ENROLLMENT BEGINS NOW
A beguiling, sinister collection of 12 dark academia short stories from masters of the genre, including Olivie Blake, M.L. Rio, Susie Yang and more!
In these stories, dear student, retribution visits a lothario lecturer; the sinister truth is revealed about a missing professor; a forsaken lover uses a séance for revenge; an obsession blooms about a possible illicit affair; two graduates exhume the secrets of a reclusive scholar; horrors are uncovered in an obscure academic department; five hopeful initiates must complete a murderous task and much more!
Featuring brand-new stories from:
James Tate Hill
Definition of dark academia in English:
1. An internet subculture concerned with higher education, the arts, and literature, or an idealised version thereof with a focus on the pursuit of knowledge and an exploration of death.
2. A set of aesthetic principles. Scholarly with a gothic edge – tweed blazers, vintage cardigans, scuffed loafers, a worn leather satchel full of brooding poetry. Enthusiasts are usually found in museums and darkened libraries.
Release date: September 12, 2023
Publisher: Titan Books
Print pages: 400
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In These Hallowed Halls: A Dark Academia anthology
“Don’t come in,” said Phoebe suddenly as the battered Morris Minor pulled in to the side of the road.
“But Phoebe…” said her mother reproachfully, her hands still on the steering wheel. She glanced up at the grey stone wall looming over them. “You know I’d love to see inside.”
Phoebe did know. She imagined her mother wandering everywhere, poking into everything, saying “This is lovely” at the top of her voice. Or perhaps running a finger along a ledge or windowsill and saying “You’d think with all this money…” She felt guilty thinking this, but she was equally determined that it was not going to happen.
“I’d rather you saw it when I’ve got myself settled,” Phoebe said. She paused. “Really, Mum.”
Her mother was silent for a few moments. Then she said,
“But your trunk! It weighs a tonne. You can’t possibly carry it to wherever your room is by yourself.”
“I won’t have to do that,” said Phoebe confidently. “I’ll ask the porters to help.”
In actual fact she couldn’t imagine asking the porters to do any such thing; they were far too grand. But she thought she could probably enlist someone else to help, or even drag the thing herself, heavy as it was.
“I love you, Mum,” she said, leaning over and kissing her mother’s cheek. “But don’t come in. Next time, okay?”
Her mother was still touching her face where her daughter’s kiss had landed as Phoebe got out of the passenger seat and closed the door. She went around and opened the boot. The trunk sat end on; they’d had to put the back seat down to fit it in. It was absolutely brand new, with gleaming brass fittings, and as ominous as a sarcophagus; she couldn’t imagine how she was going to move it herself. However, she gamely wrapped her fingers around the handle at the end and heaved.
The trunk barely moved, and she could feel the muscles in her back straining. Phoebe saw her mother turning in her seat, and knew it wouldn’t be long before she was out on the pavement, trying to help. Worse, she might go into the porters’ lodge and ask them to do it. She cringed with all the self-consciousness of her eighteen years, and pulled again, desperately.
Then, miraculously, help appeared.
“Need a hand?” said a male voice, and she glanced up into a rather good-looking face under a mop of blond hair.
“Yes please,” she said gratefully. “It’s really heavy.” She stood back as he slid the trunk out of the back of the car and deposited it, end on, onto the road.
“Oof,” he said. “I see what you mean.”
He turned and scanned the street. “Oi! Toby! Come and help move this.”
While he was doing this, Phoebe shot an anxious look at her mother, wondering whether she would get out of the car and interfere. But the older woman, eyeing the proceedings in the rear-view mirror, had evidently decided that she could best serve her daughter’s interests by staying out of it. Phoebe sent up a silent thank you.
The two young men hoisted the trunk between them.
“Where to?” asked the one called Toby, and she had to fumble out the piece of paper with the staircase and room number on it. Then they set off, because it wasn’t sensible to stand about holding such a weight between them.
Phoebe knocked on the driver’s side window. When her mother wound it down she said, “Bye, Mum. I’ll phone you at the weekend, alright?” Then she hurried after the trunk.
When Phoebe saw the staircase she knew she could never have dragged the thing up it by herself. Her room was on the second floor and when she got there, the two young men were standing outside it. The trunk was on its end again and she wondered about her books and shoes and bottles of shampoo all jumbled up together.
“Key?” said the one with blond hair.
“Oh. I forgot it,” she said, and she could feel herself blushing. He grinned. “Go and get the lady’s key, Toby.”
“You don’t have to—” she began, but Toby had already started down the stone stairs.
She looked at the blond one. He was leaning against the door frame, looking comfortable. Then he put out a hand.
“I’m Charlie, by the way.”
She stared at the hand for a moment and then she put out her own and shook it. “Phoebe.”
It was 1982, and she had just met the love of her life.
Charlie was reading Engineering, she discovered, the college having a particular tradition of favouring the sciences. Phoebe was going to read Classics, which the university called Literae Humaniores, and that was another thing about which she was rather self-conscious; the college had only recently begun to admit women, and she felt she ought to have chosen something robustly scientific and traditionally male, just to show them all. She couldn’t help what she liked though, nor what she was good at.
The college was large and sprawling and although it was popularly known as “Old’s” it was not simply “Old College”; it actually took its name from the fourteenth-century founder, whose name was Henry Oldys. Charlie’s room was in a different building to Phoebe’s. She traced and retraced paths between her room and his, the lecture hall, the library, the dining room and the buttery, with increasing confidence. After a couple of weeks she no longer lost her way trying to find particular rooms, and then she began to explore. There was a charming little chapel done out like a Wedgwood vase in blue with white plaster moulding, a tiny quadrangle with a handful of fruit trees, and a forgotten alcove housing an oil painting of the college founder. This last item was very dingy and it was hard to make out much of Henry Oldys beyond the yellow gleam of a bald head. However, underneath the painting there was a little gilded notice inscribed with the words Henry Oldys, Master of ye College. Phoebe had to screw up her eyes to read it.
