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Issue 009

ISSUE 009, May-June 2022

Publish Date: May 1, 2022

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Letter from the Editor: Esoterica

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: ESOTERICA

By Rob Carroll

The universe is an enigma, and it will remain that way forever. Science, philosophy, religion—these are just systems that attempt to explain certain aspects of our existence via observation, measurement, and extrapolation. Discoveries are made and answers found, but the path to total understanding is anything but linear (we’re lucky if it even moves in a consistent direction along the X and Y axes). Whenever one mystery is solved, a thousand more take its place.

Science is an amazing tool at humanity’s disposal, but even with our vast knowledge—built upon millions of years of collective discovery and achievement—we’re still scratching our heads in confusion about a lot of things. Experts can only theorize on subjects like dark energy and dark matter. No one has a clue why there is more matter in existence than antimatter. We don’t know why measurements collapse quantum wave functions (this is why when you observe something, you change it). Time might be an arrow, or it might not be. Human consciousness is a big question mark, as are parallel universes. String theory nicely reconciles the laws governing particle physics, but it’s never been proven, and until it is, the random nature of said particles will continue to mock the existing laws. What really is gravity? Is there order in chaos? READ THE REST FOR FREE.

Declare the Typhoon's Coming

DECLARE THE TYPHOON'S COMING

By Noah Codega

1.18

It would be the dead of winter now.I’ve been reflecting lately on the concept of seasons, something that happens in cycles for aeons as time turns in fractal spirals, twisting into eternity. Something that we only recognize because of the physical and biological conditions of Earth. How different might we have been if our planet of genesis had no tilt, if the proximity and angle of the sun had given Earth a climatic permanence undisturbed by the churning of years?

Nothing is permanent, though. The dying rock in our wake is some proof of that.

Life on the barque is an approximation of this idea, the non-season, as the cold and perpetual abyss tickles the hull. Yet we carry the memory of Earth-time with us. We understand years, weeks, months, and days as though these now-meaningless delineations were bred into us, as though they were instincts as strong as those to eat, to reproduce, to fight. The clocks onboard all march around tracks of twenty-four hours. It is still how we age ourselves, how we quantify the duration of this endless, endless fucking journey.

The Editorial Process

THE EDITORIAL PROCESS

By Andrew Sullivan

June 6, 20—

Dear Dr Nyet,

Thank you for submitting your paper “World domination by means of falsified base currency and economic extortion” to the International Journal of Evil and Villainous Science for our consideration. We have now completed peer-review of the manuscript, carried out by some of the world’s leading evil scientists under supervision of the associate editor to whom your paper was assigned. I am sorry to inform you that the paper in its current form has been found unsuitable for publication in this journal and is thus rejected.

In a nutshell, while your paper details a scheme that is indeed most villainous and evil (which may or may not actually work), there is simply not enough science that is new or innovative to merit publication in this journal. Plans to wreak havoc for a range of purposes (including world domination) are all too common, and while the idea of debasing certain world currencies while enriching others to seed confusion and make a profit may be intriguing, it seems to me it would be better suited to an evil economics journal.

I wish you all the best with your future endeavors. If you choose to revise your paper in accordance with the reviewers’ comments and suggestions (see attached) and resubmit, it will be treated as a new submission. IJEVS enjoys an impact factor of 3.443 and is one of the last international peer-review journals to accept only paper submissions to ensure only the best evil scientists submit their work to us.

Kindest regards

Dr. Stepan R. Kruel
Managing Editor, IJEVS

The Ground Shook

THE GROUND SHOOK

By Roni Stinger

They burned Daddy up. Mom called it cremated, but Meera would fix him.

She ran between hemlocks and spruce, scanning the forest floor for skeletons as she went down the hill to the old deer carcass. Ermine, hare, and ptarmigan scraps left by lynx and eagles were scattered here and there. She snatched a few small bones along the way, perfectly sized for fingers and toes.

Scavengers and rot left little more than a few clumps of fur stuck to the ground and on the sun-bleached bones of the deer. Long leg and rib bones would build Daddy’s body.

