DARK TALES #4
A Prescription of Fear for the Midnight Reader
Dark Tales, Issue IV
Ghosts, hauntings, curses and incantations, small gods, magick, inimitable darkness, beguilement, vampires; this realm of existences into whose company I have just stepped into, the fourth issue of the latest UK-based Dark Tales, is well-suited for the Midnight Reader.
This quiet and clandestine order to which I, and if you are reading this you as well and by guilt of association belong by bequest, welcome with delight the following nine tales into our collective Heart of Darkness which sometimes appears to shrink then swell like the ozone hole over the Antarctic, and for perhaps the same reasons. The attractiveness (or the absence thereof) of a tale best described by the wonderful id macabre is strangely like the tricky moral undulations of our societies—and herein lies the secret of this attraction and explains our lust for them, be as we may often be outside the lofty mainstream: our complete and utter fascination with the transference of concept into symbol. More precisely in the context presented here, our lust for eternal life tempered by the way of preternatural horrors. A bit calculating on the gamut of fiction but this only underscores the requirement of that “other” human soul which we Midnight Readers seem wholly possessed of for the price of redemption; for what becomes of a man (or woman) who achieves eternal life but loses his (or her) humanity in the bargain?
While the following stories may not illuminate completely the answer to this eternal questioning they offer a glimpse through the window of contemplation where darkness lies in wait and dark creatures are born into a world of shadow where those described above find the comfort of camaraderie and nourishment for more fiery souls.
But even for those whose tastes and inclinations are decidedly dark, I offer a warning; the following tales are best consumed in moderation, like fine wine, not meant to be guzzled as their affects may lose their patina if taken all at once. For best results, consume them as prescribed below, one or two before bedtime and preferably very late in the evening with inclement weather. Optimum results are achieved when taken neat, that is, alone in the house except where otherwise indicated.
Claire Kirwan’s A Familiar Face invites us to the contemporary crossroads, the railway station, to present for your pleasure a tale of two ghosts, mirror images of one another not quite sure why they have been brought to face one another in circumstances near comically disconcerting. Reading it I was somehow reminded of the Twilight Zone episode, Willoughby, though with a decidedly different denouement. A good alternative to reading any news and excellent with a waning winter.
Mary Snowman’s chilling The Rocking Horse gives a grim reminder that not all beautiful things associated with childhood are innocent playthings, not all well-intentioned work advisable, not all secrets best revealed. Best consumed in solitude, at night with a gusty wind outside blowing that tree what needs trimming against the window.
In Granny’s Not Dead, Niall McMahon gives us four cardinal sides to a shadow that is only intimated but is as present as a pall over the story. Culpam maiorum posteri luunt (descendants pay for the shortcomings of their ancestors), as once observed by Marcus Aurelius is again observed in McMahon’s tale of supernatural familial revenge. Not recommended for the tender at heart and best when consumed aloud with semi-desirable out-of-town relatives in the house.
Michael L. Garrard’s The Quiet Place is a thoughtful, forlorn tale of the lingering soul of unrequited-ness. Set in the redoubtable charm of an English garden, it is a painting in words. Recommended after The Rocking Horse as a soporific balm as needed.
A sinister offering that leaves one with two possible occurrences, Chrissie Ward’s In the River is by neither occurrence wholesome but poetically justified. The aboriginal flavor is exquisite, the uncertainty delicious. This tale can be taken to intensify an otherwise calm and warm evening. Swim within one hour after reading.
Rare the cognizant relation between numbers and murder, John Glass’ tale 30 is a sober lesson in the art of whose means and purpose exist on the fringe of, and because of sanity. The baffling reality of mathematical theory notwithstanding, all things being equal, this tale comes highly recommended at the price, but careful of dates and events. One could easily be seduced into the pure poetry of numbers. Best taken with a good single malt in an armchair before the fire on a night you hope no beast, human or other, is without the shelter of calculating coldness.
Gary Kemble’s disturbing Black is a romp through the morbidly delightful destruction of a governmental laboratory and its operators whose purpose can only be questionable at best, terror at worst. One is left with the very real thought that when that dreadful and forbidden door is opened. . . .Mr. Kemble wisely leaves this to your imaginings. Take before bed when you don’t have to get up early the next day.
If you need reminding that childhood is fleeting, Two Flakes puts another local fixture dear to all children onto the ever-growing list of Pied Pipers. Tim Holmes' adequately unsettling yarn set in the bright sunlight of a sleepy town where at least one of its inhabitants sees the shadow creeping in from without once more turns the simple into the sinister, delight into fear. This story works as a stimulant when given aloud to children under the age of sixteen, with side effects that may include headache once sleep becomes impossible for them. Administer with caution.
Michael L. Garrard’s second helping of sloth, greed and lust for damnation displays a vignette of human vice and corruption crowned with malefic caprice. A lesson for those who would willingly pollute their own bloodstream before violating the inoffensively dead. Consume with a glass of Merlot, and keep the bottle handy.
Midnight Readers, enjoy each of these in moderation and please share responsibly.