She studied the painting for quite a while, but couldn’t really pick out much in the murk. A pale patch, like the glimpse of a fish belly in dark water, was a hand resting on something. It seemed a little disrespectful that the founder’s portrait should be in such a poor state, and tucked away like this, and Phoebe wondered whether there was spite in it. It was one of the many peculiarities of the college that the incumbent head of Old’s was always known as the Deputy Master, due to a condition laid down by the founder that there should never be any Master other than himself, even after he was long departed. A good deal of wealth rested upon that condition, but Phoebe could imagine that holders of the post found it irritating. She thought it was quaint; that and the various other eccentric traditions and superstitions of the college were excellent material for her weekly telephone conversations with her mother. It wasn’t as though she could tell her what she had been doing with her time between lectures and tutorials, since a lot of it had been spent in bed with Charlie.
By the end of the first term, Phoebe thought she knew her way around the college pretty well. It was a surprise, therefore, when one dark and blustery morning in January she found herself lost again. The room for a particular tutorial had been changed because a pipe had burst, causing water damage, and the new one was in an unfamiliar part of the college.
Phoebe went through a doorway she didn’t remember having seen before; there was a worn red velvet curtain drawn to one side of it, and she had the impression it had always been drawn across before. Beyond it lay a long stone corridor, one side of which was studded with narrow windows like horizontal slits, too high up to see out of. She walked down it rather briskly, because she was in danger of being late. There was nothing on any of the walls – no pictures, no sconce lights – and the sound of her shoes rang out on bare stone flags. At the end she stopped, confronted by a heavy oak door set into a pointed stone arch.
Above the door in faded black lettering were painted the words:
DEPARTMENT OF ONTOGRAPHY.
Phoebe stared. Ontography? She had absolutely no idea what that was. It seemed improbable that this was the way to the room she wanted, but she tried the door anyway, grasping the iron handle, which was black with age.
The door didn’t budge. It was clearly locked. There was a keyhole, and on impulse she tucked her dark hair behind her ear, stooped and tried to peer through it. It was blocked; the key had been inserted from the other side.
Odd, thought Phoebe. She wondered why someone would lock themselves in, but without knowing what the discipline was, it was hard to guess why that would be necessary. She decided to look it up later. In the meantime, she thought she had better retrace her steps and try to find the proper room.
Much later, lying next to Charlie in his untidy room, she said:
“What?” said Charlie drowsily.
“I don’t know. Aren’t you the languages buff?” “I thought maybe it was a science,” said Phoebe.
“Don’t think so.”
“Why do you want to know?” asked Charlie.
“Because I came across the Department of Ontography today and I wondered what it was.”
“Rings a bell, but I can’t tell you. Why don’t you look it up?” He gestured vaguely. “There’s a dictionary on the desk. It’s Toby’s – I borrowed it for that bloody essay.”
Then he sat up and stared as she got out of bed and padded over to the desk.
“You really want to know, don’t you?”
“Mmm,” said Phoebe. She leafed through the dictionary. “It’s not in here.”
“Well, who cares?”
“I do. It’s kind of… odd. A whole department and it’s so obscure.” She looked at him. “Don’t you think?”
“I think,” said Charlie, “that if you keep bending over that desk I’m going to get out of bed and come over there.”
She put down the dictionary. “You have a one-track mind, you know that?”
“I like to think of it as intellectual focus. Come back to bed.”
“Alright,” said Phoebe. “As long as you promise to help me find out what it is.”
“Anything,” promised Charlie.
He tried to keep his word. The next day when they were having lunch in the buttery he said, “I looked for ontography in the big dictionary in the library, and it wasn’t in there either. But without joking, you are the linguist. Can’t you work it out?”
Phoebe considered. “Well, the graphy bit is easy – it means writing about something, or maybe describing it. Onto is a bit more difficult. It’s the present participle of the Greek verb to be. So I suppose ontography might be the study of beings, or actually being.”
“That’s vague,” said Charlie. He thought for a moment. “Perhaps it used to mean something, and doesn’t anymore. There were a load of things that used to be considered sciences, like phrenology. And alchemy. When Henry Oldys was around, that was actually a science – I mean, he studied it. So it could be something like that, only…”
“I went to the porters’ lodge to have a look on the board – you know, the one with the list of names, and the hooks for spare keys.
And it’s on that.”
“Well, not the department. It says Professor of Ontography.”
“Was there a name?”
Charlie shook his head. “No, just that.”
“Doesn’t mean there still is one. It might be old.”
“I don’t think so – I mean, they redid the lodge a year or two back. Wouldn’t they have taken that out, if there wasn’t one anymore?”
They looked at each other.
At last, Charlie said, “Why don’t we just go down to wherever this Department of Ontography is, and have a look? We can ask them what Ontography is.”
“Isn’t that a bit…” Phoebe’s voice trailed off. She couldn’t think of quite the right word.
“They ought to be pleased we’re expanding our minds,” said Charlie.
“I suppose,” said Phoebe. “Alright, then.”
But when they found their way back to the spot where the corridor to the Department of Ontography was, the red velvet curtain was drawn across it, and behind the curtain the door was locked tight. Phoebe tried it twice, rattling the handle, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Damn,” she said.
“You’ve really got a bee in your bonnet about this, haven’t you, Pheebs?” said Charlie.
She was a little shamefaced. “I suppose you think I’m nuts.” He grinned. “Not at all. Well, a bit.” He put his head on one side.
“I’ve got an idea.”
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