Annum Arcanum Vol. 0

Page 1



Editor of Prose

Jesse Anderson

Editor of Poetry

Sawyer W. O’Brien

Editors of Art

Trinity Bui

Tessa Coleman


Olivia McCabe

Production Manager

Zephyr Conrad

General Manager

Madeline S. Trice

©2024 Annum Arcanum VCU Student Media Center P.O. Box 842010 Richmond, VA 23284 Annum Arcanum is a workshop and annual publication by and for VCU students. Check us out online at

Volume 0: a Letter from our Founder

What is Annum Arcanum? Simple:Annum Arcanum is an atelier and annual anthology archiving arcane artworks. If you’re flexible on the rules of Latin, it might mean something in the ballpark of “a year, a secret.“ Still not clear? That’s ok, neither are we.

Annum Arcanum is a new organization founded in the Fall of 2023, publishing its first collection (this one here in your hands) in 2024. As part of the Student Media Center at VCU, we are fully operated by student staff and this collection is entirely made up of student work. The goal of this publication is two-fold. First, we seek to create spaces specifically catered to the showcasing of works that are experimental, niche, or otherwise outside of the mainstream in other words, the arcane. Beyond that, we strive to be a resource for students to develop their skills as artists. Annum Arcanum is not only a place to publish student work: we also run an online workshop and hold monthly meetings to discuss student work as a community. The hope is to not only have students collaborate to improve their work, but to train their skills as members of a workshop environment as well.

So, why Volume 0? We received our budget late in October of 2023 and had only a few months to put together a collection if there was going to be one at all for this first year. To do that there had to be some compromises. We wanted to set the example of what this publication aims to be, but we had to work around constraints: the limited time frame and our own lack of history. For Volume 1 we hope this collection will be full cover to cover with work that has percolated up through our workshop, first discussed online and again in person before being submitted to publish. For this first year, instead we offer you this prototype. The work featured herein is all by our staff and the founders of Annum Arcanum. Our hope is that somewhere in these pages you will find the inspiration to come and join us in the workshop.

You can find more information about us online at We hope to see you there!


of Contents Nana’s Hands by Jesse Anderson .................. pg. 1 Vampire Villanelle by Madeline S. Trice ......... pg. 3

Words by Tessa Coleman .................... pg. 4 Orders:Begin Again by Sawyer W. O’Brien ......... pg. 6

by Trinity Bui ............................ pg. 8

by Jessie Anderson ..................... pg. 22

by Madeline S. Trice ............... pg. 24

full moon by Sawyer W. O’Brien .... pg. 10 Orpheus and Eurydice by Olivia McCabe .......... pg. 12 Prey by Madeline S. Trice ...................... pg. 14
Dragon, My Fairy by Trinity Bui ............. pg. 18
Moth to Flame by Tessa Coleman ............ pg. 20
Warning: Violence + Gore

Nana’s Hands

In life, Nana always grabbed my hands, my fleshy little mitts, poked them with her long, yellow nails, proclaiming, Oh, youth! How fresh and young. And I’d sit there fascinated by her papery skin, her treebark knuckles, her rivers of purple, bulging veins. Long after Ma and Pa buried her in a reserved plot by my grandfather I never met, Nana stayed by my side, reaching; her phantom presence in the mirror, trying to pull bars of soap from my grasp, never really able to get a hold of me.

That was until she kept me up all night snatching and pulling on the thick flesh of my hands ’til I woke up with fingers too sore to hold my pencil for note-taking at school the next morning. Nana wrapped my hands together as I sat out during recess as punishment, tangling them together for me, squeezing my anger away.

On the walk home, the usual trucks roared down the freeway. I meandered on the furthest point of the asphalt I could, left foot in the grass, right foot on the road.

Nana’s ghost grasped my wrists, pulling me out of traffic, my lazy legs leaning forward as the top of my body gets tugged to the side. A pristine shiny white SUV hit a pothole and swerved, whipping wind against my face, whizzing down the road. A pebble flicked by its tire popped against my ankle. I bled.

