State of The Realm


It has been a hell of a couple of years…

EDIT: The last couple of years have been hell.

That statement is not a profound one. It is not indicative of just our own lives. Rather a general observation of the world. The Covid-19 pandemic was a juggernaut of dread that took lives and changed lives for the worse. For us, its seemingly sudden onslaught brought with it a tidal wave of misfortune, pulling us down into a dark abyss of tragedy and trauma. One day there was hope. The next, despair. The chaos and the uncertainty left us without a clear vision of the future in our personal lives, let alone Aphotic Realm’s.

However, last week, after months of kicking and climbing and pushing, we’ve reached the surface, broke through, and took that long-awaited gasp of air. It stung. But it was beautiful.

It has been a challenge to sum up everything that has happened in a cohesive, digestible manner. But we are going to try our best.

In this overdue edition of State of The Realm, we want to lay it all out on the table. Full transparency. Vulnerability. We are only humans, after all. We want to tie up some loose ends, discuss some changes, and hint at what you can expect from the rebirth of Aphotic Realm.


We’ll say it again: It’s been hell. For this segment of The State of The Realm, we want to inform you of our personal struggles that led up to our extended hiatus. Not only as a means to justify our absence but with the hopes that it may clear up any confusion and answer any questions one may have.

So… What happened?

Many of you are aware that Dustin was at death’s doorstep. It was an absolute miracle that he survived. For those of you that were unaware of what happened or do not know the details, Dustin’s wife, April, sat down with Dustin (since it is all a blur to him) and wrote up a summary.

The following are their words:

For Dustin, needless to say, it has been a blur. In September of 2020, Dustin lost his day job but thankfully his wife went back to her old job amid the pandemic and Dustin looked after the kiddos and helped his oldest with homeschool.

Then, on top of his previous ongoing health issues, he began to get insane headaches. The headaches went on for a week but have been going off and on for about a month prior. On May 25, 2021, Dustin woke up and was hallucinating and in the worst pain of his life.

Dustin’s wife called EMS and they took him to the closest ER. The doctors immediately ran some blood work and discovered his platelet level was 3,000 when it should have been well over 100,000. Which meant he was bleeding somewhere.

They rushed him off for a CAT scan which showed not just one but three brain bleeds. The doctors then used a drug called FEBA to reverse the Elequis, which is a blood thinner, he was on for a DVT in his left leg. Once the doctors got him stable enough to travel, he was taken to a major hospital via ambulance. At the hospital, the doctors diagnosed him with Leukemia. They weren’t sure which type because they had to wait for a bone marrow biopsy to confirm.

The doctors started Dustin with blood transfusions right away. Once they ran out of donations at that hospital and were once again stable enough to travel, Dustin was life-flighted 40 minutes to another hospital. They placed him in the Neuro-ICU because the brain bleeds were more important than the Leukemia at this point.

The doctors finally got him stable at the new hospital and were finally able to visit with his wife April. The next day when April was visiting, she got the news from the Leukemia team stating that the doctors would have liked to see the brain bleeds stop before Dustin had to start Chemotherapy but in his situation without Chemotherapy, he would have only two days to live and even with starting Chemotherapy Dustin only had a slim chance of surviving and causes the risk of the brain bleeds to get bigger.

The doctors did not even wait to see which type of Leukemia he had but were 90 percent sure it was APL (Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia) which is a type of rare Leukemia that only 40 to 80 percent of people across the US get, and it was destroying his blood cells.

They started him on a treatment plan that was so backward from the normal way because of the brain bleeds and low platelet levels. Despite reeling from the bad news diagnosis, Dustin’s family had to act fast if they were going to save his life.

During this time, Dustin’s wife lost her job because she wanted to stay by his side. The doctors pushed Daunorubicin and said it’s up to God at this point. Dustin suffered three brain bleeds which caused a fourth stroke and had a seizure but slowly day by day his family would see slight improvements.

