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Halloween Special Issue 2021

Published October 1, 2021

Letter From the Editor

Fear Itself
By Rob Carroll

Frank Herbert famously wrote in his masterwork of science fiction, Dune, that “fear is the mind-killer.” This quote even appears in the background of the cover art for Dark Matter Magazine Issue 001—the words crudely painted on the wall beyond the image’s blind subject in the foreground, the message put there like an Easter egg in plain sight by the very talented cover artist, Richard Wagner, and approved with a smile by me. But for as much as I love the quote, I also feel it oversimplifies what fear is and the functions the emotion serves. For example, Shakespeare had Julius Caesar say something similar, and we all know how well it ended for him.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the main biological function of fear is “to act as a signal of danger, threat, or motivational conflict, and to trigger appropriate adaptive responses.” Without that signal, I’m not sure having a clear mind will matter if it fails to see the danger before it strikes. In this regard, a mind without fear is actually more reactionary than a mind that learns to respectfully listen to and temper the emotion. Conversely, a mind governed too greatly by fear sees danger everywhere and creates conflict where there otherwise wouldn’t be any. This is a mind that has become too precautionary, and can often itself become dangerous. Suppression versus overexpression. Both are a denial of reality. READ THE REST FOR FREE!

Fiction

Annihilate Mankind and Impress Your Friends

Annihilate Mankind and Impress Your Friends: A Correspondence Course
By Matt Andrew

June 4, 19__

Dear M___,

Before we discuss the course in question, allow me to clear the air as to what you may have heard about me.

I am not the disgraced head of neuroscience at the Dienstag Neurological Institute—I am merely retired. Nor was I sacked as visiting professor of philosophy at Madrid’s Universidad de Unamuno. Let’s call it an extended sabbatical. By virtue of your enthusiastic application requesting to learn the mysteries of the human mind, you are, I hope, more interested in what I have to offer than in dinner party gossip.

With that out of the way, allow me a short moment to discuss what this course will not include.

Despite the fact that I am the author of obscure, out-of-print philosophical treatises such as Evolutionary Misstep: A User’s Guide, The Human Cataclysm, and Disaster of Consciousness, we will not be discussing philosophical pessimism or antinatalism in this course.

We will not discuss how much better the planet, as well as its attendant flora and fauna, would have fared if it had not been for the accidental appearance of the homo sapien.

I will do my best to spare you any discussion in the countless reasons why we would have been better off having never been born.

Nor will we ruminate over our future descendants, trillions of them, tragically and involuntarily conscripted for miserable lifetime terms, like rats on a sinking ship.

Although we will be discussing just how malleable and foolhardy the human brain became as a result of the evolutionary hiccup that birthed us, we will definitely not discuss how destructive this knowledge can be in the wrong hands. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Queen of the Cloven Heart

Queen of the Cloven Heart
By Hailey Piper

We gave the queen only virginal women at first. She didn’t ask for this, but we knew stories of dragons and devils, the things they liked to eat, and she was no different. But evil will eat other things, as I learned from experience.

As Captain of the White Guard, I had a sacred duty to commit regicide. Happy King, happy kingdom. Unhappy King—that’s the queen’s fault, and everyone knows it. Only an heir to the throne can become a new king, but a king can always get a new queen.

I wasn’t a pitiless monster. For every queen I cut down, the White Guard commissioned a statue built in her honor—half apology, half gratitude. Sorry we killed you. Thank you for dying. Now the king might marry a queen more faithful, more fruitful, more whatever-it-was-you-lacked that drew the White Sword to your heart.

She who came to be called the Cloven-Heart Queen seemed no different than the rest when she first arrived. The king courted her at night, true, and he demanded a moonlit wedding without church or clergy. Still, the king is his people’s father, and mine taught me as a boy to always obey what a father is owed, through bruises and broken bones, if necessary, as if to punish me for being his son.

