Published September 1, 2021
Letter From the Editor
I’m always amazed at how well our issue themes came together despite no theme being preplanned or preannounced prior to open calls for submissions (our Halloween Special Issue exempted, of course). Every issue theme for 2021 happened spontaneously, thanks in small part to some editorial finessing, and in large part to that magical ingredient present in all creative works: serendipity. Because these stars aligned, Issue 002 dealt masterfully with truth, Issue 003 toyed mischievously with recursion, and now Issue 005 shouts bitterly from the cold isolation of its own dark prison cell.
Upon deeper, more pragmatic reflection, it’s not really that surprising that issue themes would self-organize so well by chance. All stories comment in one way or another on the same handful of basic human emotions. The human condition is vast and complex, but not much of it has been left unexplored, and even less of it remains uncodified. Plus, literary critique is really just the art of boxing in what should otherwise be left open to interpretation, so in that regard, the stories themselves are prisoners to my every editorial whim (I’m fighting the urge right now to cackle maniacally as I digress back into the topics of recursion and truth and centralized power—Issue 004’s theme.)
So why imprisonment? READ THE REST FOR FREE.
The next time he comes looking for me, I’m wide awake.
Without drawing back the curtain, I can feel him standing outside the brownstone in the dark, waiting at the city sidewalk, just beyond the reach of the streetlight. The passersby can’t see him the way that I can, because he’s made sure to erase himself from their minds. But a few still know he’s there by the sweet odor around him, like bananas left in the sun, or honey and clover, and they walk noticeably faster, while others who are none the wiser continue into the night unhurried.
Never look them in the eye. No matter what, Jamie used to tell me when we were boys. If they know you can see them, it’s over. He’d make me practice in busy subway stations and at public events. I’d stand near the liminal men as they moved through the crowds, hunting. I got so good at it that they could hover over me with that gross, sweet breath, and I wouldn’t flinch or move a muscle, just stare through them like they were smoke.
But, what I’m about to do now goes against pretty much everything Jamie taught me.
The strangers came down from the heavens in silver-gray ships with no roaring propellers, spewing dark liquid. I snuck a peek at them from behind my parents. They looked like us—four limbs, mouth, nose, eyes shielded behind heavy lids. They were our mirror images, as if looked through stained glass. With smiles on their faces, they salivated over our vast, fertile land.
“This land is ours now,” the strangers told us through their AI interpreters. “It’ll do us good to settle here.”
In return, they gave us a sliver of the knowledge stored in their memory banks—handed down from their ancestors, as well as acquired while traversing through the immense void. They wanted a place to live, like the rest of us. We acquiesced. They thrived in their new world, which had been ours since forever.
A few moon cycles later, the strangers paid us a visit. The land they made theirs responded well to their hands. But as they grew in number, resources became scarce. They should have gone easy on reproduction. They needed more space to expand their paradise.
Carlsbad, California, with its palm trees, white sand, and Victorian/Wilhelmian architecture, was too nice a place to live. After the housing boom in the early 21st century, only those who were very rich or who had managed to secure their homes prior to the sudden inflation of prices could afford to live there. For these precious few, the seaside community remained a bubble of security while the world went to hell around it.
Every year, factories, “clean” coal plants, oil-powered cars, and billions of cattle continued to belch millennia’s worth of biological byproducts in gaseous form into the atmosphere. The air remained roughly the same color to the naked eye, but became increasingly opaque to infrared, and the Earth stirred uneasily, warming under its invisible blanket.
They didn’t notice this in Carlsbad, blessed as it was with a perfect Mediterranean climate. While temperatures soared around the world, turning places like Yanbu, Saudi Arabia and Phoenix, Arizona into uninhabitable furnaces, the residents of Carlsbad smiled at how mild the winters had gotten. Category 6 hurricanes pummeled the Gulf Coast. Typhoons hit Okinawa with increasing frequency and fervor. The weather of the United Kingdom (of late, comprising just England, Wight, and Jersey) became even worse. In Carlsbad, its citizens delighted at the occasional claps of winter thunder that greeted their ears.