His mother did pretty much daily updates for everyone who was following his story to keep prayer warriors and concerned friends rallying up and sending all the good vibes he needed. Slowly Dustin became aware of what was going on. He didn’t have the ability to use his right side, was on a ventilator, and had a feeding tube placed.

Eventually, he was moved to a rehab facility and out of ICU. from there, he had to fight to get back the use of his legs and right side which he was able to do quickly and was up, walking around faster than anyone could believe. It was time to start healing at home. At home he had to climb out of the hole cancer dug and regain his mental acuity, while undergoing treatments of arsenic trioxide (a type of chemotherapy) and get shuttled around from one appointment to the next to continue his treatment.

While trying to get his medicine levels right, he suffered two more seizures at home, the most recent being on April 13th. But in early January, he did get good news. After a bone marrow biopsy, they discovered his cancer was in complete molecular remission. He still isn’t venturing out, partying, etc. because he still must be vigilant to not get covid-19 as that could be devastating to his weakened immune system.

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers and messages. We have certainly been blessed.

Dustin’s friends and family were affected by this as well. By no means do the struggles of the rest of us at Aphotic Realm match Dustin’s, but that doesn’t mean there were no struggles.

For Chris, 2021 started off with the news that one of his colleagues and newest friends had fallen terribly ill and had been air-lifted to the hospital. The next several weeks would’ve been tense and stressful enough with that alone, but life decided to throw a few more things his way.

The world was still living with the reality of Covid-19 and all the chaos that came with it. Immediate and extended family were contracting the illness and succumbing to its effects. The roller coaster of good reports, then bad reports continued to flow in, not only for Dustin but for almost everyone in Chris’ life including his wife’s family out of state. She has lost friends, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Chris’ day job wasn’t immune to the chaos of 2021 either. Staffing and operational concerns were constant. 

Meanwhile, his dad’s health began to decline due to pre-existing health concerns. He would bounce back after a setback but would eventually slip.  Each time he went down, the bounce-back was shorter and shorter. Chris made an emergency trip back home to Alabama to visit with his dad, not knowing how much time he had left.

In October, Chris lost his uncle to complications with Covid-19. This was his dad’s baby brother and it hit his dad especially hard. 

While January 2022 brought with it the good news that Dustin’s health was making a turn-around, Chris, his wife, and mother-in-law came down with Covid. While his family mended, Chris went from Covid to Covid-Pneumonia, and thus his recovery was slowed.

February brought more loss. The day after Chris’ 45th birthday, and the day before what would have been his dad’s 68th, his dad passed away while in the hospital.

As for A. A. Medina, his mental health was on a steady decline. He has struggled with an anxiety disorder and depression his entire life and the utter chaos of his day job during the height of the pandemic was the final piece to his inevitable meltdown.

Panic attacks had become a regular daily occurrence and the simple act of just functioning became nearly unattainable. In November of 2020, he quit his job of nearly eleven years to embark on the long winding road of stabilizing his mental health.

And now we’re here: April 2022.

We’re not saying everything is perfect now. Nothing ever willbe. But we collectively believe we are all at a place—mentally, physically, and emotionally—where we can pick up the pieces and start again. However, part of starting over is tying up some loose ends.

When it all fell apart, we had unread submissions, scheduled releases, commitments, and contracts. However, as you could imagine, Aphotic Realm was the last thing on our minds.

Correction: to be honest, it weighed on our minds, but it was at the bottom of our list of priorities. The dread of not being sure how to continue Aphotic Realm—or if we were able to—was akin to slicing your finger open with a razor-sharp knife. You know it hurts. You know it’s bleeding. But if you look it at you just might faint.

It is about time to get stitched up.

We would officially like to apologize to everyone we let down. To those awaiting responses. To those with scheduled releases.To those who counted on us to showcase their hard work. To those who—for lack of a better word—we ghosted.

We are deeply sorry.

We hope you can understand.

That said, we understand if you have lost faith in us. We will do our best to prove ourselves. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be diving into our neglected inbox and reaching out to those who deserve, need, and want answers and actions.