In that way, I preferred the king. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Freehold

Freehold
By Josh Pearce

It was almost opening ceremony, and I was on corpse duty, dragging fresh dead from the funeral home (ol’ Miss Shirley, pneumonia, rest in peace) to lay out on the road near the Payton Ranch turn-off which was, we all figured, the farthest point that could be seen from the bunker’s periscope and still be safely out of rifle range. The town cemetery hadn’t been used in more than a decade, with most residents happy to donate their bodies to the betterment of the community, and so a thicket of bones—those that hadn’t been dragged away by dogs—cut the ranch off from the rest of the world. I was wearing tattered, mud-and-blood-caked clothes two sizes too big for me; hand-me-downs and passed-arounds that everyone on corpse duty shared.

It was hard to see and breathe through the rubber Halloween mask that we hoped, from a distance, made the wearer a convincingly pustulant zombie mutant—grr, argh—but I got Miss Shirley settled in what was, I thought, a respectful enough position, given the circumstances. The dirt road was quiet, just some jaybirds scuffling in the wild blackberries. Nobody came down this way anymore unless they were on town council orders, upkeeping the freehold. The older folk were always trying to shirk their work shifts, maybe ’cause they knew they’d lay to rest here soon enough. Or maybe it was the guilt. But I liked it in the solitudinous ecosystems among the cattails, far from the maddening.

Something moved suddenly in the brambles. Not a jay, something bigger. I looked towards it, hesitated, then was still. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

The Devil's Travel Agency

The Devil’s Travel Agency
By Alex Sobel

You Make The Call

You don’t know what you’re asking for, exactly. You don’t know where you need to go, or how to go about getting there. You don’t know the cost, don’t know how much you have to pay. You don’t know the risks for you or other parties, don’t know if there will be benefits. You don’t know if you’ll get where you need to go, you don’t know if it’ll make any difference when you get there.

Don’t worry, we’ll help you with all that.

You’re given a phone number. Maybe you get it from some back-alley mystic with a storefront that you’ve passed by
every day on the way to work for years and never noticed, but now that you see it, you can’t help but wonder how a place like that stays in business. Maybe you got it from a priest with connections, one who wants to help out, who doesn’t see what good it would do anyone keeping the number from you, who hopes you don’t ask where he got it from, or if he’s ever used it. Or maybe a friend gave it to you, one who’s used our services before, in which case let us know, because referrals get you a discount on your next trip with us.

When you call the number, we answer on the first ring. This is company policy, and if we make you wait for more than one ring, please call our customer service number.

We say hello, the voice in broken pieces, like crumbling stone. It moves in waves, pushing forward through your cell phone, then pulling you toward it, away from yourself. You think it will bury you, think it will lift you off your feet. You think your lungs will collapse, you think you will scream. You don’t know what to do.

You decide to say hello.

“Is this…” you begin. “The devil?” READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Potato

Potato
By Ken Altabef

The water in the bathtub went cold six days ago, could even be a week. There’s no more hot water, the pipes all clogged. The bathwater is so green with gunk I can’t even see what’s underneath, but I don’t want to see. Lord, it all itches something fierce, especially down in the crotch where it’s snaked between my legs. I want desperate to pull it out, but I’m afraid. When I tried to pull out the shoots I found in my ears yesterday, it hurt like hell.

The damn stink is the worst. Raw potato doesn’t have itself a strong smell but when you’re surrounded by it, growing fresh and thick on the walls, covering the whole room—the ceiling even—it’s enough to make a body want to vomit. I feel a tickle down my throat as it shifts, a playful little tug at something or other inside me, trying to make me gag. But nothing comes up, the pipes clogged there too.

I should’a run away when it all first started. I should’a run like hell when I found that first one. There’s a spot on the mirror where it hasn’t grown all the way over yet, and I catch sight of myself—what a horror I look! My skin is all milky pale and as wrinkled as a prune, but they won’t let me get out of the water. I see myself, like a withered old scarecrow lying in a coffin full of green water, and I remember.

