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Published October 11, 2022

Letter From the Editor


By Rob Carroll

Great American novelist™ Ernest Hemingway once said, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

When I first stumbled upon this quote some time ago, my first reaction was to chuckle knowingly. My second reaction was to ask myself this question: Is there any more universal feeling among writers than the feeling of total and undefeatable inadequacy? Don’t get me wrong; there is a ton of truth to what Hemingway says. Most of our thoughts aren’t worth the electricity it takes to make them (just imagine how quickly the world’s energy crisis would be solved if we discovered how to turn internet shitposting into a renewable source of energy), but who’s to say what’s trash? Great American pop artist™ Andy Warhol said, “Art is anything you can get away with.” So, by his standard, nothing is trash and everything is art, even the worst paragraph ever written (which would definitely have a Dadaist appeal, if you think about it).

Most writers agree that in order to be good at your craft you have to be even better at knowing what’s bad, and I concur. Even in the context of subjectivity, some things just aren’t up to a certain standard, and that’s both true and artistically healthy to admit. If you can’t admit that, you’ll quite simply cease to improve. But don’t worry, I’m not here to decide what’s trash. I’m here to champion it.

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What Kind of Skin

By Mary G. Thompson

John comes home from work at 9:00 p.m. I’ve just gotten Alexandra to bed. She’s had trouble sleeping recently, with her sensitive skin and the cold weather.

John is moving slowly. He gets tired at night, especially after eating all that meat they give him at the office. He needs his greens as much as I do. I used to fix them for him, but he wouldn’t eat. He would say he ate already, and it isn’t as if I want him to eat here in front of me. Of course I don’t want that. But I do want him to be healthy.

He shakes his coat off onto the table in the foyer, and I pick it up and hang it. I have to brush the inside, which worries me. There’s skin coming off his neck in noticeable amounts lately. But I don’t mention it. He knows already, of course. It’s his body.

“How was your day?” I ask. I’m standing; he’s sitting in the big chair, the recliner. It’s black leather, and skin from his head and neck is shedding like snow. Pretty, really, under the low light. It could be.

His green eyes stare back at me. He blinks. “It was another good day.”

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By Grace R. Reynolds

In the center of an art studio, painted in the purest shade of white, is a man. The man is naked. He is shaved of all the existing hairs on his body and strapped to a tilt table inclined at a sixty-degree angle. His eyes are kept open with the assistance of metallic ophthalmic speculums, and there is an IV attached to his wrist. Next to the man is a smaller table complete with various surgical tools. At the end of a scalpel are the fiddling fingers of a Dr. Ogden. He waits patiently for his students to finish their rendition
of their subject this week.

“Surrender your brush, everyone. Let us examine your interpretation of the subject before us.”

Outside of this classroom, the man can exist as whoever he wants to be. However, the man belongs to the Collective and has been stripped of any previous sense of agency. Within these walls, the Collective has studied and dictated his human experience over the last three weeks.

The students sit in a semicircle around the life form, their aprons smeared in strokes of acrylic paint that range in various colors. No color stands out as that of the shades, most notably red. A most vicious and lascivious shade of red. The students are not to exchange academic discourse over color; however, their primary focus is the cubes of flesh on the plates next to their easels.

“Tell me, class, how have the cubes on your plates changed over the last three weeks? What is it that you see beyond the three-dimensional shape? Your rendition this week should reflect what it is you would tell us about our dear creature here.”

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The Drive

By Jenny Leidecker

I’m not sure what I was thinking as I was driving down the highway. My thoughts had been wandering all over the place. You know those moments when you’re completely lost in some other world inside your head and how when you finally come to, you’ve driven miles with no memory of how you ended up where you are? That’s the place I had been lost in for God only knows how long. I’m amazed that I haven’t gone careening off a cliff, or driven into a ditch, or simply rammed into the back of someone else’s car. So far, so good, though. Not my typical trip into the void, that’s for sure, and not one I should visit often either. I just think the isolation of driving alone at night along this relatively empty highway has led my imagination off into some unusually twisted scenarios. Only a vague sense of survival holds them all together. Survival is the goal for everyone, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure life is just a game of who can live longer, and even though there are a lot of people losing in today’s day and age, I’d still prefer to keep playing for a while longer.

