There are stories that are inspirational. There are narratives that uplift, cheer you up, and induce a sense of hope in an otherwise dreary existence. Books that, when you've read the last page, act like a sliver of sunshine on a rainy day. Let's just get one thing straight: this is not that kind of book.
All That Darkness Allows is a modern horror anthology containing 13 works of speculative fiction from today's brightest young voices and the country's most prolific authors in the genre. If you're a fan of the macabre and the morose, the ghastly and the ghoulish, then you'll find a story in here that will take over your soul like a spectre in the night.
Romantic and violent, fearsome and filled with dark wit, the collection dwells on the more disturbing aspects of the human condition, using horror to explain the complexities of everyday life.
Below is an exceprt from the short story "Inked"—a semi-erotic tale about a young woman who, after geting a tattoo from an enigmatic artist, starts behaving strangely. And when things go from weird to downright gruesome, she realizes that a powerful entity is threatening the very fabric of her being.
By Anton D. Umali
“Stop scratching it, babe!” Dan had yelled from across the one-bedroom apartment, sprawled on the bed in nothing but his baconized briefs, diddling his iPhone, lost in another one of his Clash of Clans binges.
She couldn’t help clawing at the damn thing. A week had already passed since she got the tattoo, yet she was still experiencing a burning sensation unlike anything she had ever felt before. It didn’t look infected and even seemed to be healing faster than usual. But it felt as if the tattoo had a heartbeat of its own, throbbing and throbbing and throbbing to no end. It also didn’t help that she’d been in the worst of moods since. Everything ticked her off: her offcemates, her overbearing boss, her clingy father, and Dan. Always Dan.
Sitting there in his old underwear, still as fit as he was back in college, Anya couldn’t help but crave for his touch. Dan was what most would call a nerdjock hybrid—the type of guy who called videogames “vgames”, wore his Star Wars fanaticism with pride, and still had time to do CrossFit on the weekends. All these stellar attributes, however, didn’t change the fact that Anya had caught him cheating on her a month ago with some lowlife chick from the vintage vinyl store where he worked, the kind who liked to pretend that she was one of the boys to further her sexual conquests.
The affair screwed them up. But in the end, they decided that having invested four years into the relationship was too much to waste on one “slip up”—Dan’s words, not hers. From then on, Anya couldn’t bring herself to open her legs for Dan, the sweet pop culture junkie who could go on and on about Parokya ni Edgar and Pink Floyd, Chewbacca and Charles Manson, Pixar’s Up and Up Dharma Down. She used to find his musings charming, but now, they were like a fly trapped inside her ear.
This afternoon felt different. She was overcome by unusual warmth, feverish and viral. Dressed only in her pink panties and one of Dan’s old sandos, she sat on the sofa, opening her legs wider than her body would normally allow, her toes on both feet pointed like a prima ballerina.
She hissed at Dan, sounding like a beetle begging for its life. As he took his attention away from his phone screen and onto Anya, she saw a hardness building up in his loins, pushing his ratty underwear farther away from his crotch like a tent pole. Dan’s excitement grew as she made her way towards him. She slithered across the room, the spot between her thighs visibly wet. It had been a few months since they’d made love.
As she straddled him, her thighs scissoring his waist, she felt the abnormal hotness of her own skin. She grabbed him by the back of his head, pushing her mouth towards his, enveloping him in a frenzied kiss. He closed his eyes, lost in the chaos of her saliva, her twirling tongue, her gyrating hips. This was unusual behavior for Anya, who, despite her liberal opinions and provocative sense of style, was actually conservative between the sheets, preferring soft pecks and slow rhythms to what porn enthusiasts would deem hardcore.
Anya could sense that he was about to come and Dan wanted to pull out because she wasn’t on birth control. But as he gestured for her to get off of him, she refused, hugging him tighter and tighter and tighter until he almost couldn’t breathe. As his juices rushed out of him and into her, Anya bit down hard on his neck. The mixture of pain and pleasure was so surprising that he pushed her off, sending her straight to the floor.
“What the fuck, Anya?” Dan exclaimed in both agony and ecstasy, touching the left side of his neck, where a slow stream of blood ran down from teeth marks that weren’t there before.
Anya simply smiled and licked her lips, her disheveled hair framing a nasty grin. She had a little bit of his blood and saliva resting on the side of her face. As she stared at Dan from where she sat, her pupils dilated, flooding her eyes in a complete blackness that was inhuman. She saw the fear and confusion in his face.
Anya ran to the bathroom, locking the door behind her. As she stood in front of the mirror, she understood. Staring right back at her from the reflection were eyes that weren’t hers. They were the eyes of an animal—stifling, invasive, and ravenous.
That night Anya dreamt of a jungle. She was lying face down on an expanse of grass, surrounded by huge tree barks that blocked the moonlit purple sky behind them. In the dream, she turned over to lie on her back, but suddenly found that she couldn’t move.
Her limbs had gone limp, the patch of grass in which she found herself turning into a velvet mattress that cushioned her immobility. She couldn’t look anywhere but up at vine-covered branches that reminded her of her sickly grandmother’s arms, gross and ominous in their fragile state. There were no stars in sight and the branches swayed to a tune she could not hear, to wind that seemed to make things move but could not be felt. Only the sound of crickets in the distance filled the dream world with a static hymn of white noise.
It was all very calming, until her left thigh began to itch.
It was just annoying at first, like a bug crawling on the surface of her skin. But as she realized that she was unable to relieve herself of it, the itch grew rabid, every second pushing her to clench her teeth and writhe in place. She wanted to scratch, but couldn’t. And it was painful now. Searing, even. Her thigh began to disintegrate, the gray bone exposed for the flies and gnats and mosquitoes to feast on.
The blood came out of nowhere, pooling around her in a tidal manner. A teabag in a scarlet sea, she floated around for what seemed like forever before being engulfed in a thick, red tsunami. She sank, drowning as the hot liquid penetrated her nostrils and streamed down her throat—but it felt more like she was being consumed. Digested. And before she shut her eyes to surrender, a pair of arms, tattooed and familiar, pushed down on her shoulders, forcing her to descend deeper into the madness.
All That Darkness Allows is now available in National Bookstore outlets nationwide for P250