The deer skull wouldn’t pass for human, but she had an idea for that. A rock, almost the same size and shape as his head, sat in the clearing by Mr. Toad. Daddy had always said that stone would be perfect for making a golem.

“You know the story of the golem, don’t you?” Daddy asked, as his strong hands molded Mr. Toad’s dog-sized body. “He’s a man made of clay, given life by a spark from God.”

Forming a pouch like a kangaroo with her oversized shirt, she picked up bones and placed them inside.

Art Feature: Poseidon Adventure

ART FEATURE: Poseidon Adventure

By The Art District'86
Feature by Rob Carroll

Even though The Art District’86 is a very modern artist—he works primarily in digital art and sells his work on NFT marketplaces rather than in physical galleries—he is also a classically trained artist with classical tastes. Proud to have studied art at the Academy of Art in Thailand, he is greatly influenced by iconic Renaissance painters like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. These influences are not hard to spot. One of his pieces featured here is titled “Vitruvian of Scubaboy” (modeled after da Vinci’s famous “The Vitruvian Man”), and another piece featured here, “The Creation of Ethereum,” is a modern parody of Michelangelo’s fresco, “The Creation of Adam,” which graces the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

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Muscle Memory

MUSCLE MEMORY

By R. L. Meza

Bring him into the kitchen,” Anma says to the pair of boys on our doorstep. She stands aside as they struggle over the threshold, backs bowed by the weight of the duffel bag they’re carrying between them. They’re almost to the kitchen when my grandmother’s words sink in: Not it, but him.

“Put him on the table.”

I shrink into the space beside the stove and watch them heave the bag up onto Anma’s table. She steps forward, shooing the boys away.

Anma touches flame to the lanterns, pushes midnight back into the corners. The flickering light plays over the faces of our visitors. Their bodies are young, but their eyes are ancient, their mouths grim and twisted and pale as sun-bleached driftwood. Still, they’re in better shape than the pieces of my brother, tumbling out from the unzipped duffel bag.

Six pieces.

My eyes count them faster than I can look away. I know what the six pieces mean, and so does Anma, and so do the boys—the soldiers—who risked their positions, their very lives, to bring my brother home.

No one says deserter.

I watch Anma’s arthritic hands turn the pieces of my brother over and around, arranging them into a vaguely human form. How she determines which parts belong where—the head, torso, arms, and legs—I do not know. There’s little to indicate that the tortured pieces of flesh were ever human at all.

No one says coward.

One of the boys mumbles something, a spit-choked condolence maybe. He’s crying—they both are. They’re murmuring useless apologies, excuses for my brother. As Anma hauls a large glass tank from the counter to the sink, pouring out the carefully cultivated waterweed, a withering rage flares inside me, burning red-hot like the coals in the stove’s iron belly.

This Choir of Ghosts

THIS CHOIR OF GHOSTS

By Monte Lin

Subject-412 wakes in absolute darkness. Their drug-induced sleep leaves them groggy on the cold, stone floor, unable to shiver. Moments or perhaps hours pass, as their thoughts and memories sift and settle back into place. Lights. The operating table. The head surgeon’s worried brow. The realization hits Subject-412 in the chest: they are the Experiment now.

The Experiment never deviates. After the surgery, the test subject is placed into the Cube and sealed within. The subject receives nothing other than the key, a metal card two inches wide, three inches long, and barely a millimeter thick, randomly encrypted to open the door to the Cube. Once encoded into the key, all other records of the code are wiped. Sometimes the subject enters the Cube in their surgical gown. Oftentimes they don’t receive the dignity; the surgeons claim they can’t afford more gowns.

The Cube has enough air for a few days, but no food or water, so the subject must utilize their new implants to bend the fabric of space-time, reach through the basalt rock, and place the key onto the door to open it. There is no way to open the door otherwise. The surgeons on the other side require a week to decrypt the key, if they even have the desire to do so.

Flight Delay

FLIGHT DELAY

By Rich Larson

Stuck on the Toronto tarmac while snow whips past the windows. The pilot informs them, in a suave crackling mumble, that another de-icing will be required before takeoff. Angela swallows the last of her ginger ale, then sends a WhatsApp message to her wife to inform her of this latest delay in a long procession of them.