“Take it, you little shit.” Crusty pulls me close, so’s I gots to look up. “Take it.”
I only gots three socks, and it’s my best one. It’s got Twist in it. Don’t want it. Gots to take it.
He has me by the neck. Fingers touch in back. Shakes me hard, so’s my teeth rattle. His breath is everywhere. My stomach flops. Fight not to puke on his shoes.
“You let him go!” Mom claws at his wrist.
Crusty slaps her hard, so’s she bounces off the wall. Lands in the corner. Bleeding. Throws me to the ground. Kicks me in the ribs. I roll away.
“Be back afore the sun lights the curtain, worm.” He takes a step toward me.
I crawl for the door, quick-like. Try to get my breath back. Stumble into the alley, almost into the path of an Eye. Flatten out against the shanty wall. Hate him. Hate myself cause I’m crying like a little baby. Do it, quiet like. If’n the Eye finds me, I’m straight for the hole. That I’m nine don’t mean nothing. Twist is the worst drug.
The Eye floats above the rooftop so’s it don’t see me. It warbles by, and I step into the alley. Bite my lip some so’s I stop crying. The sun’s just coming over the shanty’s roof. Gives me ’bout twelve slices afore it shines on the tattered door curtain.
If’n I ain’t back afore that happens, Crusty will rage. Beat Mom. Not a little bit, like just now. Maybe even kill her dead. She ain’t much, and I guess I ain’t, neither. But all we gots’s each other, so’s I can’t let that happen.
Someday I’ll be big. Then I’m killing the fat stinking pig dead…I swear.
The children were regimented from morning until night, as were their parents, for the governing elders discovered long ago that scripted routines diminished all varieties of excess and deficiency. Today, however, a citizen of the fourth grade at Huxley Academy would become singularly distinct during an encounter with one of thirteen remaining South American anacondas.
“Boys and girls,” said the announcer, as the children entered the climate-controlled tropics around the center stage of an intimate auditorium, “please take your seats.”
Forced hot air brushed the children’s faces. Ancient continental birds and insects sang from hidden speakers. And the overall effect made one of the students think of a hellish fable from ancient literature.
“Listen to nature’s discord,” said the soft-spoken male announcer. “Notice the uncomfortable warmth and humidity. Imagine aboriginals plagued by disease, famine, and ethnic warfare. These early Amazonians—we can’t really call them men and women—struggled for food and shelter, sometimes murdering others in the process. These early hominoids fared hardly better than domesticated animals.”
I ain’t going to say what happened to the blue man was the worst decision I ever made, but I reckon it’s the one I’m least proud of.
It was about five years after the Blue Man Revolt, which was when the latest batch of criminals got hold of the shuttles and escaped before we could throw them out. Now, most of us ain’t got nothing personal against the blue men. After all, our own great-grandparents were sent out here to Mars for being criminals just like them. But the dome’s only fifteen kilometers across. That means when the Earthers dump in more, ain’t nothing to do but throw them out the airlock and fight with the other domes over the shuttles.
Well, me and Thomson done finished our shift in the engine room when a motor in the hanger bay coughed like it was firing up. Weren’t no one supposed to be out there, so we took off running.
It’s awful hard to run with all the plexisteel scrap, though, and I don’t run very good on account of having got my leg caught in a turbine a few years back. So, Thomson run way on ahead. He was standing by the Fortier shuttle, and there was something on the ground between him and the shuttle. I started jogging again and my boots made a clomping sound that almost sounded spooky on the concrete.
When I got up close, I saw it was a man lying there. Thomson was holding a plexisteel pipe with just one hand. The bolt sticking out of the pipe was red, and the blood was all over his brown coveralls, too.
