Earlier this year, I had the pleasure to meet N. Apythia Morges, the head of Dark Alley Press. Among other publishing projects, N. Apythia edits a recurring series of dark literary anthologies called Ink Stains. Released quarterly, each volume includes a collection of unconventional short stories in a variety of genres from black comedy to paranormal fantasy and dark literary fiction. I just picked up the most recent volume, which came out back in October, and found it to be an interesting exploration of short form gothic fiction.
Ink Stains: Volume 6 collects ten stories from different authors, all loosely related to the central theme of “crossing the line.” Each author takes the theme in a different direction: One tells the story of two boys who are about to cross the line from childhood to adulthood, but can’t help taking one last look back at their past. Another tells of a woman who straddles the line between life and death. And several more blur the lines between villain and victim, evil and innocence. The guest editor for this volume was J. S. Watts, a British poet and author of the novels A Darker Moon and Witchlight.
The first two stories in the volume were far and away my favorites. The leading tale is called “Playland” by Evan Purcell. Appropriately timed, given the resurgence in popularity of Stephen King’s It, “Playland” is a horror story featuring a deadly mechanical clown. But the true focus of the story is the relationship between Mike and Trevor, a pair of estranged friends making a last-ditch effort to reconnect with their past before graduating from high school. Mike is embarrassed by the way his former best friend clings to their childhood, but as they fight for their lives in an abandoned theme park, he learns how deep Trevor’s friendship truly goes. The story that follows is “Grotesque” by Alison Garsha. A more subtle horror story of sorts, this one follows Kira, an Oxford University freshman who is overwhelmed by how much harder college is than high school. After bombing all her essays, she makes a questionable deal with one of the gargoyles living on the roof of the Bodleian Library. But we all know that there’s always a catch to these kinds of deals.…
A few of the other stories had really intriguing premises, but didn’t quite nail the execution, in my opinion. “Death in Jerusalem” by Elana Gomel is about an Israeli woman who marries a physical incarnation of death—specifically of shooting deaths. He introduces her to his whole family of other Deaths, and slowly, she begins to become like them. The story gets bogged down by constant switches between past and present (both in chronology and tense), a technique which is not particularly well-suited to the short story format. Another example is “The King’s Viceroy” by Monica Carter. In this story, a writer named Marcello wakes up one morning to find that his most interesting character has suddenly vanished from the story he’s writing, one day before his publishing deadline. In desperation, he goes to a shop where he can buy a fully formed character, but in doing so bargains away more than he intended to. Despite this promising concept, the story peters out into a rather anticlimactic ending.
Overall, I found Ink Stains to be a fun way to get a quick taste of the writing styles of authors I otherwise would not have come across on my own. Many of them showed promise, and I look forward to seeing where their writing leads them in the future. The first six volumes of Ink Stains are currently available in print and as ebooks from most major online retailers. See the affiliate link below to find the first volume on Indiebound and support The Gothic Library in the process. And don’t forget to keep an eye on Dark Alley Press for an announcement about the seventh volume coming out in January.