If the driver saw me walking down the side of the road, they’d’ve seen a little girl, arms suspended in the air as if with wire, deerlike legs ambling: a marionette bobbing across the late-autumn grass.

Such a close lick with death should’ve frightened me, but it didn’t, ’cause I had Nana floating above me, guiding me home. I thought, perhaps it is safer not to think for myself, to allow myself to be led.

Nana opened the door with my hand, and I spotted Ma cooking dinner. Pork chops. And she was butterflying them, throwing them in the oiled pan without pounding them, which was a no-go in Nana’s cookbook, because then the meat wouldn’t be tender. Ma said she could never taste the difference. And maybe there was a difference still, to me food was just food but Nana had already wrapped her hands


around my wrists, and I had already grabbed the mallet. There I was, slamming it down on the pork, still in the pan, gold droplets of hot oil flying everywhere. Horrible sizzling noises. And Ma screamed, What are you doing girl. Her voice filled with such a rage my back arched and my skin crawled, but my arm kept smacking that mallet down again until the pork was sufficiently pulverized. When I turned to face her, Ma smacked me across the mouth for not listening. Like a good girl, I bowed my head and told her sorry.

But Nana puppeted my left hand into the air and slammed it against Ma’s cheek.

And that was that. Head still down, I was sent to my room no supper for me, again. So I sat on the pink carpet of my bedroom with my head buried in my hands, hungry and sobbing and sniffling.

Snapping my neck back to gaze at the glow-in-the-dark stars plastered to the ceiling, I cursed into the false sky, hoping Nana could hear.

My neck ached when again I felt those hands on mine: thin, soft skin, the dig of yellow nails making dimples in the curves of my wrists. My hands raised and my palms faced the ceiling. And I held there like that for a long while, until the sun set through my window and the stars began to glow that familiar faint glow-in-the-dark green. Nana turned my palms again, inwards, and placed my own hands on my face. Squeezing and pulling my own pillowy cheeks. Just as quickly, my arms fell, hands limp in my lap.

Nana got one last touch of me and left. The next morning, looking at myself while brushing my teeth, I swore I saw Nana for a moment. Not the ghostly apparition of her behind my reflection, holding my toothbrush, but instead in my own eyes, darkening from hazel to brown: in my cheeks, sagging downwards. At breakfast, I noticed the blandness of Ma’s gravy, the dryness of her biscuits. I said nothing. I walked to the bus stop, attentive and careful. The morning traffic seemed busier than usual.

Vampire Villanelle

Red lips release that damned infernal curse. Purgation’s fire in hand, he comes again. But oh, of course. It only makes it worse.

In empty, dark, secluded tombs they lurk. But still, afraid, he sought the creature’s den. And lips release that damned infernal curse.

Eternal fires extinguish. Souls disperse. Undead now too, his hunt has found its end, Of course, of course. It only makes it worse.

His instincts thrall to that nocturnal thirst. A plague upon the blood of mortal men. Red lips release that damned infernal curse.

The village overcome, in death immersed. Come home infected, hunters welcomed in. But oh, of course. It only makes it worse.

And when all turned, they strike back at the first. They come to burn the empty tomb again, And lips release that damned infernal curse. Of course, of course. It only makes it worse.

Ghost Words

Digital Painting

An apparition seeks reconnection across the veil, using ASL to convey a message of love.


Orders: Begin Again

Orders: Begin Again

Figure 1:

metal table, air-con chilled silhouette inlaid: testament to a hundred years of the human form

Figure 2: body supine: back pressed to metal altar, palms offered up in service of a man-made god

Nitrile-covered fingertips prod around the open flesh of your wrist, pushing under thin, blue-coated wires. Fingertip presses, splitting the casing: copper filigree running to a brain no longer connected by nerves.

Figure 3: medical waste bin, stuffed full, overflowing no care left for the weaknesses of human life

Figure 4: redacted name on a squad role sheet page burned over a mountaining pile of ash

You wake to the taste of heparin, hands, lined with oil, clenched in tentative fists. Legs swung over the side of the table: the first step of a crusade you were unwillingly reborn into.

