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Soft Targets Is Gripping Psychological Horror

Carson Winter’s novella Soft Targets is a dark, gripping page-turner that explores mental illness and society’s obsession with tragedy. Winter’s novella is suspenseful, thought–provoking, unpredictable, and chilling psychological horror from the first page to the last.

Soft Targets is relatable to anyone who has been trapped in the 9 to 5 grind confined to a cubicle, doing a job that puts money in everyone else’s pocket but your own and left you feeling drained at the end of the day. Winter’s story starts out like a diary entry, written in a natural, conversational style. The narrator talks about his dreary job in data entry and a friendship he’s developed with a co-worker named Ollie who shares his macabre sense of humor. Every day, they meet for lunch and to break up the monotony of the day, by discussing twisted scenarios in detail such as what it would be like if there was a mass shooting in the office.

The characters are two relatable people that live a very average life. However, considering how creative they are and the deep philosophical conversations they have, they aren’t average people— they perceive things in a different way than most other people. Therefore, the dreary two-dimensional job isn’t satisfying. Their macabre sensibility is relatable to someone who loves horror and has an interest in true crime.

A shot of a dark shadowy office cubicle.

Winter knows how to create mystery and suspense. Ollie is a mysterious figure. There are many things that the narrator notices about him that create more questions about him. However, the narrator leaves Ollie to his business and doesn’t pry into his personal life. Eventually, they decide to pool their money together and move into their own apartment. After the narrator and Ollie move in together, everything is great at first. However, after they host a party for their co-workers, Ollie becomes more mysterious. 

Even after moving in together, the narrator describes them living separate lives under one roof. So, the narrator has moved in with a co-worker he didn’t know well. It reminded me of the many stories featured in true crime docuseries, where someone befriends a co-worker that they barely know to find out that the person is mentally unstable. Throughout, there’s a foreshadowing that something significant does happen and the narrator is telling the story afterward. I wanted to read on to find out.

Soft Targets is an unpredictable story with clever twists and turns. It becomes more fantasy than horror or crime thriller when Winters presents an interesting and creative scenario to ponder. Ollie and the narrator shake up their dreary existence by fantasizing about violence. What if there were rips or holes in the time-space continuum? What if reality does ebb and flow like a tide? What if like Phil Conners in the film Groundhog Day, you could relive a day over again with a fresh start—a clean slate as if nothing happened? Would you kill your condescending corporate brown-nosing boss if you could? Would it be satisfying if you could do anything you wanted to do for one day a week or one day a month? Could you cross the line and do the unthinkable if it meant that there would be no consequences? Even if you could use this one day every now and then to vent, would it make a dreary existence more bearable?

What’s the big deal, right? Everything just gets erased and the next day it’s like nothing happened. However, Winters illustrates that when the violence that they fantasize about becomes too real, it’s not satisfying. It does affect them. Sometimes people become fascinated by tales of true crimes, and maybe they believe that they can relate to mass shooters or serial killers. Sometimes, the media sensationalizes these stories to the point where it makes the perpetrators of these crimes larger-than-life figures. Then, comes the inevitable books and movies dramatizing the events, making them seem more unreal.

People lie on the ground outside of a building, looking as if injured.
“Central DuPage Hospital Active Shooter Exercise at College of DuPage 2014 27” by COD Newsroom is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Winters’ tale is a brilliant, clever, witty satire on how real-life violence is treated as entertainment. At the same time, it’s a contemporary fable, a fairy tale about two atypical office workers who find a wormhole through a reality where they can vent their frustrations. 

Winter’s dialogue and prose have a natural tone and are filled with humorous hyperbole and dark wit. The story reads like a quirky, dark comedy—at first. Winter pulls no punches and goes straight for the jugular in commenting on how mass shootings are handled by the media. The characters go on these wild, imaginative forays into their macabre what-if scenarios. Winter’s humor is biting and sarcastic and nothing is sacred. The scenarios they create and the comments are creative and clever.

Soft Targets is a brilliant satire—smart, witty, dark, and unpredictable. Winters takes us into an alternative reality to smack you in the face with a reality stick and bring you back down to earth. Soft Targets is set for release on March 22 from Tenebrous Press. Carson Winters is described as an “author, punker, and raw nerve.” His previous works include short stories published in Apex, Vastarien, Tales to Terrify, and more. His story, “The Guts of Myth,” appeared in volume one of Dread Stone Press’ Split Scream series. 

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Written by MD Bastek

Just a person who loves horror and writes about unusual things

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