10 episodes

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.

The Dark Magazine Prime Books

    • Arts
    • 4.9 • 12 Ratings

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.

    Mal de Caribou

    Mal de Caribou

    Dorothy is thin, predominantly. Like most rich people in a certain age bracket, she wears fussy, preppy neutrals, and her hair is expensively coloured, though threadbare. Her pink scalp edges out from the corners of her up-do. When she smiles the soft tissue of her face shifts into unnatural shapes; I am able to trace the topography of fillers lifting the creases away from her skin. She is smiling now, waving one veined hand. “Well, you know how it is,” she says, “it’s all just a bit much, isn’t it? But you’ve come highly recommended, and I thought—oh, why not? Why not treat myself?”

    “Why not,” I agree. My own smile feels foreign, a feral thing captured behind bars. “I have your taste list printed out here. What I normally do with my clients is text them each morning, to let them know the following day’s menu. If you have any issues, any preferences, you can fill me in then. I deliver between two and four. If you’re home, or if someone else will be, that’s great. Everything can go in the microwave whenever you’re ready to eat.” I flick my ponytail behind my shoulder. “Some clients prefer for me to set things up for them—I can let myself into the house, set the table, keep food warming in the oven. It’s entirely up to you.”

    “I haven’t come home to a hot meal in years,” says Dorothy, laughing. “My husband wasn’t much of a cook, even before he left. My housekeeper can let you in every afternoon.”

    I spread my hands. Offering her my imaginary feast. Sit, eat. “Would you like to start on a trial basis? A week or two? If you’re happy after that, I operate on a three-month contract.”

    “Wonderful.” Dorothy sounds fervent. Her eyes shift nervously over me. Taking me in, spitting me out. “You’re a real godsend, aren’t you?”

    Modest as a saint, I bow my head. “I’m just here to help,” I say.

    For two weeks I feed Dorothy the way no one ever has. I lovingly roast camone tomatoes until their pink-black skins char and spit out citrusy sweetness, serve the pulp pureed with hand-cut duck-egg tagliatelle. I toast ancient grains, sugar them with coconut blossom nectar, mix in grated ginger, tuiled papaya, Mexican cinnamon. Tenderly, and with great care, I wrap quail in a mantel of holy basil and banana leaves, ready to be shredded over a salad of sprouted seeds and candied jalapeño. I tailor my menus to fit Dorothy’s preferences. Tease her out of old habits. Introduce her to flavours she might never have encountered, ensconced as she is in her own whiteness, her own middle age. At the end of the fortnight she calls me up. “Obviously I’m keeping you,” she says, and she giggles, like a much younger woman. “What do I have to do, sell you my firstborn?”

    It has been a long day. My joints all feel shredded, my nerve-endings hypervigilant. I’m still sweeping crockery shards from between the kitchen tiles. Some days are like this: Leda and I have been working hard on reducing their number. “Oh, gosh, nothing like that,” I say, my eyes on the window, where the sunset stains the neighbourhood bloody. “I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the service! I’ll send over the contracts right away.” On a whim, I add, “I’m taking a glazed apricot tart tatin out of the oven right now, actually. Can I bring you a piece tomorrow?”

    Apricot is one of Dorothy’s favourites. It says so right here, on the list taped into my leather binder. She makes a sound I struggle to categorise as anything but sexual. “You’re trying to spoil me, aren’t you?” she demands. “Just admit it.”

    I laugh. I twirl a strand of hair around my finger. Glazed apricot tart tatin takes three hours, if you’re making the puff pastry from scratch. It’s already nine o’clock. I nudge a shard of white porcelain away from the baseboard with one bare toe. “Everyone deserves a little spoiling, don’t they?” I ask.

    Do you know what it feels like to be hungry? she asks me,

    • 38 min
    Knotlings

    Knotlings

    There came a day, six years into my marriage, when my husband was hit by a van. It skidded on black ice in a car park, and crushed him against a post.

    He did not suffer, they told me later, in the hospital.

    Sure, I said. He wasn’t really the type. My son Aaron and I went on without him.

    Aaron made an expression of surprise, of discomfort. It bent his beautiful mouth out of shape. He leaned forward, his hands clamped over his stomach. It was early morning; he was on his way out the door, to school. I froze, on the bottom stair in the hallway. I went to him, took him back inside the house, and hugged him tight. I knew what was causing it: a feeling I had lived with since my own first release, thirty years ago.