Potatoes are supposed to have eyes, but when this one opened, I near fell down sideways. I’ve been digging potatoes for thirty years in that little vegetable patch out back of my house, but I never had one look back at me, and with such a sad, soulful glance as that. Its one eye was brown, as you might expect, but pink around the edges where it should’ve been white. It glistened wetly. And then it winked. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Fluff & Fold

Fluff & Fold
By Lituo Huang

On a windblown, electric night—after even the sun has retreated, cowed by the Santa Ana winds that shrivel your eyeballs in their sockets and suck the spit out of your mouth—I am folding laundry. I’m balling up each sock in its brother. The dueling TVs on opposite walls of the empty laundromat are both playing commercials. On my left, a stack of bleach-stained towels. On my right, a stack of bleach-stained shirts. I ball up the socks and toss them in a pile in front of me.

I stare through the door of the laundromat, which someone has propped open with a shard of cinder block, at the man outside. He sits on the concrete bumper at the end of a parking space demarked by bright white lines. He stares at the road, smoking. I can smell the cigarette smoke that floats into the laundromat through the doorway. When the occasional car passes by, its headlights illumine him, and then I can see him in profile, his hand frozen in the act of carrying the cigarette to his lips. Yes, I think, he will have to do. That he is alone, that he is outside, being whipped by this wind, that he, too, will die—fills me with a throb, and I want to cry.

When I finish folding the rest of the laundry and cram it into my basket, I walk out to him.

“Good evening,” I say. I stop in front of him with the basket on my hip.

“Hi,” he counters, standing with an explosive movement. His voice is loud and cheerful. It drives the mystery from the night. Everything about him is ordinary—his dark baseball cap, the stubble on his shiny face, his shirt stiff with white paint, and the way he pinches the cigarette between his thick fingers. Polite, he holds it downwind. The wind blows the smoke away from us, it has no time to linger. Nor do I. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Lady of the Dullahan

Lady of the Dullahan
By Anna Madden

The night was mist and smog and a blur of headlights. Nido leaned across his magbike, the engine a deep purr. His THREAD pinged a multiple homicide with a request for back-up.

Reroute me, Nido thought, the neural link faster than words. His THREAD allowed thought-transfer, the implant a standard for huntsmen.

In four heartbeats, his armor’s AI worked out the quickest path through Besnick City. The city’s upper branches were spires of steel, cutting up the night sky like serrated teeth. Nido was headed into less civilized parts. The crime scene was in the Vein, a ghetto-slash-mine built beneath the pretty glitter, sprawled out like hoary black roots over a large deposit of anthracite.

The route lit up across Nido’s smoked visor. With his fist on the throttle, he urged his magbike faster, becoming a lone vulture with the scent of carrion in his nose. The black-specked air grew thicker, while the narrow alleys bled neon and plastic garbage and despair.

It was dark, but in two hours, dawn would kiss the horizon. With it, he’d be issued his dismissal by CanisCorps. Nido’s quota was overdue, his ranking so low it had cycled into the red. The wind pressed against his chest—against his fragile sense of control, his anger, and deeper, into a part of him he didn’t like: the part of him that was afraid of what he’d become if he lost this job.

CanisCorps didn’t care who a huntsman brought in for their quota, week after week. It could be a desperate parent with stolen credits, or a sick pitman in a backroom, muffling a wet cough as he bought opioids.

Nido had learned to care, though, and that was a problem. He saw corruption everywhere. Unfettered corporate greed touched the lives of thousands of innocents daily. Powerful criminals paid big bucks to keep their names off the SKY.LIST while petty thieves who stole to survive were sentenced to years behind bars. Nido wasn’t sure how much longer he could play a rigged game. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Jodie

Jodie
By Mark Joslyn

Morning was her favorite time. Her window faced East, and she always left the curtains open so the dawn would wake her. When the light washed over her closed eyelids, she gave a small, wincing smile, and rolled on to her back. She threw off the covers and let the light warm up her bare legs.