Figure 5: God’s name etched on the inside of a chest plate screws tightened over ribcage: name pressed to heart

Figure 6: file folder: classified information personnel old lives erased to make room for new soldiers

Assignment: new planet, unknown life You are a sacrifice with your God’s name on the tip of your tongue but not in your memory. You must have been meant for this role: your ship looks familiar, assigned bunk smells like home.

Figure 7: planet ------ unfit unsuitable atmosphere crew shipped back, blue

Figure 8: final piece: heart pumping system of self-oxidizing fluid blood left to run off the table, down the drain: useless —


Digital Painting

A personification of Ring Around the Rosie, mixing in whimsical with the macabre origins of the song.



i don’t fit this body anymore. claw marks, deep red, against the pale skin of my chest sensation sharp against the ache in my breasts.

i’m still waiting for the transformation: the thick hair to sprout; body fat to shift; settle differently on my face; voice unintelligible, no longer high and clear, but the deep, guttural howl that’s been trying to escape.

if a needle in my thigh means i can skip the once‑a‑month, then i’ll drive it deep, relish the bite.

for now, all i’ve got are my organs shifting. hunched fetal, waiting to be reborn myself. i barely want to sustain this, how was i supposed to create another?

they don’t ask which form you’d rather take, and if you do tell them, they’ll call you a monster. —

full moon

my appetite surges, teeth itch, the scent of blood in my nostrils mingles with fear that won’t quite tamper down. society sees it as or wants it to be anger. they prefer the animal that can be put down to one borne of desperation.

curled up here, waiting for the next wave of pain to recede, hoping that next month will be the first i’m free, that i’ll finally fall beyond the moon’s pull, or fully succumb to it.

and Eurydice

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has taken a darker turn. As Orpheus turned around, Eurydice is taken back to the underworld layer by layer.

Inspired by Theodor Friedl’s “Cupid and Psyche“



The dry snap of a fallen twig beneath your foot crashes through the silence. You stifle a sharp intake of breath and recoil from the sound like it’s something jagged, searing, and dangerous. You whip your gaze around and sweat flicks from your brow with the movement. Despite the generous bounty of light from the night’s full moon, you can’t see more than a few feet through the dense foliage.

Echoes float through the forest. You’re still for a moment as it passes, and the silence settles back in. Somewhere in the dark, something is stalking you.

Carefully, in a half crouch, you move through the underbrush without making a sound. Not long ago this had seemed impossible, you remember how unabashedly you once stomped through these trees only three days before when you were setting up camp with your partner. How quickly you learned to move in the right ways under the watchful gaze of that hidden predator.

It’s nearly upon you now. You cannot outrun it. Your only safety is the labyrinth of trees breaking up sight and scattering sound. There will be no more panicked running which is good, because your bare feet are already in such wretched shape and it’s been days since you’ve stopped. You wonder if it knew what it was doing when it took your boots.

It chitters and trills in mad bursts, sharp explosions of multifaceted clicks bouncing around through the trees. The sound of it lands on your ears like so many different shards of glass. The way it echoes and breaks, you’re not sure if the stalker is a single thing or a swarm. You try to move away from the sounds but they seem to come from all around you as if to say there is no escape.

But it has not got you yet. Even if all is lost, you can still run for a little while longer. You shut your eyes and wait for the piercing call to die out. Pushing yourself deeper into the gnarled-up roots of a fallen tree you try to blend in with the rotting bark. By the time you begin to move again, you feel you’ve become just one more —

forest creature in the eyes of the rooted strangers watching down from above with their sagging branches.

Creeping along, you find yourself confronted with a cliff face. The ancient and alien part of your brain, the part that’s been prickling up at the back of your neck and screaming that something is watching you, has gone quiet. So far, you’ve relied on that strange nervous feeling to gauge the creature’s true distance; the closer it got, the more intense that static popping sensation in the base of your skull had been. Cornered now against the rocks, you don’t think the creature would have backed off, and so the absence of your brain’s little warning signals worries you. Does the creature know how to hide from the unseeing eye of instinct? And if it does, has it been anticipating it and using your own inner eye against you, herding you to this spot only to then drop from sight?