    I had dreaded the moment, hoping he had escaped my condition, but when it came I felt relief. He was not like his father after all. He was suffering, and to suffer well, one must live a long time.

    I let him feel the pain for a few days before I attempted to explain what it was. I knew he would need to go through the sensations to get to the point where he was willing to listen. He came to me late in the evening of the third day and described the symptoms so well, choosing his words with a precision that made me proud.

    “—squeezing, inside, like a beat, like a light winking on and off, but also burning. A strong, hot light. And a tearing feeling too, as if my guts are twisting. I thought it might go away—”

    “It won’t,” I told him. He was beside me on the sofa. I took care not to make direct eye contact for more than a few seconds. He hated intensity. I was the same, at fifteen.

    “You know what it is, then?”

    I explained it, as best as I could.

    “Seriously?” he said, but he did not laugh at me, or push the idea away. “And you’ve got the same thing?”

    “Had it since I was your age.”

    “Why?” he said. I couldn’t answer. Who knows why? I told him what I hold true to this day: we are alone in illness, whether we share its existence with others or not. If there are textbooks and societies, answers and alleviations, I don’t want to know of them. I went through a phase of thinking otherwise. The doctor did not believe me and I could not demonstrate my symptoms on cue. I came to my own solutions through exploration, and through luck.

    Sometimes things that look as if they came into this world whole, planned and executed all at once, are in fact made over years of trial and error. So it was with my shed. I never set out to have a site purely for releasing. I was only looking, at first, for a large garden, overgrown, to which I could go and crouch, give way to the pain. Aaron’s father saw no reason for me to stay out there without protection in all weathers, so he bought a small shed and left it empty for me. As the frequency intensified, into my late twenties, I started to collect egg boxes and glue them to the walls, to keep the sounds I made from escaping. Then paint, all colours, splashed wherever I felt while waiting for the release to come. The painting seemed to help, a little.

    The box I used—with the snap-shut lid—I’ve had since the beginning. It was left over from Christmas, had once housed fancy iced biscuits. I grabbed it the first time I released, standing in my parents’ kitchen in the early hours of the morning, alone and scared, trying to be so quiet. It’s been my receptacle of choice ever since.

    But the key to it all is the garden. When we first viewed the house, looking to buy, I took one look at the overgrown expanse backing on to a wide, unkempt field that merged into a wood, thick trees keeping out the light, and knew it was what I needed. I won’t ever move, no matter what happens. Let them come. I’m staying put.

    The morning after Aaron shared his condition with me, I took him down to my shed.

    I’d like to think that the things I told him that day have stuck with him, were meaningful. Resonant,

    • 31 min
    Shrine

    Shrine

    At first, she thinks it’s yet another accident, here on this straight stretch of back road treacherous only for the speed it provokes in the young and the impatient. Another accident, right where that Nelson girl was killed last summer in fact, and Lynn lifts her foot from the accelerator, squints her eyes against the early evening glare. Really, she should be wearing her glasses. Should stop pretending that she’s still in her thirties, that her eyesight is good enough for driving without them. Never mind that they make her look like an accountant. Never mind that they make her feel so damn old.

    But no, it’s not an accident.

    The car she thought had slewed off the side of the road is actually just parked at an awkward angle. There’s no sign of damage, not to it, not to the bicycle that’s leaning against the tree next to all the flowers and wreaths and hand-made signs that have festooned its trunk for months now. Although the two figures standing in front of the car—there is something off kilter there. Two men, or a man and a boy, rather, a teenager. Father and son perhaps, the older man with his plump face squeezed red and tight with rage, thrusting a finger into the boy’s chest, hard enough to push him backwards a little with each angry jab.

    There’s not even the slightest acknowledgement as she drives past—close enough to spot the spittle spraying from the man’s lips, close enough to catch the glazed, frightened look on the boy’s face. Lynn keeps her eyes on the rearview mirror.

    As the man pulls back his fist and lands it, with a violence she can almost feel, right into the boy’s face.

    As the boy crumples and falls, shielded from view by the parked car.