Perhaps I just know it’s all going to be alright, or maybe I’m just in the mood to tempt fate a little for once instead of feeling controlled by her plan, but in what can only be described as a lapse of judgment, I find myself pulling over and picking up this strange man who has been walking there on the side of the highway. There’s nothing for miles, and a storm is working its way in this direction. “Help your fellow man” is still one of those things we’re supposed to do, right? And we all take a leap of faith every now and again, don’t we? I’ve never done anything like this before. I know my mother is somewhere clutching her pearls at the mere idea of me noticing some man hitchhiking on the side of the road, much less picking him up. You learn early on as a little girl that it’s dangerous being a woman. Not out there in the wild with bears or mountain lions. Those are easy to avoid. No, I’m talking about right here in the everyday world with all these biped creatures born with a Y chromosome. In this world, women learn to traverse the streets always alert to the potential predator around the next corner, and I’m positive that one of the rules etched in those stone tablets is, “Thou shall not pick up hitchhikers.” Well, rules be damned. I’m willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt. Surely, he’s not out to kill some random woman driving by. I mean, how do you even prepare for that possibility? It can’t be easy. Was he just walking there, fingers crossed that some idiot like me would pick him up? Probably.

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Basically Normal

By Scotty Milder

Halsey was peeling off the college boy’s eyelid when the screams erupted from up the road.

It was a woman. She sounded young, although with the way she was torturing her vocal cords it was hard to tell. Halsey hadn’t heard the crunch of metal signaling a car crash. He couldn’t imagine what in the hell she was on about. Whatever it was, she sure wasn’t happy about it.

“Hold on, Tex,” he told the college boy, and set the X-Acto knife onto the tray next to the bed. Once they made their way into his cottage, they all became “Tex” to him.

Tex went mmmmpppf! against the duct tape. He rattled handcuffs affixed to hooks driven crookedly into the wall. The left eyelid was already gone, leaving a blue orb gaping out from a soupy red socket. Eyes sure looked weird once you took the lids away; it made Tex look like a Muppet. The half-dissected right lid lay across the cornea like a hangnail.

Halsey had found the boy trudging up Knoles Drive, gas can in hand. The student dorm rose out of the trees to the left. A black wall of pine forest lay to the right. It was after two in the morning, so even there by the campus things were quiet. Halsey didn’t usually hunt so close to home. But the defeated slump of those broad shoulders, the tired droop of the boy’s red-blond hair…it was all too delicious. Halsey was pretty sure he had a good half-mile before there were any security cameras. So, he threw the car into a screeching U-turn and rolled up next to the kid. He put on his biggest shit-kicker grin and drawled y’all need a lift? in his thickest Rocky Mountain twang.

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Storm Cellar

Storm Cellar

By Jen Marshall

In this town, we believe in monsters. There was a time when I would have excluded myself from that statement. Not anymore. See, my buddy Dale’s oldest boy trapped a monster in a storm cellar. That’s what I’ll believe until the day I die.

Now, this all happened years ago, back when so many folks around here were having trouble with their deer blinds and hunting stands. There was something in the woods at night, trashing everything when nobody was around.

After several incidents, Dale bought himself a night-vision, motion-activated trail cam and mounted it on his tree stand. It got smashed to pieces a few nights later, but not before it took one blurry photograph. It was hard to see much in that hazy image, but what little was visible was enough to make a man feel weak.

A bony arm reached toward the camera, the skin powdery and pale like you’d find on a dog with mange. The face was in shadow except for a single eye and thin lips pulled back in an animal snarl. That eye was the worst part. It looked black and distorted because of the night-vision setting, but there was an intelligence there that didn’t belong to any local wildlife. That photo was all the proof we needed. It was a monster, plain and simple.

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By Casey Masterson

The man only known as Red was greeted with a human doll and muffled screams from upstairs.

Red had met his host, Richard (username rhannedy75), on Craigslist. The outdated site was about as close to the black market as the average person could venture. With shoppers diverted to Amazon and (less commonly) eBay, those with questionable wares ranging from hookers to organs to willing victims of crime took over, waiting for buyers to stumble upon their advertised services. Red (username j4n6QhR4Txy2), offered “medical services, pending payment.” He didn’t ask when Richard offered him money, he didn’t ask when he had to drive out into The-Land-With-No-Reception, and he didn’t ask about the smell of roadkill when the bespectacled man opened the door. But what he saw what awaited him, he couldn’t hold his tongue.