Five minutes of basking, and Jodie was ready to get up. She cracked her windows to let the cool morning air sweep into her room, and took a deep inhale, letting it invigorate her lungs.

She brushed her teeth, showered, and combed her hair. Once her outfit was selected and her hair was on point, she grabbed her phone for a morning selfie. She still posted one every day, even though no one liked them anymore. Well, sometimes her mom. But she liked the way she looked. She almost always did. And it was one of the only times of the day when she was in total control of her image.

Downstairs, her father sat at the counter with a steaming cup of coffee and an open newspaper. He raised his head at the sound of her socked feet padding down the steps.

“Morning, sweetheart.”

“Morning, Dad. Pot still fresh?”

He nodded his head towards the French press, still half-full of warm, inviting liquid. Jodie poured herself a cup and breathed deep the aroma.

“You find out if they are sending you on that trip to Kansas City?”

Her father shrugged. “Maybe me, maybe Brett. I mean, they are sympathetic to our situation and everything, but they want other partners to have face-time with clients, too. I can’t be the only one building relationships.”

“Yeah, but you’re the only one with a compelling reason to go. You gonna press them on it?”

“Maybe,” he said, putting aside the paper entirely and looking at his daughter. At seventeen-years-old, she was now taller than her mother, and almost as tall as him (taller when she wore heels). But her slight frame and baby cheeks still made her seem so damn fragile and small. “But I see where they are coming from. And truthfully, I don’t love leaving you alone.” READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Purple Spiders

Purple Spiders
By Taylor Gianfrancisco

Jude knows even before she stepped into the mirror that her afterlife is a problem. While other spirits light up with energy like fireflies on fire, her purple veins pulse grossly in her translucent, pale skin like spiders trapped within her body as a reminder of her death by overdose.

Her stoned lover, a painter, doesn’t know how to fix her—much less wants to. He calls Jude’s bruised presence a watercolor of pain. “You need a grotto like mine,” he says, hiding underneath his stained bedsheets and smoking a joint. “To hide away in forever. To remain the same forever.”

Jude is pigeonholed in this one-bedroom apartment, so she thinks that’s good enough. She squats in the barely decorated space as though she encompasses it entirely. As she breathes, her lover breathes. The room breathes. The furniture breathes. Everything expands and collapses into each other because of her. The stoned painter sometimes says that she is a divinity, but only when he is making art. 

When he is lost in this reverie of artmaking, he hums the strange lyrics of The Doors, an absent-minded spell that he casts on Jude. She is wrapped into the lyrics like her purple spidery veins. Slowly becoming entombed in a melancholic daze that only she and the stoned painter know. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

The Master of the House

The Master of the House
By Michael Adam Robson

Filthy and naked, he was disgorged onto a cold, hard floor. Somewhere an alarm was buzzing. He opened his eyes and blinked in the harsh light, his thoughts muddy. The room was all white tile and bright steel.

There was a rattling behind him, and he turned and caught a nightmare glimpse of black tentacles being sucked into the wall as the opening to the dark, confused place he’d emerged from closed. He stumbled to his feet, shocked awake. Or was he still dreaming? He put a hand on the wall, but there was only smooth white tile.

On the other side of the room there was a steel door and a glass panel flashing with red lights. Part of him was afraid of what might lie outside this room, the rest of him desperately wanted out. He shuffled over to examine the panel, the source of the alarm.

Angry symbols pulsed in time with the buzzing, and at the bottom was a large red X. His jumbled mind couldn’t make sense of the text, but the ghost of a memory compelled him to press the X.

A wet rattle came from the walls. The alarm stopped, and the panel now displayed blue text, and a line that slowly filled, marking time. The steel door slid smoothly into the wall, spilling light out of the room. There was only one way forward; he stepped through the door, which slid quietly shut behind him. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

A Place for the Dead and the Dying

A Place for the Dead and the Dying
By P. T. Corwin

I’ve already killed two of them back at the cabin. I can only hope their souls are burning in hell.

