Review by Steven Pirie

It worries me that the editorial begins: 'Well, another issue arrives - late...' It doesn't seem to bode well that 'two out of three people who were supporting the publication financially have been unable to continue their commitment...' I've seen such circumstances mark the death knells of other small press publications, though Editor-in-Chief James R Cain is quick to add: 'let me assure you we're here to stay'.

I sincerely hope so. The genre needs people like Mr Cain and their publications. They are the grass roots, as it were, working for the love rather than the possibility of achieving riches from their efforts. Long may they continue, and long may they find support among their readership. I hope Mr Cain's honesty has no effect on those considering taking out a Dark Animus subscription. I hope alternative support is found quickly; Dark Animus is too good to go down.

Dark Animus #7 is sized A5, is 80 pages of a 'good feel', of a coloured cover artwork with monochrome illustrations inside, of seven works of fiction and four poems.

The issue opens strongly with The Snake Man by Tim Curran.

The carnival is in town:

And in Tim Curran's mind that can only mean murder, mystery; intrigue and dark happenings. And it's a wonderful piece of writing, worthy of the admission price alone.

I'm reluctant to provide a synopsis of the story--partly because in doing so it would be easy to add spoilers, and partly because part of the charm of this story is the way in which it unfolds and builds, and that should be something the readers discover for themselves. But through it Curran gives us wonderful glimpses into the secret worlds of the freaks and carneys, and he does so with great skill and humility.

“When the Snake Man came to see the Fat Lady, he said nothing. He came through the narrow, warped door of her little trailer that was too small to be comfortable and too large to be secure. He moved silently into that cloistered envelope, parting mists of fried foods and the thick smells of bacon grease, chocolate cakes, and sweet breads. He came in and found a woman who wore her flesh in blankets and sacs, in worlds and universes, a woman who crouched deep inside that girth and shuddered, hoping, praying no one would see her in there, whimpering.”

Excellent stuff, I think, and well worth the read.

Bloodbath by Lee Clarke Zumpe has the unenviable job of following The Snake Man. A much shorter piece, and I think that's good editing by Mr Cain given that the opening tale is long; gives the reader time to breathe a little. It's a decent tale, not as layered as the opener, but carries the reader along nicely, and again I'm a little reluctant to summarise things as it will be easy to give the game away. I have a slight problem with the ending in that the protagonist is in cardiac arrest yet still manages to shoot at the villain. Call me Mr Picky but I'm not sure I'd be that bothered about villains at that point. Past that, the very end is feasible in horror circles and is left nicely open for our protagonist to become... no, that's the real spoiler.

Tale number three--Doof Doof Doof by Paul Haines.

A pint of what Mr Haines is on, please!

Wonderful stuff, this--sexually frustrated Big Bad Wolf, three not-so-little pigs out for a little porking, a very willing Little Red Riding Hood--make that two pints.

What more can I say? Well, I think the idea of it is deliciously funny, but there is a little unnecessary crudity in there that detracts from the tale, not because I'm prudish in any way but more because it really is unnecessary to make the tale work. It works as an idea already without adding so much detail.

For example: “...thrusting his fat little hips against Little Red Riding Hood's a**e as he f***ed her from behind.”

I've put the asterisks in. So, is it in there just for shock value? Does the author think the idea needs punch? Don't get me wrong, overall this detail is not the rule, but because of its inclusion I wouldn't read the tale to my granny just the same.

That caveat apart, I loved it.

A Helping Hand by Robert Hood.

This is written as a story within a story, and the demarcation is attempted by different fonts and font sizes, with a bit of bold and italic thrown in for internalised agonising. And visually it doesn't work. It feels as if the text jumps about the page. There's no reason at all why such a tale structure can't be used, but I feel it's up to the author to be clear in navigating the reader through the tale rather than have the publisher play tricks on the eyes. The irony is that the author does just this, so as an experiment I can't help feeling it'll be nice to soothe the Dark Animus typesetter's troubled brow and send the idea quickly back to the drawing board.

The helping hand in the story within the story is an allegorical tale to facilitate children's room cleaning. Jimmy, the boy in the story outside the internal story (where are those fonts when you need them?), would rather have a 'helping hand' to do a little throttling of his enemies. Don, the father, is rather disturbed by it all, and in his mind the hand becomes real until he sets off in its pursuit. Nice final line--whose hand is it? I'm not saying. Buy Dark Animus to find out.

Oh, and anyone who has the line “'He used to be such a nice boy' (his mum)” in his author bio can't be bad.

Soul Money by Terry Gates-Grimwood is another strong tale.

Hang on; Terry's a Whisperer, isn't he? I have to say that, don't I? Don't know, is he a big bloke?

It's a tale of finding an artefact, of the ill-gotten gains it brings, of a testing of integrity in its use and its passage onward, of a failing of the test, and an ultimate redemption before the tale becomes circular with a short epilogue section ready for the artefact to claim its next victim.

All good tales have the angst as the protagonist fights to change, and there's enough hint of good in Nick that we're rooting for him at the end. Criticisms? Well, I have a real dislike of “paaaayyyymmmmmmeeeeee!” type lines (only one, to be fair)--they strike me as firmly comic book and pull the reader from the tale. Other than that, none at all.

The penultimate tale is Harlequin by Troy Milne.

I must confess I found this one hard going. The protagonist is never introduced other than as 'he' or 'the killer', which de-personalises the tale and makes it harder to sympathise with 'his' plight. It's also written in a somewhat vague style, so much so that by the end of the first page I'd still no clear idea what was going on. That the protagonist drifted in and out of flashback didn't help me. It meant I found myself glazing over at times.

There are some nice touches in there--likening the decrepit station to an old man, for example, caught the eye as being unusual, and it's clear Mr Milne has a talent for the horrific descriptive. It's just that I prefer my fiction a little less ambiguous.

So, I apologise to Mr Milne. It is, of course, just a personal opinion--I guess there are many readers out there who will find the style of the tale just perfect.

Last amongst the fiction offerings is That Magical Day by Paul Melniczek.

A mysterious man enters a bar and is pampered to excess by the otherwise unfriendly locals, and the mystery is... why?

In a way this feels like two half tales--the first is the setting up of the stranger's visit and our protagonist's questions going ignored or discouraged. Then, (luckily, eh?) one of the locals tells all, and the second half of the tale begins.

It also feels like two tales in that in one respect the stranger's demeanour is menacing, yet the revelation of what he did to garner the town's eternal gratitude is very altruistic. If this dichotomy is deliberate, and I've no reason to doubt it, then kudos to the author for weaving a complexity into what is essentially a linear story.

There's some wonderful artwork in this issue. Brian Smith's illustrations to The Snake Man and Soul Money I thought particularly vivid, but the others are also worthy of note. There are also four poems, but not being a poet I don't feel qualified to comment upon them unduly. My apologies to Dark Animus's poets!

Overall, I enjoyed Dark Animus. Each tale has merit in its own right, although The Snake Man I feel is the strongest story. Here's hoping issue 8 is neither late nor under funded.

Dark Animus, edited by James R. Cain, PO Box 750, Katoomba, NSW 2780, Australia. A5, 84pp, $7.70AU post-paid in Australia, $5.00US + $2.50 s&h elsewhere, or $25AU/4 in Australia, $25US/4 international (post-paid).

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