I have come to describe my fiction as ‘Existential Horror’, a loose term to provide some insight into the type of stories I write. So what is it? ‘Horror’ or ‘Literary Fiction’ alone are too broad and unspecific. I find that ‘Existential’ may fit as a proper modifier as I can consistently apply Sartre’s aphorism, “Hell is other people”, as a theme. The profound resentment we have of our identity constantly being defined from others who will never love us as we want to be loved.
Existentialism centers around the self and its meaning, a fervid attempt to define exactly what makes an individual. In metaphoric places where we need to confront ourselves (like Sartre’s hellish waiting room), we can best imagine what makes up our essence. In liminal spaces away from our comfort zones, can we confront the deepest fears and anxieties of existence itself.
Horror, of course, thrives in these absurd spaces of madness and dread. Monsters are the representations of that which threatens our constructed realities and the persons we want to be (but never are). We want to be loved for ourselves, and are profoundly resentful that this is not the case. Stripping away the safety of that realization brings a terrible epiphany that the foundation of our identity may not be as solid as we have always believed. Whether it is body horror, the body rebelling against its very self, or cosmic horror, the sense we are never safe and always insignificant, the conventions of horror can force us to confront individuality as but a mechanical function of our surroundings. Perhaps we have always been Strangers (Camus) to ourselves, our family, our children; long ago inhabited by the Thing or Body-Snatcher. In fact, these two aforementioned horror movies are exactly what I would call Existential Horror as they deal directly with the question of what makes us human. Clearly the ‘I’ is more than a just a body husk and a logical brain. What would have to be taken away before we are no longer ourselves, no longer uniquely human, but just a Thing.
The horror in my stories don’t deal with the knife or demon, but rather with passing moments of madness, fear, loneliness—celebrations of sublime forces that wish to wrench the humanity from us. As philosophy is married to this concept of self essence, so do my stories take place where a small wavering of reality or a chink in our temporal cage throws a character into a downward spiral of identity dissolution. Whether or not the described phenomena is real or perceived is irrelevant; the fact is, in the end, everything’s importance is to the impact on the self and consciousness. Hell is other people.
The frustration with Existentialism as a philosophy is that there is no easy or agreed upon definition of what exactly it is. The most honest appraisals direct us to read the works of those who have been labeled as such (Camus, Sartre, Heidegger, Kafka) and take their themes as a proxy definition despite the many contradictions that exist (sometimes even within the same author). So in that spirit, here is a listing of some of my short (and free) existential horror stories that can be read online (click titles for links).
BLACK STAINED GLASS – published by the Molotov Cocktail, a flash fiction story which won second place in the yearly Halloween #FlashFear contest. This is to date my biggest writing accomplishment as the Molotov Cocktail run periodic short story contests get many quality submissions. The story works equally as a coming of age tale and a bloodbath in a church.
DOWNWARD GOD – published by the Deadman’s Tome. This also won a flash fiction contest the online magazine hosts during October. This story invokes Lovecraft concerning the (sometimes) strange practice of yoga. In special advanced contortions, can the yogi transcend the laws of the universe? Inhuman poses open a door to an absurd world where indifference blooms and hell is indeed other people that are us. Namaste.
A BROKEN OATH – published by Spelk fiction. This is one of the first stories I wrote that examines the essence of the self. A fastidious cosmetic surgeon is forced to contemplate his being and value. Used to working on injuries and abnormalities, the good doctor finds a existential threat not in an extreme deformity, but rather in the twin demons of the banal and the symmetrical.
LAST MEAL OF ADONIS – published by the Deadman’s Tome. Along with A Broken Oath, this is an examination of beauty and the blind reckoning in its chase and consumption. But who eats who? And if indeed we are what we eat, doesn’t it also work the other way?
BEAUTY OF AN OUTGOING TIDE– published by Flash Fiction Magazine. This is the first of my flash fiction stories concerning beauty that in its very form can’t help but to deceive. What traps do we foolishly race into?
If you are interested in more stories please see the full published list here: S.E. Casey published stories.