    “Shit!” Lynn brakes hard, the seat belt cutting into her collarbone. Drive on, the no-nonsense voice in her head commands, this isn’t any kind of business of yours. But she’s sick of listening to that voice, sick to death of it, and now she can see the man’s shoulders jerking, his upper body moving as though he’s kicking something. Kicking someone. She changes gears, reverses the few hundred metres back down the road.

    The boy is curled on the bitumen, skinny arms wrapped about his head, as the man’s sneakered foot thumps into his back and ribs. Lynn leans on the horn, doesn’t let up until the arsehole stops and stares at her, mouth agape. He’s crying, tears and snot streaking his face, and there’s something so broken in his expression, so gut-wrenchingly familiar, that she wishes she’d listened to the voice after all.

    Lynn slides down the window a few inches. “Everything okay?”

    Not the winner of the World’s Dumbest Question Competition, perhaps, but most definitely a contender.

    “Go away.” The man sags against the bonnet of his car. “You don’t know.”

    The boy has gotten to his haunches, scrabbled a few metres out of range. There’s blood on his pale, freckled face, a lot of it. Blood in his hair too, the short orange curls matted red. He’s older than he looked from a distance, late teens or very early twenties perhaps, short and thin and weedy.

    And hurt, who knows how badly.

    Lynn looks at the man again, at the way he’s snuffling and wiping his nose with the sleeve of his jumper, and decides the risk is minimal. Still, she moves slowly. Opens her door and steps onto the road, walks over to where the boy is sitting while keeping a careful watch on his attacker.

    “Here.” She holds out a hand. “Let me help.”

    His fingers are warm and slippery and she tries not to think about that too much as she pulls him gently to his feet.

    “What’s going on?” she whispers.

    The boy shakes his head and shrugs. He doesn’t let go of her hand.

    Behind them, there’s a shuffle of shoe on bitumen, and Lynn turns around to see the man stalking towards the tree. “Bloody thief,” he mutters, grabbing the bike with both hands and throwing it into the centre of the road.

    • 43 min
    Tooth, Teeth, Tongue

    Tooth, Teeth, Tongue

    TOOTH

    “Isn’t this exciting!” said my mother as she plucked my tooth from the flesh of minced pork encased within the half-bitten fish ball.

    Nestled in the center of my mother’s palm was the small canine. Blood from my gums found a home in the creases and lines of her hand, overfilling them before dripping down the side of her palm onto the dining table, as she stuck a finger into my mouth, checking for the gap. Plop, plop, plop. The sound seemed to echo through the room, mixing in with the hissing steam of the pressure cooker on the stove. Bubbles prodded then pounded against the lid of the pop before foaming down the cooker’s metal body, sizzling as it hit the flames below.

    I flinched when my mother found the gap, a sharp pain shooting up the root.

    I was only six, and though my mother was excited for this moment, it horrified me. My breaths quicken, becoming shallow before morphing into hyperventilation and uncontrollable hiccups. Blood continued to pool in my mouth, escaping from the corner of my lips as my mother hurried to dab at it with a tissue. She was smiling, but her hands shook.

    My index finger hovered above the tooth still sitting in her other hand. I wanted to prod it, but I wasn’t able to find the courage to do so. It looked too white, too unnatural. My tongue caressed the hole the tooth left in my mouth. The taste of metal and soup mingled.

    “Am I going to die?” I asked, transfixed on this small stained porcelain object that once kept me whole. It was only a small part of me, but I felt the growing weight of its missing presence the longer I stared.

    My mother laughed at my petrified face. Blood, saliva, and soup wouldn’t stop dribbling from my mouth still agape. She reached forward and lifted my chin. My tongue was still fixated on the gap my tooth left, rubbing the open wound more raw than it already was. Plop, plop, plop.

    “No, you’re not going to die,” Mother said. A mischievous expression overtook her features. “But you’ll get a very special visitor tonight . . . ”

    She had paused for emphasis, suspense, then leaned back in her chair with a glint in her dark eyes hooded by thick lashes, loose veined purple skin dotted with red sagged underneath. I found myself leaning towards her the farther she withdrew, until her chair tilted at a delicate balance between being perfectly suspended in the air—as though time had paused—and crashing with a tragic jolt onto the ceramic tiles, shaking each bone within her body.