“What the fuck is that?”

Shh! She can hear you.” Richard pushed up his horn-rimmed glasses and walked toward the couch, standing behind the doll. “This is my wife, Rebecca.”

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The Vampire on the Tesseract Wall

By Larry Hodges

The realtor in red waved all twelve of her tentacles at the tesseract on the hill. “It’s completely furnished and decorated, the perfect home for a new homeowner of higher sensibilities like yourself.”

[CorqCorq/CorqCorq] surveyed the house with all twenty-four of his eyes. It was larger than he needed, sizable in all four dimensions—altitude, longitude, latitude, and spissitude. What would he do with all the space? He was unmarried, but that was something he hoped to change. And he could afford it, with his new job as an actuary.

“Let’s take a look inside,” the realtor said. “The previous owner was an art collector. As you’ll see, he specialized in live 3Ds. Lots of them!”

CorqCorq nodded, and so they rolled up the hill on their 4D hyperspheres. The yard was a bit unkempt with vegetation at an intolerable altitude and spissitude, but he could hire a neighborhood kid to mow it. The house itself seemed well-kept. They rolled inside.

The warm old-house smell hit him like a hurricanic caress of his probisci, that familiar

[SmokeCedarMold/RustDustOzone/MildewPaintBlossom] scent of a long-used home. The walls themselves were a cheery black. But the realtor hadn’t exaggerated about the 3D.

“Wow!” he said. He stared simultaneously at all twenty-four walls, with a live 3D centered on each. He recognized most of the caged 3D beings that decorated the walls. There were Sirians, Cygnies, Centauris, Teegardens, Solarians, and many more. Like all 3D beings, they stared off to the side into their own dimensions, showing their silhouettes and guts for tasteful aficionados of higher dimensions like himself. The purple Sirian was pacing its cage on four legs, roaring every few minutes at some unknown something it imagined.

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Immaterial Witness

By Graham J. Darling

They don’t mean to frighten, but they want something so much, it’s unsettling. They want it enough to come back from the dead—or to never quite die, we don’t know which. Like the so-called “dark matter” that astronomers talk about, or like living souls for all that, we can see what they do but only guess what they are.

It’s justice they want. From the man in chains who led the Stoic to a secret grave, as Pliny tells; through the stern dead King of Denmark, the pitiful phantom of Greenbrier County, the terrible onryō of Japan, down to the present day—ghosts want justice. And I tell them what I tell everyone: “Hear ye, hear ye, this court is now in session. Let all who have dealings or interests draw nigh and give their attention. God save this honorable court!”

As singular a case as this proved to be, it opened routinely enough. In a bright oak-paneled courtroom, with me below the bench to manage the flow of persons and the capture of their every word, soon the brushstrokes of traditional witness testimony painted a clear picture of these uncontested facts: Simon Vaughan, accountant, divorced, having suffered a stroke that left him blind and bedridden, asked to be prescribed a lethal drug, as is legal in this state. His long-time doctor refused, as is also broadly legal (though subject to discipline by the Medical Board), and instead offered to help him cope with his new condition. Following this conversation, Simon shopped around till he got what he wanted from a specialist (that is, one whose practice comprises nothing else): a small bottle containing a single “goodbye pill” that was a layered mix of antiemetic, sedative, and time-release cardiotoxin.

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A Piece Missing

By S. J. Townend

All six screaming monitors, gathered like nestling owlets in the pocket of her apron, fall silent as soon as she crosses the threshold. The distress of the baby had been hideous to hear, but the silence which follows—as the monitors return to a lowly crackle of static interference—feels asphyxiating. Back inside, she can no longer hear the baby. Her baby. Had it been her baby she had heard?

Up the stairs her feet carry her, as they have a thousand times before, along the hallway towards the furthest room, which is also the smallest. The door, like her front door, like all doors in her home, which has become her house—a house—is stoppered open, wedged fully ajar, and the winds pushing in through the open windows make ghosts of the delicate white curtains.

The cot bed lies empty like the rest of the hollow room. A monitor crackles gently with static atop the small mattress.

She draws her arms tight around herself and rubs the sides of her bare arms muddy palms that are red and raw beneath. She doesn’t notice how filthy her hands are though. Her mind is on other things, in other places. She can’t see the dirt, or perhaps, she chooses not to.

