13 Dark Issue #1 Dead Voices: A Review

After an unlucky stumble with Kickstarter, followed by a successful Indiegogo crowd sourcing, the first issue of 13 Dark is out.

While this project had to change from its original concept of 13 individual stories, released separately, the final product is no less stunning. And it holds fast to its original promise of story theme: Light and dark. Sacred and profane.

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Comprised of short dark stories by three authors, each with an intro by editor Joseph Sale, 13 Dark also gives each tale searingly gorgeous artwork packaged with an eerie cover.

A bit about each…

Bethesda by Ross Jeffrey

From the Intro: This story is a dialogue, both interior within the narrator, and exterior, presented in the two key voices of the story: the ‘pale man’ (Joe) and ‘Captain Haddock’. One is an atheist who has turned to God in desperation (and subsequently vilifies Him when he seemingly doesn’t get what he wants) and the other is a devout religious evangelist who talks about the Bible stories as though they were things that happened to him on the way to the shop. We walk the middle road with our narrator, and witness something truly spectacular.

Jeffrey uses atmosphere to present differences so well in this story. The beach is our setting, but it doesn’t have the sun-warmed sands we think of for a vacation. It is cold; the wind is damp and clinging. I shivered when reading, feeling the cold slant through me. In a windbreaker with the vibrant colors of Jamaica, the pale man — in his three-piece suit — looks out to sea. As he has done every day…

Our narrator observes the pale man’s ritual and relays the event to the reader, and it’s all done smoothly, this style that is more typical of a bygone age. Perhaps this is why it works here. Save for some modern touches of barista coffee and the like, the story feels as though it could take taken place at almost any time. The narrator’s conversations with rusty-edged Captain Haddock, a local beachcomber, fill us in on the details of how long the pale man has come to this stretch of beach, and watched the tides.

Bethesda is about a man who has given up hope, who is floundering with the hardest thing he’s ever dealt with, while beachgoers walk by him each day. Never stopping, never looking, never really seeing. Until he finally makes a desperate decision. He lifts a frail, wasted young man into his arms and begins walking into the sea.

At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Jeffrey has written about sacrifice, love, and miracles.

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Under Soil by Tice Cin

From the intro: …A tale of love, it would seem, but scrape away that painted veneer (again a Gothic concept) and you will see a buried truth, a dark beating heart. It is this hair-raising moment of revelation, when the illusion of our desiccated world falls away and reveals something buried beneath it all that must be seen, that makes Under Soil so powerful.

Anyone who reads my reviews with any frequency knows I love Gothic tales. Beauty giving way to decay, family secrets, doomed loves and lives. Under Soil gives me all of that and more.

Cin’s writing style flourishes with this dark tale. The language is like bouquet of flowers, each one chosen specially to convey a feeling that is almost beyond words. The hopefulness of love comes with a crack, a sharp sting that our protagonist relishes. Feeds on. Quickly, love and lust weave together, become something unrecognizable, unwanted.

I am surprised to write these next words: Cin was written body horror is such way that leaves me with both a churning in my stomach and a breathless fascination with its delicacy.

Simultaneously sensual and unnerving, Under Soil shows that Gothic has moved from mist-shrouded castles to wear a new, and modern face.

Undertow by Samuel Parr

From the intro: Descending into hell is such a popular theme in literature that there is even a specific word for this trope: katabasis. And Undertow is one, a modern katabasis that takes us into the river of eternity itself. As with all of Sam’s work, however, all is not as it seems. That which seems grandest can be most fragile, most illusionary, and that which is most fragile-seeming can be made of steel.

Mirabel enters the sewer-like Undertow to save her brother. But she is no ordinary girl.

Parr has created a quest in this story, one where a young magic-user encounters creatures of the grotesque as barriers to her goal. They are at once fearful of and hungry for her, but she has armed herself well. With a soul to barter.

Another tale with a narrator watching from afar, Undertow creates a vision of Hell that will stick with me for a long time. Fearsome monsters clamor for the new, the fresh. It’s what they see so little of, and what they desire most.

Parr seamlessly moves through this world and its sinister beasties, allowing the narrator to come ever closer to Mirabel, revealing a unusual nature, and finally becoming part of her story. It’s a fascinating, engrossing read. A tale of redemption, of resistance, of sacrifice.

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Editor Joe Sale ends the collection with one of his stories first published in Storgy magazine.

“Night Drive” is a great fit for this collection of tales. It’s dark, even claustrophobic at times, making the reader feel the impending doom closing in on the driver, the former Reverend John. Perfectly paced, it winds between a frantic pace and moments of relief, where we drag in deep cleansing breaths before plunging back into the pit again.

Reverend John can’t outrun his past—of lust, power, and baneful gods. He can’t outrun what he himself has called forth through poorly advised ritual.

You can get a paperback copy of 13 Dark Issue #1 at Lulu. Use code LULU25 to get 25% off the purchase price.

 

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