    “The Tooth Fairy!” Mother shouted, suddenly snapping upright in her chair, almost headbutting me. There was a strange, fervent expression stretched across her face. Her wide smile and crooked teeth looked sinister rather than carrying its usual warmth and tenderness.

    I offered a blank stare but cowered in my seat, shrinking away from my mother’s towering figure looming over me. My mother held up my tooth in triumph before she lowered it back down. She pried open my hands which had balled up in fists from the fright and placed the tooth in my palm.

    Mother told me the Tooth Fairy was like Santa Claus, but instead of offering gifts, the Tooth Fairy traded shiny gold coins for fallen teeth.

    “You want shiny gold coins, don’t you?” Mother whispered in my ear. She sat back down, sipped the soup in silence before speaking again—this time more to herself than to me: “Don’t you?” She stared hard at the soup with its oil collecting on top. We’d been sitting at the dinner table for far too long. Every dish had cooled. No longer did appetizing steam drift into the air.

    In my mind, the Tooth Fairy looked like the fairy godmother from Cinderella with the ability to grant beautiful wishes. At least that was what the fairies in movies and shows and books looked like.

    “I will still be able to speak, right?”

    My mother’s laugh was a gurgling choke, as though someone clawed at her throat, holding the airpipe closed.

    • 16 min
    Thermophile

    Thermophile

    It started with him taking forever in the bathroom—thirty-minute showers, an hour in the tub, a shower in the morning and every evening. On weekends, he started having a bath at midday as well. I assumed the obvious thing, in terms of what he was probably up to. But then I added it up one Saturday night, and he’d spent two and a half hours in the bathroom that day—so that’s when I finally say something. I talk about damp and black mould. I say about the water bill, I ask him if he’s going to make up the difference when we get stung for it this quarter. But Stu’s not bothered. He just sits there on the other side of the kitchen table and sort of shrugs with that stupid grin on his face. He says it isn’t an issue, then goes to the back door to smoke a spliff. When he lights up, the breeze blows the smoke back into the kitchen. It gives me a headache.

    Sitting at the table, watching him, I say, “I’m not cool with you wanking in the shower, if that’s what you’re doing. Or in the bath.”

    And Stu, he laughs and says, “Relax, Lisa. I’m not doing that.”

    “So what are you doing?”

    “I’m just . . . ” but he trails off.

    For a moment I look at him, there in the doorway with his back to me, the purple evening sky beyond him. I look and I wonder how we ended up just being housemates, how nothing ever happened between us after that one drunken kiss at uni, how five years later we’re locked in friendship instead, perpetual housemates.

    “I just like a long soak,” Stu says finally.

    He goes out with his mates a few nights later, and at 3am I wake up to noises downstairs. Banging around, cupboards opening, closing, the kettle coming to the boil. I lie in bed, listening in the dark, deliberating whether to go down there. One time, he put cereal in the oven and nearly burned the house down.

    I get up, grope around in the gloom for my dressing gown, and go downstairs.

    I find Stu in the kitchen. He’s standing in front of the kettle, staring intently as it rumbles towards boiling.

    “Watching won’t make it go any faster,” I tell him.

    Slowly, he turns his head towards me. Slowly, his mouth stretches into a grin.

    “Good night?” I ask, smiling, unable to help myself.

    He nods in a way that demonstrates his current lack of fine motor skills. “Yeah,” he says.

    “You’re very drunk.”

    “I’m not too bad,” he replies, returning his attention to the kettle just as it comes to the boil.

    He reaches for it, moving like he’s underwater. He grasps the handle of the kettle and pulls it up from the countertop. Then he shuffles his feet, rotating on the spot until he’s looking at me again. He stares, glassy-eyed, grinning lopsidedly. He’s on something. Not just alcohol, not just weed. Pills, maybe.

    He stands in the middle of the kitchen, holding the kettle, staring at me.

    “You okay?” I ask.

    A slow nod.

    “Maybe put the kettle down,” I say. “You just boiled it.”

    Giggling, going hurr-hurr-hurr, he raises it up instead, dangles it over his head. His grip is loose, and the kettle sloshes and bows and dips in the air.

    “Stop it,” I say. “You’re going to scald yourself.”