Tess replies with a photo: she and little Kira huddled together in the big orange chair in the living room, pulling sad faces. Kira has both pudgy hands clapped to her cheeks in despair, even as her huge warm eyes gleam for the semi-joke. She already looks like her mother. The sight of them together fills Angela’s whole chest with helium.

She’s about to send them a cartoon heart in return when the man seated beside her speaks. “It’s never really possible to do anything over again,” he says.

She checks him for AirPods, afraid to be baited into a stranger’s phone conversation, but his ears are empty. When he brushes back a strand of ash-blonde hair, she sees there’s something strange about the ear nearest her. The cartilage doesn’t follow the usual warp and weft.

“We can approximate it, though.” He speaks without looking at her, head tipped back, buoyed by a black neck pillow. When he pours his tiny bottle of Smirnoff into his plastic cup, the ice makes a sound like old bones cracking. “Are you ready for the extirpation?”

Art Feature: Fight the Future w/ReTech

ART FEATURE: FIGHT THE FUTURE w/RETECH

Art and text excerpts by Asher
Introduction by Rob Carroll

“In 2071, a rogue group of thoughtcriminals began a doubleplus subversive action against MiniTrue. Using ansible technology, they attempted a signal in reverse time. This is the story, pieced together as it arrived…”

The excerpt above frames the reality that Asher imagines. He wrote those words to give a history, a context, and a sense of scope to the eye-popping retrofuturistic sculptures he creates. His words and sculptures borrow Orwellian themes and language, and his visual aesthetic is reminiscent of filmmakers like Terry Gilliam—specifically Gilliam’s sci-fi works like Brazil and 12 Monkeys. Asher even cites Gilliam as one of his primary influences, along with similar minds like Hieronymous Bosch, Frank Herbert, H. R. Giger, and others. “There’s a story that goes with my sculptures,” he explains. “They fit into a narrative that’s roughly a 175-year span in my mind. All the pieces are part of the same reality.” As for his goal? “I hope someone gets the same excitement from my work that a nine-year-old me would get. I hope the reclaimed materials get people to think about the environment. And I hope the story they see reminds them of our own histories, and the past works that make them.”

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Roaches

ROACHES

By Ai Jiang

Rain made life more difficult because it made working at The Fill more dreadful.

I threw a crumpled chocolate wrapper caked with mud into my mouth. The substance that coated my tongue quickly dissolved it, but the texture still felt foreign even though it had been two months since I underwent alterations. My gag reflex threatened to expel the wrapper, but I held a hand over my lips, and fought to swallow the garbage down.

“You think we’ll ever get used to this?” Nemo asked. She started working at The Fill a few months earlier than me, and even though she didn’t gag anymore, her stomach still retched with every bite.

“Yes, but I hope not.”

Nemo thought about my words while she chewed her lips. Then, she nodded.

“You’re right. We’ll get out of here soon,” she said. “Just like Bee.”

The heavy rains drummed against the aluminum roof of the unit my sister, Bee, and I shared. The holographic billboards across the street were blinding, so I turned on the darkening function of the window above the sink. I no longer wanted to see what was outside. It only reminded me of a life I could not have. People like me were shadows, darting between the New Era tech workers who stared straight ahead, their eyes fixed on a singular destination. But we never knew where to look. Our eyes always wandered, lost, aimless, searching for something that didn’t exist: Hope.

Bee’s job as a tech intern for New Era Digital Corporations is glorious. The company didn’t pay their interns much, but if she were offered full-time employment, we could move somewhere a little nicer. I didn’t want to depend on Bee—I felt like I was failing her as an older sister—but I didn’t have much choice. I knew she didn’t mind, though. She didn’t have time to. Not that I had much time either, but my work was mindless compared to hers.

I always feared change. Probably because the world moved far too quickly, and I could only scuttle to keep up. Scuttling was much slower than the hover cars, and could only be done on the ground, and every day it seemed as though fewer and fewer were walking the same roads that I did.