I chase the last girl through the forest, where the full moon drowns the sky in a dark blue and the night is alive with the whispers of leaves and the screeching of foxes.

She’s younger than me. Faster as well. And every intake of air grates against my lungs, making me cough. I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.

I should have brought a gun, a knife. But all I have is an ax, too heavy for me to throw. Not that I could hit anything anyway. Through my mask, the world is no wider than the eye holes allow. But I keep it on. Even as sweat runs into my eyes and latex sticks to my hot cheeks. I keep it on. It’s the same one as they wore that night. A burnt face, skin yellow like puss, winding over exposed red flesh. I want it to be the last thing she sees.

From further down, where the path bends to the right, I hear panting and a chaos of leaves.

I know these woods. I’ve come here on walks with my Judith, and there’s a hill here that leads down towards the city. The girl must have missed the turn, gone off the path and slipped in the dark.

Her head rises at the edge of the hill, leaves pinned to her hair. She plucks them out, a moment of vanity before she sees me. She scrambles to her feet and disappears below the hill line. Like dipping under water.

By the time I reach the edge of the hill, she’s not far gone. And she’s limping, steadying herself on the trees.

I can catch her, if I’m quick about it. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

The Last Science Fiction Story

The Last Science Fiction Story
By Alan Vincent Michaels

“It’s blood,” I mutter, picking at the sticky, silvery mass on my forearm. I look up and stare at the bald, stocky man sitting behind the gunmetal table, but I can’t read his round face or dark eyes. I know he thinks I’m nuts.

“Sheriff Johnson, I didn’t kill anything…human,” I say. “I didn’t break any laws. You have to believe me.”

“Sure, I do,” he replies, tapping and scrawling notes on his pad.

How long since George died? Two hours? Three?

I can’t stop sweating. Makes me look guilty, but it’s so damned hot. Been a sweltering heat wave since dawn, and to add insult to injury, the window AC is blowing warm, stale air, and a dusty box fan is rattling uselessly behind me.

The sheriff touches the corner of his pad and a reedy voice announces, “Recording.”

“Interview on July 12. Sheriff Michael Johnson, Cortland County, conducting. Deputy James Gilmour, assisting.”

Johnson mops his brow with a camouflage-patterned bandana.

The deputy is also sweating and even more tired looking, leaning against the closed door. His dour expression matches the sheriff’s.

I suppose no one can be in good spirits on such a hot day.

“Time is 4:15. Stephen Donald of 221 Campbell Road, Cortland, received Miranda and waved counsel. State your name, that you asked to describe a murder you allegedly committed at about one o’clock today, and that you understand your rights.”

Johnson holds the pad towards me.

I lean forward and comply, shouting my conclusion, “It was self-defense!” READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Reprint Fiction

Caroline

Caroline
Originally published December 2017, by Red Sun Magazine
By Aeryn Rudel

“Can I go to the basement and see Daddy?” Caroline asked.

Barbara set the shotgun on the kitchen counter, checked the safety, and knelt beside her daughter. “Honey, Daddy isn’t ready for visitors yet.”

“When he finishes his lessons?” Caroline said, hopeful. She and David had been close, and she felt the loss more than her twelve-year-old brother. Mark wanted nothing to do with his father. Barbara hoped he’d come around, especially if he could see the progress David had made, but she knew she couldn’t rush things. 

“We’ll see, but that might be a long time from now.” Barbara pulled her daughter close, and Caroline melted into the embrace. “Now go outside with your brother and Uncle Robert. I’ll call for you when I come back upstairs.” She wouldn’t risk having the kids in the house during rehab.

“I could help with the lessons,” Caroline said. “I could help Daddy too.”

