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Gothic Voices of the City

Three terrifying tales from the winners of Dalhousie's Varma Prize for short gothic fiction.

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Every year the Varma Prize recognizes Dalhousie University English 
students who compose original works of gothic fiction or poetry. Funds 
for the prize are donated by Bill Blakeney in memory of Dr. Devendra Varma, former professor emeritus of Dalhousie and former honourary vice-president of the Vampire Research Society. Submitted for the 
approval of The Midnight Society, here are 2015’s winning entries.

———

Self-Absorbed
by Jenny Urich

Under the waning super moon, she made a wish at midnight,
“Let me be with my sister soon,” she asked the ruby moonlight...


When morning came, of course, her twin was still on exchange in Dublin, and wouldn’t be home until December (though she did send a text describing how the lunar eclipse looked from across the Atlantic). The wish wasn’t given much thought to begin with, and as the day stretched forward, it faded from her memory the way a dream does if never written down.

She attended her evening lecture as usual, in the old stone building veined with ivy. Her attention wavered between the professor and an uneasy rhythm in her heart. Steadily, unsteadily, the palpitations swelled until she thought she could see movements under her sweater, like small fingers rapping against her collarbone and sternum. Lifting a cautious hand up to her chest to stop the muscle spasms, she felt a weak force grasp onto her index finger—something feeble and malformed. When she jerked her hand away, faint indentations formed along her finger, and a moist, foamy warmth spotted through the fabric of her top. Clutching her backpack to her chest, knuckles and face equally pale, she hastily excused herself from the class. She rushed into a dark and empty washroom, and lifted her shirt—


There was no day so opportune for Mom to let them see,
The two lives growing in the womb had at one time been three...

———

The Creature Gives Some Retrospective Relationship Advice
by Jacqui Deighton

You see, I take the parts that I remember and stitch them back together
    to make a creature that will do what I say
or love me back.

—Richard Siken, 
“Litany In Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out”

Mary, listen.
Forget your father’s knee,
forget the words of your mother, forget
politics and economy and
the simple binding ties of family. Forget
loyalty, and the blinding pain
of your daughter’s tiny body, silent
and still in her swaddling cloths.
Forget your flame of a husband,
his heart on the funeral pyre,
so sea-swollen the fire couldn’t eat it up.
I learned early how beautiful
things can burn. You saw to it
I should. Sometimes,
children are born already dead.
Wandering this barrenness
since first you pieced me back together,
stitching up muscle and memory,
tissue and trauma, I have tried to learn
the human trick of dying.
All I have discovered
necessary I pass to you now:
Let go.

———

Lillian, Lilith, Lily
by Taylor Lemaire

      She must not cut
towards
herself,
      the pious palm that
      Mary stands beneath
      in throes, must go
      unbled. The blade
      pares the skin away
      from the pome,
      perhaps,
       just
        once,
towards
herself.

      She must leave
      the yellow paper be,
      no matter the sin
      it commits. Its sick,
      uncertain curves.
      How it must feel to
      plunge off
      at outrageous angles.

      She must rid the attic
inside
herself,
      of red shoes, gorgons,
      unshorn hair—relics
      of the angelic inverse.
      Fill in the loathsome
      dark with lilies,
      milk, old
      Patmore’s passive
      iambs. Bright rot
      to waste
inside
herself.

      She must not hold
      Zofloya to the
      light. Her lids
      pinched, rounding his
      body to the nearest
      red. Never close
      enough to know
      his hot breath smells
      of emeralds,
      of cloves.

      She must not chase
after
herself,
      the gentle glow of
      an empurpled cheek
      fast devoured
      in violets. The certain
      little bunch sits
      unstirred in linens,
      untouched,
      as she continues
      to tidy up
after
herself.

      She must speak
      soft as the moth’s wing.
      We get no Christ,
      no poet from her—
      a voice ground up
      in sobs. Sob still,
      else bare her
      whetted edge.

      She must put him
before
herself,
      the Romney, the
      Rochester, regardless.
      Bone of his bone,
      the skinless apple
      of his milky eye,
      she peels away,
      but never
towards
herself.

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