Refuge

REFUGE

By Mark Joslyn

It was like…six feet across.”

“So, about the size of a man?”

“I told you already! It wasn’t a man! It wasn’t a person!”

Gary Sing groaned internally. It was the kind of silent expression of frustration that you picked up as a detective, especially one that worked the relocation projects.

“I know that’s what you said, but just hear me out, okay? It was dark, you had just woken up, you only saw him for a second…”

“I know what I saw.” Patrick Cooper, of Apt 1145, didn’t look at Detective Sing as he said it. He had made minimal eye contact the entire interview. Sing would describe it as staring off into the distance, except there wasn’t much distance to stare off into in the FEMA-issued studio apartment. It was scarcely suitable for one per-son living alone, and the twin beds in opposite corners of the room indicated that Patrick had a roommate. Unmarried, childless refugees were almost always doubled up, if not tripled.

The break-in happened in the early morning and the bio-bag boys had taken the corpse away before Sing had arrived. He was waiting on the text to let him know the quarantine was over. Standard procedure for all bodies, but they liked to be extra sure with the ones from the projects. Checks were made for infectious diseases, toxic compounds, and of course, radiation. The last one was highly unlikely. The body (back when it was a person) would have been thoroughly screened before being placed in the projects.

Until it was out of quarantine and the coroner had something to tell him, all Sing could do was pump his one witness for information. He had hoped the kid could help him sort out what happened to the slashed-to-hell body, or where the rest of the family in Apt 1143 had disappeared to. When the beat cops told him the young neighbor who found the body had a description of the killer, Sing thought he caught a lucky break. He should have recognized the stupid grin on the officer’s face. The kid was a roacher.

Override (Part Three)

SERIALIZED FICTION: OVERRIDE (PART THREE)

By Warren Benedetto

Delek rode shotgun while Neera steered the stolen Body Shop van onto the busy freeway. She swerved from lane to lane, dodging through traffic, trying to put as much distance as possible between them and Artem’s other Sentinels while she could.

“Where’s Sev?” Delek asked. He gripped the door handle as Neera cut sharply between two Syntech transports. The tires squealed as the vehicle threatened to tip over.

“He’s home.”

“Alone?”

“With Marta.”

“So, he’s okay?” Delek’s voice felt thick in his throat. Neera didn’t answer. Delek noticed her hesitation. “He’s better, right? They were able to help him?”

Neera gripped the steering wheel tighter. “No.”

“No? Why not?”

“They lied. There were no payouts. No benefits. Nothing. They fucked us.”

Delek furrowed his brow. How could there be no payout? He had signed a contract on Roi’s tablet, right there in their apartment. Neera was there. She knew that. “They said you’d have the money by morning.”

Neera spat out a bitter laugh. “Yeah, well…”

“Did you talk to the guy?”

“Oh, you mean Roi? That lying sack of shit. I never heard from him again.”

Delek stared out the window at the monolithic Syntech tower that loomed over the city. The neon lights rimming its roof cast a pulsing green glow on the dark clouds above. “It’s gotta be a mistake,” he said, almost to himself.

“It’s not just us. It’s everyone. Every spouse. Every family. We all got screwed.”

“How long has it been?”

Neera opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again. Her expression was pained.

“How long?” Delek asked again.

Neera took a long pause. When she spoke, her voice was quiet. “Four years.”

The color drained from Delek’s face. “Four years?” He pressed his fingers into his eyes as he processed the information. “Jesus.” For a while, he sat in silent disbelief, trying to comprehend how so many years could have passed in what seemed like just days. “What did you do? How did you live?”

“It doesn’t matter.” She glanced at him, then returned her eyes to the road.

Microfiction: Animal Rights

MICROFICTION: ANIMAL RIGHTS

By Alex Woodroe

As soon as that video of a deer nudging Scrabble tiles across a patio table to spell ‘please’ went viral, it was over for us.

Microfiction: Adieu

MICROFICTION: ADIEU

By Alex Woodroe

Do not, under any circumstances, interrupt this broadcast.

They’re here.