As we wrapped up the personal side of Aphotic Realm, we would also like to take the time to address the operational and business aspects of it as well…


When Aphotic Realm was created in the summer of 2017, Dustin and Medina were ambitious college graduates with fresh BAs in Creative Writing, excited to dive into the world of indie horror and dark fiction. Although our naivety allowed us to do some unique things with our publication, we’ve come to realize—as we grew and learned—that it was not sustainable.

Sure… Three to four issues of one hundred plus full-color-designed pages of niche-theme magazines a year sounded like a good idea. At first it was…until it wasn’t. The workload was overwhelming. Financially, it didn’t make sense. Yet through our arrogance, we kept plugging away, assuring ourselves that it would pay off.

It did not.

At a certain point, it became a self-grandiose act and we lost sight of the true purpose of—the reason we created—Aphotic Realm Magazine: THE FICTION.

Our long hiatus forced us to step outside of the box we’ve created, giving us ample time to inspect it. We weren’t sure if we would ever return. But, if we did, we knew what we had built needed a complete overhaul.


Change = Growth… Most of the time.

As mentioned before, we take pride in the design and feel of our flagship publication, Aphotic Realm Magazine. The interior artwork will stay. The aesthetic and vibe will remain. The color interior will stay the same. But there will be some operational changes implemented behind the scenes that will create a more efficient workflow and free up more funds to pay our contributors more.

When we started with absolutely no financing in 2017, we offered a mere contributor copy to the authors, but our goal was to work our way up to a decent pay rate. Before our unplanned disbandment in late 2020, we offered small token payments as compensation. Although it was better than a contributor copy, we never felt great about what we were offering.

We had started to become the one thing we told ourselves we would not become: a content mill. Somewhere along the line, we developed an overwhelming routine of starting one publication right after we finished the last without giving it—and ourselves—time to breathe. To say again, our overzealousness and self-imposed—unrealistic at times—deadlines blinded and led us astray from our initial goal.

For our next magazine pay rates will begin at 0.01 USD/Word. We’re aware it is not pro-rates, but the compensation we offer will grow as we do. We’re dedicated to working toward one-day offering pro-rates as soon as it is feasible.


We had a fun idea back in 2017. What if each magazine was themed but in alphabetical order? A for Apparitions, B for Banished, C for Classified, D for Dystopia… Well, we got to K and we’re pretty sure we were thinking K for Kill Ourselves.

Themes will no longer be present for Aphotic Realm Magazine. Instead, themes will be reserved for one-off anthologies. For the magazine, we just want the best strange and sinister horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy authors have to offer.


As we climb back on our proverbial horses and refamiliarize ourselves with the landscape, we have no exact dates set in stone at the moment. However, we did decide that Aphotic Realm Magazine will restart as a bi-annual publication.

Further details will be posted in the future.


So, what will happen to the old issues of Aphotic Realm Magazine? All previous issues of the magazine will go out of print and be taken down from online retailers at a yet-to-be-specified date soon.

However, when time and finances allow, we will be compiling all the past issues into a complete full-color omnibus to be purchased.

The standalone anthologies and novellas (Appalachian Horror, Tales From The Realm Vol. 1, Grimdark Grimoires, Siphon and Where Dragonflies Dance by A. A. Medina, and The Nightcrawler by P. A. Sheppard) will remain available.


From our inception to what we thought was our demise, the horror and dark fiction community has shown us their love and support. The number of authors who donated to Dustin’s GoFundMe while he was being hospitalized was inspiring—staggeringly beautiful, really. The amount of private messages we each received just to see how we were doing made the dark days a little less dark. To all of you, for all of that, we thank you from the very bottom of our blackened hearts.


We are going to take the next couple of weeks to clear out the cobwebs and get things in order. Our website will be undergoing some changes over the next month as well. Until then, keep an eye out for updates about future publications and opportunities.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Stay strange.

Stay sinister.

We love you all.

Until next time,

A. A. Medina | Dustin Schyler Yoak | Chris Martin

The Aphotic Realm Editors