A mix of dark fantasy and horror short fiction by both established and rising stars, from The Dark Magazine—and with recent stories reprinted in year's best anthologies, listed on Locus Recommended Reading List, and a subscriber base growing every month, “this new dark fantasy zine is settling well into its niche, which is picking up weirdness as it grows"—Locus.
Reflections in Black
Randall left work early again, feeling ill. Nothing definitive, a general fatigue, a general malaise—that was the word, although he’d never used it before. If he’d stayed in his chair another minute it would have required an army to get him out. He didn’t know where he belonged, but he didn’t belong there.
The bus was unusually crowded for the time of day. He wondered if there might be a concert or some such event. He found a seat quickly and hunched forward, trying to shut out the pack. But there were just too many of them, jostling about, not exactly noisy, but murmuring. That constant murmur. And they smelled: rank body odor and cigarettes, and things left out in the rain. But it had been a dry fall, so that stench had to be from something else.
He glanced around. Had they all been fighting? Their faces were discolored, bruised. That fellow’s nose had gone scarlet, swollen. The woman next to him appeared caked in blue, turning black around her eyes. Another woman’s lipstick smeared from both ends of her lips, as if a razor had widened her mouth. Some of their clothing was torn. He studied the women, seeking exposed flesh. It was an old habit, but he didn’t mean any harm. He simply liked women. Was that an exposed breast or an elbow? He felt vaguely ashamed, but he looked anyway. Another word he’d never used occurred to him: voyeur.
Their outfits were unusually colorful, some of the clothing beyond outlandish. They were in costume, he suddenly realized, but they’d been wearing their costumes too long, and now their costumes stank, and their makeup had deteriorated.
Halloween wasn’t until tomorrow—were people partying early? He’d never liked the holiday himself. It seemed such a sad and desperate celebration, poking at your fears for some supposed fun.
“Paula!” A female’s voice from the back of the bus. Maybe an objection. Maybe a warning. Randall couldn’t get the tone, the intent, or even the age of the speaker from just a single word. He turned around in his seat to see if he could tell who had said her name. Maybe, he thought, he might even see Paula herself. Would he even recognize her after so many years? He’d certainly had plenty of practice trying to imagine her older face, her body. Of course it was unlikely to be her, but what did they say? A small world.
His cell went off. One ring. He looked at the screen. “Not Available” was all it said.
“Paula!” He jerked his head up, looking for the speaker. No one looked at him. No one looked eager to speak. Each huddled to him- or herself, nursing their poorly disguised injuries, murmuring softly.
He’d always thought of her as the one who got away, although arguably he never had her in the first place. She’d been pleasant enough, and consented to his kisses. But never further, no matter how he’d suggested it, although he’d never been that direct. They’d gone to dinners and movies and he’d felt cowed by her quiet beauty. She was taller than him, and had that beautiful voice, especially when she laughed, or whispered into his ear. Those were early college days and he had lacked confidence. He never told her how he felt, and he had no idea how she felt about him. It was ridiculous to be thinking about her now, but someone had said her name, and he hadn’t had sex in a long time. If he could find that person he would tell them to shut up.
His cell went off again. “Not Available” flashed on the screen. He answered anyway. There was nothing but static on the line, and perhaps under that a distorted murmuring.
At his stop he pushed his way through the stinking crowd. Everything he touched left his hands feeling greasy. Climbing off he looked back to see if anyone watched him as the bus pulled away. It was hard to tell. The one face turned in his direction appeared to be sleeping.
As he walked home it occurred to
A Few Words From the New Tenant of ____ House
To Whom It May Concern:
I’m writing to inform you that I have recently moved into ____ House. I apologize for being circumspect about the name. I should probably just spit it out to make all of this easier, but what with copyright laws being as they are, it feels safer if I leave that to you to assume. I don’t want to be sued for infringement! Besides, I’m fairly certain you are familiar enough with this particular house to discern its identity pretty easily on your own. It’s rather famous, after all. If you haven’t read the book, you’ve surely seen one of the films or the recent television series. Hint: it’s that forsaken house on a hill made iconic by the phantom hand in the night, the bloody writing on the walls, the thing that walks alone there.
Except now, that thing has me for company.
Not that I ever dreamed I’d make ____ House my home. All I wanted when I opened the book was a change of scenery, you understand? A few hours refuge from the purgatory of this interminable quarantine and Mother’s vicious sniping, especially if I could spend that time at a place with the spine-chilling reputation ____ House has. You see, I’ve always had an appetite for the macabre. Even when I was small, I was the sort of boy who pulled wings off of butterflies and incinerated ants on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass. I’ve spent my whole life rooting for the ghosts, ghouls, and monsters in my favorite novels.
For example, when I was eleven, I stole a paperback copy of The Shining from our local Goodwill and spent an entire weekend in delicious terror wishing I had my very own roque mallet, so that I could join Jack Torrance rampaging through the halls of the Overlook Hotel.
At thirteen, I sold my soul to the boy next door in exchange for an actual kiss, open-mouthed and with tongue, though when I pressed my luck and copped a feel between his legs, he slugged me in the gut so hard I saw stars. Then he tore to shreds the little slip of paper I’d given him with my name written out in my own blood.
That’s what really broke my heart.
Then, on my seventeenth birthday, I got arrested for reciting Poe by candlelight in the middle of the Salem Hill Cemetery. I’d dressed all in black, of course, and painted my fingernails especially for the occasion in a shade of blood-red called “Tell-Tale Heart.” The cops didn’t know what to make of me. They asked if I was there to smoke weed or kick over headstones, sacrifice kittens or to blow some old creeper I’d hooked up with on Grindr. How could I explain to them that I simply felt more at ease reading to the dead than skulking in the shadows of the Homecoming dance like some impotent Carrie White?
The dead do not laugh at me.
Go ahead: call me a freak if you like. Everyone else does, including Mother, but I enjoy that word very much. Freak: One who is markedly unusual or abnormal. That’s from the Webster’s definition, although when Mother screeches “FREAK!” at the top of her lungs as she clutches her rosary, I get a flame-in-the-belly satisfaction knowing I’m the one in our little nuclear meltdown of a family who’s considered “markedly unusual and abnormal.”
When she claims to pray for my soul’s salvation, I don’t even believe her.
Dear old Mother, with her pink fleece slippers and acid wash jeans. Her “Hang In There” calendars marked up with monthly novenas. Her jugs of Ernest & Julio Zinfandel stowed beneath the elastic-waist skirts in her closet where Jesus can’t see. And the endless chain of her Merit Menthols, which, when I was smaller, somehow managed to find themselves occasionally snuffed out on my arms and back.
Every now and then I wonder if she misses me, now that I’m living here full-time at ____ House. I doubt it. We’re so little alike, after all. Me, with my books and dark thoughts, a
Call Them Children
“Call Them Children” by Wenmimareba Klobah Collins, as narrated by Kate Baker for The Dark Magazine.
Bobbie and Her Father
“Bobbie and Her Father” by Gillian Daniels, as narrated by Kate Baker for The Dark Magazine.
When Charlie Sleeps
“When Charlies Sleeps” by Laura Mauro, as narrated by Veronica Giguere for The Dark Magazine.
“Needles” by Kali Napier, as narrated by Kate Baker for The Dark Magazine.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Good podcast for short dark fiction
Seems like a really good magazine and podcast. Check out the recent story "Mother Love," by Clara Madrigano.