long, exhausting move, the two collapse in bed.  But their first sleep in their poky new apartment is far from the restful one the young couple had hoped for.  Carl is woken with the sensation of something crawling over his skin.  With the lights off, he’s unable to see what it is.  However, from grasping the night-time intruder, he gets an idea of its form.  Perhaps three inches in length, narrow, and teaming with writhing legs; there’s no doubt that the thing scurrying across him as they slept was a centipede.

The idea of it freaks Carl out.  He’s never been that good with insects.  But having a centipede invading their home - their homely sanctuary - makes Carl squirm all over.

Unfortunately for them, there’s a lot more lurking in their new apartment than just one three inch centipede.  Those bastards grow big…

DLS Review:
Mike Duke’s principal mission with his novella was to make you squirm from the inside out.  In fact, Duke declares this very declaration of war in his Afterword.  In writing ‘Warm, Dark Places Are Best’ he tells us, he “strived to make it as experimental and plausible as possible”.  He wanted us to feel like it could easily be one of us that this horrific sequence of events is happening to.  In essence, Duke aimed to make it so we were forced into the shoes of Carl or Jessica.

But why would he want his dear beloved readers to go through a gut-churning, squirm-inducing experience?  Well, that my friends, is one of those fundamental aspects of horror that has (almost) been diluted away over the years.  So many of us have become desensitised to horror.  Nothing makes us feel properly repelled any more.  So very little truly gets under our skin these days.

If that very notion’s not throwing the gauntlet down for a horror author, then I don’t know what will.  And so Mike Duke, a man who knows a thing or two about toying with his readers’ senses, has cooked up a pretty goddamn messed-up premise for how to get our brows sweating and our pulses thumping with absolute, undiluted terror.

And the secret rests within insects.  Well, more precisely, fuck-off-big centipedes known as Scolopendra Gigantean.  I’m pretty sure most of you will agree that these nasty little beasties are firmly embedded in the stuff of nightmares.  Yeah, there’s something inherently unpleasant about scuttling, biting insects at the best of time.  Let alone when the bastards get a good foot or so long.

Duke’s capitalised on such a universal phobia like a sadistic son-of-a-bitch with a hard-on for unpleasant torture.  He’s zeroed-in on the absolute worst possible scenarios involving these nauseating critters, and woven these twisted nightmares into his delightful little tale.

What’s more, as Duke said at the very start of his Afterword, his plan was to throw us right in there too.  Make us feel the squirm, biting, slithering horror every step of the way.  Make us step into the shoes of Carl or Jessica and experience the vileness first-hand, rather than be a mere spectator to it all.  As such, Duke’s quite purposefully made both his principal characters somewhat non-descript.  They’re painted as just run-of-the-mill individuals.  Nothing that will make either stand out too much.  No features of personality traits that’ll scream out at you as being purely ‘Carl’ or ‘Jessica’.

The end result is a very careful juggling game.  Characterisation obviously suffers.  Neither Carl nor Jessica will leave much of a lasting impression on you.  But instead of this, we’re given a carefully guided shove into their skin.  Given the overall scenario - something that could in most cases happen to almost every one of us - it’s incredibly easy to simply let Duke have his sadistic way.  And should you do so, should you allow Duke to pull you into his twisted tale, then you’re going to be in for one hell of a squirmfest.

For those who remember that classic urban legend from the early 2000’s, often referred to as ‘Susy DeLucci and the Miracle of Life’, then expect some very similar gut-churning, squirm-inducing horror.  Like with an early Shaun Hutson novel, Duke’s novella’s gone for a handful of standout scenes designed purely to push you over the edge.  Those moments that will often haunt you come a week, a month, maybe even a year later.  Often the memory of them will come back at the most unlikely of times, triggered by something going on in your real life.  And that haunting memory of what you’ve read in Duke’s tale will always be there.  Lingering in your subconscious.  Ready to mess with your head time and time again.

As you’d expect, Duke doesn’t go into his story with all guns blazing from the outset.  Indeed, these nasty-as-hell scenes are gradually unveiled, each one that much worse than the last.  It’s almost like a challenge to keep reading.  You thought that last little escapade was bad did you?  You aint seen nothing yet motherfucker.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Yes this is a horror story, and yes, it’s designed to get you squirming in your seat like you’ve got worms pouring out of your arse.  But this isn’t extreme horror.  There’s absolutely no blood and guts or visceral gore in there – well, except for the odd cockroach and centipede that meets a rather tasteless end.  Instead this is all about attacking YOUR senses.  Getting under YOUR skin.  It’s 80’s pulp horror reborn, remade, and let loose upon the unsuspecting public once again.

This really is the sort of horror story that absolutely all readers of the genre will get something out of.  It’s fast-paced and entertaining.  There’s no beating around the bush or pretentiousness in it.  This is straight-up, raw-as-hell horror with fucking thousands of writhing insectile legs scurrying around its pages.

Duke knows what he wants out of his tale.  He’s got his mind set squarely on his one objective.  And that’s to get under your skin.  To get you squirming.  To get your heart racing and sweat beading on your brow.  And by the end of the novella I’m pretty damn confident that most of you will be saying “fair do’s” to Mike Duke.  “You’ve pulled off one nasty slice of living hell.”

You sadistic bastard you.

The novella runs for a total of 102 pages.

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