I’m nodding to the manufactured bass and synthetic percussion of TabbblaBeatz, waiting for fresh memories to render. I’m having trouble concentrating. I can’t believe pr0CREE8 is gone. It feels like just yesterday he pushed me to freelance. To quit the Monopolies that ply their customers with memrubbish—shoddy, poorly designed memsims that hack devs slap together—the barest of frail, brittle memories to keep buyers wanting.
I glance up at my three monitors. They depict simple but vivid nature scenes. An ocean wave crashing onto a beach. A pink sunrise illuminating a mountain’s snowy ridges. Twin shooting stars streaking across the night sky. pr0CREE8 would have been proud. I’ve put days into perfecting them.
My phone’s pitch disrupts the music. Grabbing it, I swipe the screen, and the phone goes quiet. The ZeroKnow app banner glows green, indicating an encrypted message.
Unknown sender wants to connect.
It’s a new customer. The app opens to a light-gray chatbox. Three dots dance in unison at the bottom while the sender types.
pr0CREE8 said I should talk to you.
He was my old dealer.
Send your hash w/ his sig to prove it.
How do I do that?
I roll my eyes. How do they not know that?
Oh, nevermind, found it.
Staring at my screen, I wait for the sender to prove their identity. Going on trust alone sends devs to jail, or worse. The last thing I want is bruiser attention. Like what happened to pr0CREE8. He got himself killed, getting deep into custom memsim development—the Monopolies don’t like this. Of course, they claim it’s because black market memsims can damage a person’s neural-interface BIOS. But the real reason is they want us to buy memories from them directly.
The patient’s head bends sideways, pulled down by the fungus growing around it.
Dr. José Hutchinson tucks down his medsuit’s mask and hits “record” on his wristlet.
“Fifth decade, May 23, 5:12 Vesta time. A mild case of Callis praedictionem. It grows out of the patient’s left ear and cups the left side of his face. Stalks are carved deep in the right and back sides of the patient’s neck. Most likely prescient already. Purplish gray, ciliary cap. Smell is pungent but bearable.”
The patient’s wife weeps and shivers, her hands on the young man’s arm.
José moves to the corner of the room and whispers so she can’t hear the prognosis. “Not much time left.”
He hits “stop” and then checks the lodging’s log. Ferg Xavier, 24-years-old, Vesta native, hydroponics programmer, recently married.
José nears and squints at Ferg. He’s unconscious, laying on a tattered cushion, eyes distant and staring upward. His glasses lay over his mouth, cracked and fogged by his breath.
His wife’s attention finally turns to José.
“Dr. Hutchinson, please take it off him…”
Ferg’s head pulses. The fungus bobs it sideways. Inner growing stalks, pressing and tearing through muscle and bone. His wife covers her mouth.
Author Interview: Chuck Wendig
Feature by Janelle Janson
Have you ever read a book and immediately knew the author was something special? Well, that was my experience the first time I read a Chuck Wendig novel. He has a tremendous talent for creating memorable characters, atmospheric settings, and unique stories. He crosses genres between science fiction, fantasy, horror, and thriller, and I am here for all of it. Please enjoy my fangirl interview with the man himself.
Janelle Janson: Hello, Chuck Wendig! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I am a huge fan of your work. Think Annie Wilkes, but without the crazy, maniacal tendencies. I have so many questions for you, but I’ll try to keep it from getting out of control.
You have an extensive blog, terribleminds.com, with loads of information and writing tips. When did you start your blog, and how difficult is it to maintain?
Chuck Wendig: Would you believe I started it in October of 2000? So, in October 2021, it will be old enough to have an adult beverage. It is thankfully easy to maintain, though once it starts to get regularly drunk, it might become unruly.
Artisan Spotlight: Night Worms
Featuring Sadie Hartmann and Ashley Saywers
Thoughtful curation, intriguing themes, stunning art design, personality galore—these are just a few of the many ways we’d describe the über popular (and fast growing) Night Worms horror book subscription company. Lucky for you, fate shined bright upon us, and we were able to sit down for a chat with the company’s founders to discuss all things books, horror, and Worms.