Too much to consider. You must keep moving. You force yourself to remember what it did to your partner, how you’d found the body; what it might still do to you. You’d only had a moment to look at the corpse before the creature had been on you and this all began. You’d barely escaped it then, literally scrabbling out of your boots as the monster had tried to grab you.

The cliff is a problem. Too high to go up it, you look to either side but it’s impossible to tell which will be the better way around. There’s no time to try and climb a tree and get a better look. Your instincts might be at ease but you’re pretty sure the creature is still somewhere close by. You pick a direction and go.

You move so deliberately now, a long cry from the novice camper stomping through the trees. You ease each bare-footed step into the soft earth without making a sound and weave through the dense trees to avoid being seen from any one angle for more than a moment. You are silent and invisible as you move along the cliff’s edge. There. Half-hidden by a fallen boulder, a shift in the rockface has formed a high narrow crack large enough for you to wriggle inside. You nearly passed it by but you felt the stale breeze of air coming from the exposed cavern as you got close.

Inside the cave, there is no light. A far cry from the moonlit midnight of the forest, where your eyes had adjusted to see as if in the light of day, in here is the


almost tangible velvet of true darkness.

Feeling along the wall you find an alcove at about waist height just large enough for you to stuff yourself into. You settle in against the cool stone and at last find it in yourself to feel some measure of safety. You can be still here for a little while in this cool, dark place.

But it does not last.

Something is at the cave’s mouth. Your cave. Not the creature, something clumsy and loud. Doesn’t it know it will bring the monster upon you both?

It’s coming into your cave now. It endangers everything. It’s so loud and obvious in its movements as it stumbles and trips. Why, why, why, did this stupid thing trespass into your home here in the dark? It has killed you both.

But you are not dead yet. For days you have struggled to survive. You are willing to fight too. Without a sound, you reach out through the darkness toward the intruder. Snatching flesh and hair and pulling it close, you twist and tear and bite until the screaming stops and all that is left are the wet sounds of its bones breaking and flesh tearing.

You cannot keep the stinking meat here in your cave. You must drag it away so that it does not attract other predators. You are still careful to do this quietly. The thing has a partner you can hear them out in the woods, not far off setting up a campsite. You leave the body near enough that its partner will find it: a warning to trespassers.

You begin to stalk your way back to your cave but something twinges at the back of your head to stop you. Too soon. The other has already found the body. You slink in a wide arc around them, catching glimpses at varied angles. It is cradling the corpse in its arms and crying. There is something cloyingly familiar to this but you cannot place it. You are too overwhelmed by an entirely new sensation.

This thing, this wet and whining little thing weeping over the corpse of its partner, it excites you. It reminds you that you are very, very, hungry. You click your tongue

when your mind lands on the word you were searching for and it hears you when you do, looking up from its beloved meat.

Prey. Prey was the word.

You’re on it a moment later, wrapping yourself around its legs and clawing at the flesh. You don’t want to kill it just yet; it’d be over too quickly. Maim it, slow it, stalk it, this is what the buzzing at the back of your mind tells you must be done. You throw your head back, a delighted, gleeful grin spreading across your lips.

Not a grin, though. It is a threat display.

You bite down hard on the leg of your prey and the thing begins to kick. It batters you over and over with its legs and you cling to its feet, trying to stifle the struggling. Still, the thing manages to squirm out of its boots and kick itself free. It desperately scrambles away, crawling across the forest floor, and you dart backward out of sight. You watch as the poor creature awkwardly pushes itself back up and glances around, looking for you.

Confused for a moment by your sudden absence, it makes a move to retrieve the boots. But you want it to run. Now. You make a sharp clicking sound deep in your throat, throwing your voice in a wide lateral so that the strange clicks scatter and echo oddly as they reverberate through the trees. Your prey flinches away, eyes widening, and you see your opportunity. You lunge suddenly from the darkness and the thing jumps into a panicked gallop through the forest.

The buzzing in your neck is aflame now with new excitement but you do not chase, not yet. There is no need to rush. You will let it tire itself with fear and exhaustion. There is a bloody and beaten path to follow the clueless creature by, and its movements are so loud. You circle the spot of the struggle, the stench of blood, urine, and rot dancing in your nostrils.