Despite her chill, she can’t pull down the window. What if what I’ve lost wants to return? she thinks.

Not here. Whatever I am looking for is not here. Perhaps the next room?

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Reprint Fiction

What We Look For at the Night Market

By Ai Jiang
Originally Published in The Dread Machine

When meeting death, there is first a moment of confusion—a space in-between where ghosts wander—wonder—until they do not. Guilt is a fickle thing—forgetting is even trickier.

There are four of us.

We split into pairs: two on one motorcycle, two on the other. We settle behind mysterious riders with scarred helmets that Ingri had waved down.

On foreign land, it is difficult to tell where one might arrive even when you offer a concrete destination or point on a map. “There. That is where I want to go.” Often, where you want to go is never where you end up. Often, what you want to let go of never leaves you. Will the guilt ever leave me?

“Last group there has to treat us all!”

Jiken’s voice rings like bell chimes, hanging in the air even as their rider kicks the engine into gear. Ingri’s laughter fades with the echo of Jiken’s words. The three shadows disappear in the rising fog mixed with the bike’s roaring smoke, leaving the rest of us basking under the streetlamp light, which acts like an invisible dome, shielding us from the unknown. I want to reach out, hold onto the back of their bike, but they are already gone. The last thing I see before they disappear into the fog is Ingri’s tears, catching in the bike’s exhaust fumes.

Lotia digs her nails into the thick fabric of the rider’s jacket in front of me. They hardly make a dent. I wrap my hands around her waist. She’s shaking even though I am the one sitting on the back edge, almost falling. I cannot help but imagine a sinister smile, a humanized Cheshire cat, on the rider’s obscured face. Would it be scarred, too, like their helmet?

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Author Interviews

Josh Malerman

Feature by Janelle Janson

Josh Malerman stole my black, bookish heart with Bird Box, and he’s had it ever since. His books include A House at the Bottom of a Lake, Black Mad Wheel, Goblin, Inspection, Pearl, Unbury Carol, and his latest, Daphne. Josh has a way with words and always has a story to tell. I am incredibly grateful to him for agreeing to chat with me.

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Stephen Graham Jones

Feature by Jena Brown

Stephen Graham Jones loves horror, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He loves the creepy crawlies, the jump scares, and the things that go bump in the night, and his stories tap into our deepest fears. As he’ll tell you, the world is a dangerous place and sometimes, the only way to cope with that danger is by confronting it.

To say he’s prolific is an understatement. He’s published dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories. His prose is razor-sharp prose and his narratives are tight, but it’s his vivid characters that crawl under your skin and refuse to leave. I was delighted to sit down with Jones and talk about writing short fiction, his weirdest writing experience, and why he loves Halloween.

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Art Features

Mysterious and Spooky

By Sean Keeton

To experience the “Mysterious and Spooky” image below in augmented reality (AR): 1) Download the free Artivive app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play store; 2) Open the downloaded app on your device; and 3) With the app open, point your device’s camera at the artwork to watch it come to life.

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Art Feature: Outsiders


By Mateus Roberts
Feature by Rob Carroll

Mateus Roberts is a Brazilian artist living in Brazil, but his style is distinctly American Gothic. Whether it’s a brutal portrait of the United States during the time of the nation’s westward expansion (this is my personal interpretation of Beyond Men’s Judgements), or a more meditative piece on the existential isolation inherent to homesteaders of the time (How the Stars Did Fall), his work packs quite the emotional punch.

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Art Feature: Nine Circles

Nine Circles

By Zach Horvath
Feature by Rob Carroll

I want to start this art feature with an extended quotation from my interview with Zach Horvath, the artist whose work is featured here, because I believe it deserves the space. Some things are just better presented uncut. Here it is:

“I think it’s fascinating how our familiarity with people and places influences our perception of them,” Zach tells me. “I struggled with heroin addiction for nearly a decade, and in the last two years of my run, I was homeless and sleeping under bridges and in abandoned parking lots. Streets and neighborhoods that I once thought of as being dangerous and scary became normal fixtures in my life, and I became another addition to the scenery. Though that period was pretty rough, I came to appreciate things I would have been afraid to explore otherwise. The ingenuity and creativity of the human spirit is still very much alive in even the most dismal circumstances.”

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