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Arcane: Penny Dreadfuls For the 21st Century (Volume 1)
Edited by Nathan Shumate
Cover Artist: “Snap” by Dan Verkys
Review by Sam Tomaino
CreateSpace Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781461059608
Date: 01 April 2011 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Pub Info / Table of Contents /

Arcane has stories by Justin Pollock, Jeff Crook, Jason V. Shayer, S.M. Williams, Jaelithe Ingold, Tom Wortman, Michael Lutz, Stephen Hill, Donny Waagen, Amanda C. Davis, William Knight, and Rob Errera.

It's always nice to welcome a new magazine to the fold and here is the first issue of Arcane, Penny Dreadfuls For the 21st Century. Editor Nathan Shumate tells us in his submission guidelines, "Arcane is a fiction magazine concentrating on weird horror, the supernatural and the fantastic. Imagine if all of the 'cool kids' from the original Weird Tales — H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, etc. — has been writing continuously from that day until this; what would they be producing?"

This issue begins with "Hazards" by Justin Pollock. Our narrator opens the story telling us that whenever he notices someone pulled off to the side of the road (with their hazards on), he always stops to see if they are all right or need help. Late one night, he spots a Dodge Neon along the side of County 26, parked at a 45-degree angle with their hazard lights blinking. He stops, gets out of his car and, as he's walking over, notices there are two people sitting in it (looking like they might be sleeping) and the engine is off. I'll stop there and just says that this had some real chilling moments in it and was a good way to start off an issue.

In "Darnell Behind Glass" by Jeff Crook, the titular character runs a gas station and convenience store. He barely makes ends meet. Three of his regular customers he calls his "bums", specifically, the Vet, The Bag Lady, and the Junkie. They don't buy anything but he gives them coffee or hot dogs he's going to throw out. We get a hint earlier that something is amiss, but it's at the end that we get the real horror of the situation. All in all, a pretty good story.

Matt and Owen are two boys who decide to check out "The Mine" in the story by Jason V. Shayer. The mine had been abandoned when the company that built it had disappeared along with the men who worked it, including Owen's father. There had been a shootout near the mine between the Sheriff and some bandits. Matt and Owen want to see some dead bodies. They find something else in this harrowing story.

With a title like "Ricky and the Elder Gods" by S.M. Williams, you have an idea what's the story is about, but this is a little different take on the Cthulhu Mythos. Ricky is a low-life killer driving a van from Florida to the state of New York. In the back are some dead bodies, some barely alive people and two creatures he calls Burns and Carver. They're actually Old Gods and he's helping them out by driving around picking all these people up. It's the last stop in which things happen and it comes to a pretty good conclusion.

"Gingerbread and Ashes" by Jaelithe Ingold is a sequel, of sorts, to an old fairy tale that involved a gingerbread house. That's no spoiler as from the start, an old man is looking for his sister, Gretel, in the remains of a ruined gingerbread house. The good thing about this story is the direction it goes in from there making it another nasty little horror tale.

"Dear Management" by Tom Wortman is an epistolary tale, consisting of a series of letters from a new employee to management, complaining about a rank smell in his office. Letters go unanswered and he decides to investigate. The problem with this story is that one wonders where the other employees are and that strained my patience too far.

"In the Place Where the Tree Falleth" by Michael Lutz features Henry Cudder, a man studying for the ministry and making some money selling bibles. He hears about an old mansion called Treehill in which a family named the Godwins live and tries his luck. When he talks to the Godwin family member in charge, he's told that they worship a different god, so "No sale." A rainstorm causes him to, unwisely, stay at Treehill for the night and he learns a bit more. This one was pretty good.

In "Laundry Night" by Stephen Hill, Rita notices that socks tend to disappear in one of the dryers of her condo. When her nasty husband complains he has no socks, she goes down into the laundry room again to see if she can find any. She fins something else. This one really ratcheted up the horror to an amazing crescendo.

"Hello Operator" by Donny Waagen is the story of a man stranded late at night in a seedy part of town. His cell phone is dead but he finds a phone booth to call a friend. No one answers the phone, but that's only the beginning of his troubles in this distinctly different horror tale.

The main characters in "Courting the Queen of Sheba" by Amanda C. Davis are three carnival folk, Billy, Alice and Arthur. One day, while setting up for a show, Billy tells the other two that someone is displaying a dead girl. It turns out the dead girl is billed as the Queen of Sheba. The three stare at her for a while before exiting the tent in which she is displayed. They find the proprietor of that show dead. The owner of their show arranges to have the man buried and acquires the Queen for their show. This is a big hit at first but leads to some serious problems. Davis writes a nicely imaginative story, evocative of an earlier time.

The penultimate entry in this issue is "A Requiem for Tarsenesia" by William Knight. This seems to take place in a fantasy world culture in which the city of Tarsenesia is besieged by monsters that can only be kept at bay by music. Ishtra's father, Marcus, makes musical instruments and is much respected in the city. That does not help when a corrupt priest of the Moon God wants to take Ishtra into his service. Marcus is executed for his defiance but Ishtra finds a way to have her revenge. A nice change of pace fantasy story for this collection.

Finally, we have "The Hole" by Rob Errera. A deep hole is, at first, in the sea and then, on land. It has a very bad influence on those that come near it. Anyone who falls or is pushed into it does not come out. There is one exception, but this leads to horror. The issue ends on a nicely told fable.

Arcane is a nice addition to the field that could use an old fashioned kind of horror magazine. You have several ways of supporting this magazine. I suggest you pick one of them.

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