Dark Matter Magazine: First, some introductions. We are Dark Matter Magazine. And you are…
Night Worms: We are Night Worms, a monthly horror book subscription package. Every month, we work closely with our tight-knit network of indie and traditional publishers to bring our subscribers the best in horror fiction. Every book box we ship out is a personally curated package of books, magazines, and goodies to enhance your reading experience. Goodies include publisher freebies, coupons, collectibles, and even a few Night Worms exclusives. For example, we try to get signed bookplates for every book. Oh! And every Night Worms box boasts a cool theme, like for example, “Campfire Tales,” or “Darkest Fears.” And the best part: all this can be had for a really great price.
Fall in the Box
By Bob Ritchie
Originally published by Tell-Tale Press
“See you later,” he said in that voice, bass and rich and strongly accented.
Behind him, the door clicked shut with a whisper of air. Aria stood at the head of the stairway and watched him leave. Not for the first time, she wondered about his country of origin. Somewhere in South America? That left a lot of room for speculation. She sighed into the eddying scents he left behind. The strong smell of him cheered her, made her ache for him.
“Shouldn’t I remember where he’s from? I know that, don’t I?” Oft’-asked questions unremembered. She shook their potential threat from her shoulders as she would an uncomfortable, scratchy shawl. As always.
A chill—the cold, or not—set her to shaking. A splash of pale, straight hair fell across her face, and she flipped it up with an automatic toss of her head as she moved from tiny entryway to tiny living room/bedroom.
Aria adjusted the thermostat a notch higher. Resting against the wall, next to the unit, fingers pinching the slider/adjuster, her hand shook. She snatched it away and pressed it into her stomach to still the tremor. Outside, a strong gust shook the windowpane in its frame. It needed but a single step to feel the cold radiating from the glass. She spoke to her reflection there; she spoke to the sounds of her small city and to the creaks of the old two-story house upon which her attic apartment rested like a comfortable hat; she spoke to the pain battling the joy in her own soul, to her cat, Paris, stretched out on the floor, luxuriating in the warmth of today’s last sunlight.
By Olly Jeavons (aka artofolly)
“In films, murders are always very clean. I show how difficult it is and what a messy thing it is to kill a man.”
The Hellfire Club
By Olly Jeavons (aka artofolly)
Feature by Rob Carroll
Legendary film director, Alfred Hitchcock, famously said of suspense, “The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement.”
For some reason, and I’m not sure why, the art of Olly Jeavons (known by his pen name, artofolly) reminds me of a Hitchcock film—like North by Northwest, but set in Hell. Maybe it’s because certain works of his draw strongly from the globetrotting, spy-thriller pop art of the 1950s and ’60s, specifically his Hotheads series (“Blue Murder,” the cover art for this issue of Dark Matter, is part of Olly’s Hotheads world). Or maybe it’s because like Hitchcock, Olly focuses not just on what the image is, but what it conveys. Olly’s work tells a story.
By Anthony Christopher
Feature by Rob Carroll
“I was locked up a couple times when I was fourteen,” artist, Anthony Christopher, recounts. “Once in a mental hospital for awhile, and the other was for an arrest. It was pretty dreadful, but I’m glad for the experiences.”
This is exactly the kind of soul-searching honesty I would expect from an artist who wrestles creatively with their demons in the way that Anthony does. His illustrated work, so fine in its detail, appears hellish at distance, but upon closer inspection you see that there is nothing really that horrific about what he creates. His work, more than anything, is contemplative.
That’s not to say his work is comforting. Anthony’s illustrations are dark, unsettling, and firmly rooted in the macabre, some much more so than others. But behind those pained and tortured eyes of his subjects lies a soul yearning for peace.
“I focus a lot on mental health,” Anthony says.