    Stu pauses, and for a moment it’s like he’s going to tip the kettle and pour the boiling water over himself. The moment lingers, and I’m sure that’s what he’s thinking about—it’s in his eyes, this awful idea, and it’s like he knows I’m imagining it, too. That’s how it feels, anyway. But then, huffing dramatically, like a kid who’s been told he can’t do something, he lowers the kettle. As he places it on the worktop, the tension in my stomach dissipates.

    “Go to bed,” I tell him. “I’ll bring up some water.”

    He blinks at me.

    “Stu,” I say, more firmly. “Go to bed. I’ll bring you some water.”

    That broad smile again. Then he lurches towards me. I make as if to catch him, but he stumbles past and down the hallway towards the stairs.

    The sound of him going

    • 23 min
    Missing Dolls Around the World

    Missing Dolls Around the World

    They found the first coffin in North America, in Vancouver, BC, at a graveyard. The slender mahogany box was no larger than the forearm of a child of ten. The workers were digging up a slot for an upcoming burial of an important political figure that I were hired to document. This was meant to be a historical moment, among the others I documented, but this one didn’t seem as important in comparison, and only perceived as more important because of the politician’s wealth and power, making his voice louder, more heard than others who lay voiceless in their graves around us. I wasn’t there for the voiceless, but I should have been. Both the diggers and me were surprised when they unearthed the miniature coffin instead.

    Within the coffin lay a molding doll dressed in plain black cotton smeared with specks of dirt and one eye missing. Where there should have been a black, plastic, void, there was instead a deep speckled green that spread across the rubber face like disease. Her raven hair which resembled the colour of my own was tangled, lank, clumped, and greasy—singed and split at the ends. She had blackened, charred, toes with darkness crawling up her legs like a living, growing shadow, though the doll herself was dead, as was the owner she resembled.

    A cruel joke, was what I hoped this was, as heavy droplets of sweat rolled down my back, catching at the waist band of my high waist jeans. The handle of a thin blade—sheathed—tucked at my side tremored against my skin as I shook. It was probably unnecessary, but I could never be too safe. It would be a risk being unarmed since the first time my ex breached my restraining order against him. It was lucky I only came away with a minor concussion. Staying in the dark for a week wasn’t too bad, but missing the jobs I could’ve taken on, like this one, made a dent in my savings—a dent I couldn’t afford.

    I stood next to the workers as they continued to dust off the small coffin. My face scrunched up in a confusion that matched theirs.

    “What is that?” I asked.

    A young boy ran forth and snatched the coffin from the digger’s hand—one of their sons perhaps, maybe take-your-kids-to-work day. What a great place for the boy to frolic—and clutched it with a grip so tight his bones showed through stretched translucent skin. If the doll were alive, it wouldn’t be able to breathe between his fingers.

    “Broken,” the boy whispered with bulging eyes and a smile so wide it looked as though his face would rip apart.

    I wondered where else might similar dolls be unearthed.

    The second coffin was found in the basement of a condo set for demolition in Manhattan. Its wood—waterlogged—was consumed by murky mold from prolonged exposure to moisture and lacking sun. The second doll was missing her legs. Her ginger hair sat in a messy top-knot with her yellow cotton dress, embroidered with sunflowers, soiled beneath the hips. The doll’s eyes were intact, but they looked tired, weary, defeated with oval indents of purple weighing down the lower lids.

    Second Doll’s husband was a joy, on the outside, with a cigarette in one hand and the palm of his other digging into the small of her back at his company annual party. Her bright gold dress cost more than half her salary working part-time at the grocers as a cashier, but her husband forced her to buy it anyhow—a new one each year. The husband didn’t want Second Doll to work full time and certainly didn’t allow her to wear the makeup she had on now to work.

    “There’s no need . . . especially for a job like that,” he had said.

    Second Doll stayed. And she smiled. And she blinked back liquid pain that burnt the lower lids of her eyes, lined them red. What else could she have done? Her parents loved him, her friends loved him, she… loved him? Didn’t she? Yes, of course she did—does. There would be no one else more suitable, her parents had said, And she was running out of time.

    • 15 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
12 Ratings

12 Ratings

Opal Castmin ,

Good podcast for short dark fiction

Seems like a really good magazine and podcast. Check out the recent story "Mother Love," by Clara Madrigano.

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