Barbara smiled. “I know you could, but remember what the people from the Rehabilitation Agency said. Just one of us right now, until he gets a little better.” The rehab process fascinated Caroline, and she questioned Barbara on every detail. Barbara didn’t tell her much. Most of it wasn’t fit for an eight-year-old to hear.

“Please, I miss him so much.” Tears stood in Caroline’s pale green eyes. Green like her father’s used to be.

Seeing Caroline like this sunk a knife into Barbara’s heart. “Go on, honey. Now.”

Caroline shuffled to the sliding glass door, opened it, and stepped into the backyard, where her brother and uncle waited. Robert looked a lot like David, enough that Barbara often did a double take when she found him drinking coffee at their table in the morning. Outside, he scooped up Caroline, and she came alive in his arms, smiling and laughing. Mark walked up behind them, grinning. They looked happy. Despite the terrible thing that had happened, her family looked happy. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Poetry

The Rusk

The Rusk
By Louis Rosenberg

READ NOW FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

A Night in the Lutheran Garden

A Night in the Lutheran Garden
By Deborah Wong

READ NOW FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Horror Poems

Horror Poems
By James Hancock

READ NOW FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

We Eat

We Eat
Originally published 2019, by Writer’s Den
By Alan Vincent Michaels

READ NOW FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Comics

Clutch

Clutch
By Sloane Leong

READ NOW FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Objects of Antiquity

Objects of Antiquity
By Matthew Wilding, Art by Justin Ryan

READ NOW FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Artisan Spotlight

Artisan Spotlight: Tales to Terrify

Tales to Terrify
Featuring Drew Sebesteny

We here at Dark Matter Magazine appreciate many things about the fall besides just Halloween: October baseball, Iowa Hawkeyes football, a warm slab of ribs from the famous Twin Anchors restaurant (located on N. Sedgwick in Chicago, open from 4–10 p.m., Tuesdays–Fridays, and Noon–10 p.m. on weekends),[1] but nothing hits the spot this time of year quite like a good spooky story, especially if that story is in audio. So, in the spirit of the season, we sat down for some ribs (extra zesty sauce, please) and an interview with one of the best horror fiction podcasts around: the one, the only, Tales to Terrify. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Art Features

One for You

Cover Art: “One For You
By Sam Heimer

READ NOW FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Fright Night

Fright Night
By Sam Heimer
Feature by Rob Carroll

When asked what inspires his work, artist Sam Heimer is quick and to the point: “Halloween, not horror.”

As someone who has always believed Halloween and horror to be synonymous with one another—even if purely in spirit—I eagerly await the explanation.

“I’m always chasing the feeling I had as a kid every October,” Sam explains. “Halloween matters so much. It’s a harvest holiday. It’s food and community, and how those things relate to the frail nature of life. It’s finding warmth when the world is otherwise cold. It’s a spectral holiday that once a year brings me back to childhood, to a time when I could still fully see and feel the magic of the world. I enjoy horror, but I don’t really see it in my work beyond heavy blacks and rotting faces.” READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Die Chromatic

Die Chromatic
By Meljen Art
Feature by Rob Carroll

Melissa, known by her pen name, “Meljen Art,” draws in black and white because she’s colorblind.

“I can see colors,” she tells me, “but they are often muddied or muted, and night time is almost entirely black and white to me.”

When I first discovered Melissa’s artwork and approached her for an art feature, it was because I enjoyed her playful, abstract approach to the macabre. When I found out that her black-and-white art was a reflection not just of her vision, but also of her sight, I was intrigued. Then when I learned that the “shadow creatures” she creates are not just a fun way to parody pop culture, but also a way to help mend a wounded soul, I
became obsessed. This is outsider art at it’s finest: rejection of the status quo not due to grievance, but due to necessity. Rejection of the current social order not as a means to create a new exclusionary end, but as an ever-evolving method of achieving radical inclusiveness that is forever new and without end. READ THE REST FOR FREE! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!