Your eyes fall on the boots.

Of course, they are a perfect fit.


A painting of the two lovers from Vietnam’s Creation Myth, Au Cơ and Lạc Long Quân, depicting their tale as a dark fantasy romance. ^

My Dragon, My Fairy

Like Moth to Flame

3D Render

Like moth to flame, two companions meet. But who is the hunter and who is the prey? And is the fire worth the flame?


Roaches, or the Cost of Living

The apartment is a bargain 895 monthly. The caveats: a broken elevator, persistent ceiling leaks, “pests.“ But you are young with strong legs, a sturdy umbrella, and an appreciation for unconventional company. Especially during the holidays, when supper occasions guests.

You clack silverware. “Meal’s ready!“

Your friends skitter from a corner, crawl up the table. With the fluid, swarming mass of their bodies, they spell THANK YOU FOR MEAL HAPPY HOLIDAYS RENT 1,100 START JANUARY.

“My pleasure, darlings.“ You feast. Then your companions scale the wall.


Your heart races: you have not been given the honor of meeting Him, the Land Lord, not yet. A mixture of fear and arousal dampens your brow.

A chitinous claw rams through the studio door.

The scampering hoard of lovelies retreat back into the corners, under the counters. Hidden and hearing, the illusion of privacy.

Maw masticating with anticipation, He staggers through the doorway.

— — — — —

The Devourer of Orbs, Sfarfortara is cursed to ever reside in an old Poloroid camera. When a photo of any orb-like object is taken with the camera, the entity appears in the picture and the object, if small enough, disappears from reality forever. With every stolen sphere the creature grows larger. One day, with a simple click, it could eat the sun.

Sfarfortara Linocut on paper

Jesse Anderson, sometimes published as Jesse Lacy, is a graduating senior majoring in English with minors in creative and professional writing. They serve as the current literary editor for Amendment, and they are a creative nonfiction intern at Blackbird. They also read for Orion’s Belt, a speculative fiction publication.

Sawyer W. O’Brien is a graduating senior in the English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies departments. Sawyer is also on the staff of VCU’s Amendment literary/ art magazine and plans on further pursuing writing.

Tessa Coleman is a current sophomore at VCU in the department of Communication Arts. Her work, also featured in the 2024 edition of Emanata, focuses on narrative through visual mediums. She has also worked as an editorial illustrator for the 2024 publication of Pwatem and as an editor on its companion book, Rabble: Odyssey.

Trinity Bui is a graduating senior majoring in Communication Arts with a Da Vinci Certificate in Venture Creation. As an artist and storyteller she always includes a narrative with her pieces, whether they be full illustrations or her specialty-comics. In addition to her work in Annum Arcanum, she has three comics with Emanata, in the 2022, 2023, and upcoming 2024 publications.

Zephyr Conrad is a sophomore at VCU majoring in psychology. As the production manager they helped oversee the assembly of this collection, so while their work is not featured here in this issue Volume 0 nonetheless contains their blood, sweat, and tears don’t worry, we sanitized it afterwards.

Olivia McCabe is a graduating senior majoring in Communication Arts with a concentration in Scientific Illustration. She aspires to work in the publication industry, the scientific community, and/ or the game design industry. When she’s not illustrating or designing, she is at home with her cat or looking at a bug outside.

Madeline S. Trice, sometimes Madds, is a graduating senior majoring in English and Creative Writing. You can read more of her fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction in the 2024 issues of VCU’s Pwatem, its companion publication Rabble: Odyssey, and in Amendment under her maiden name, M Yamamoto.

Special thanks to Jessica Clary, Mark Jeffries, Owen Martin, and everyone at the Student Media Center. Getting Annum Arcanum off the ground wouldn’t have been possible without their support. While this was our first year as a publication, it was the SMC’s last year at their current location, so we’d like to extend that thanks to the place that gave us and so many others a space to make something magical.

Thank you.


arcane /ar’kan/ adjective understood by few; mysterious or secret. -

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