Author Interview: Anne Heltzel

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: ANNE HELTZEL

Feature by Jena Brown

If you’ve been on social media lately, you’ve likely come across a book with a severed doll head on the cover. That creepy delight is Just Like Mother, Anne Heltzel’s adult fiction debut coming May 17, 2022 by TOR Nightfire.

The story follows Maeve, a young woman who has spent twenty years searching for her cousin. She last saw her the night Maeve escaped from the cult they were raised in. But when they reconnect, the memories and traumas Maeve wants to forget might be the very things that save her. Heltzel weaves a multifaceted story that deftly explores the themes of fertility and womanhood through the lens of trauma. It’s impossible to ignore the underlying tension that builds on every page as Maeve is forced to question her beliefs about who she is and where she came from.

Heltzel takes us deep into the psychological nuance of what it’s like to be manipulated, both as a child raised in a cult as well as an adult navigating social norms. And the similarities between the two are chilling. I was delighted to sit down and talk with her about transitioning to adult horror, what she’s afraid of, and how to navigate the terrifying waters of publishing.

News: New Quest Available

NEWS: NEW QUEST AVAILABLE

By Anna Madden

The horn blares to announce a great hunt.

I will soon be seeking tales for the third monster-inspired anthology to be published by Dark Matter’s new trade imprint, Dark Matter INK, and the theme is “Monster Lairs.” The submission portal for the anthology will open either late 2022 or early 2023 for dark fantasy horror offerings, and this collection will be edited by yours truly.

Grab your cloaks. Sharpen your swords on their accompanying whetstones. Take the moonlit path down into the valley of the night, where monsters prowl.

Whether it be a video game, a TV show, a novel, a short story, or a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, monsters and their chosen homes have long been featured as destinations where hope either falters, stamped into a dying ember, or shines all the brighter, its edges sharpened in the enfolding darkness. Places of contrast and parallel, drenched in fear, stained by blood and briny tears, filled with nightmare, where we face the certainty of our own mortality, our greatest worries, or truest selves.

Yet we seek these places out, willingly.

Reprint Story: Cocooning

REPRINT STORY: COCOONING

By Christ Nogle
Originally published by Three-Lobed Burning Eye

Six months ago, we were doing planks and push-ups and eating perfect at every meal. Now me and Donny are lucky to make it around the block a couple times after dinner. That’s it for the day—and only on the weekdays, just so the dogs don’t get too hyper while we’re at work.

It’s fall. Feels good to let go.

Leaves are taking over the yard. There’s poo to clean up if anyone cared to look, but we don’t look. We’re too busy streaming horror movies and eating pasta and cinnamon rolls all weekend. Donny must be sneaking Halloween candy, too, because the bag’s going down. We can turn the lights off and go to bed at eight on Halloween, for all I care. Might be nice to have a good snuggle.

We’re so cocooned, it takes us a week to notice it’s not just us, that there’s something up in the neighborhood. One day, I put towels over the bathroom mirror and take the hanging ones out, and just a few days later, everyone’s big mirrors are leaning against the trashcans.

It reminds me of when everybody got flat-screen TVs and dumped all the thick ones on the curb. Those blocky TVs were more than useless. They rubbed you the wrong way, like the mirrors do now.

It’s just too dark in the house to see things right. That’s what I tell Donny. When it’s dark and you look in a mirror, things seem to crawl and shift. Or if you’ve had a drink or three, you might think you look extra sexy—or when you try to cut your own hair, all the motions are off. Mirrors are strange. They’ve never been exactly right, and now they’re a little more wrong, is all.

And we don’t need them. We feel how strong and tight our bodies are getting. We feel our nails and our hair growing thicker and stronger, the lines in our chests and hands smoothing out. The spots on Donny’s arms are just a memory.

Mister and Gracie sprawl and snore at either end of the sectional. We make calzones, shortbread, big breakfasts for dinner. All winter we feel warm and full and good.

"Nobody Likes Me!"

"Nobody Likes Me!"

COVER ART FEATURE: "NOBODY LIKES ME!"

By Olly Jeavons (aka artofolly)

“Avert your gaze, trypophobes!”

Marissa van Uden
Assistant Editor

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