The Quiet Box

The Quiet Box is a short Christmas horror story I wrote last year for Kendall Review’s (kendallreviews.com). Due to a quieting in all writing activity lately, I never got a chance to write a cosmic yuletide terror tale for 2020. This will have to do for now. Enjoy…

***

“What is it?”

The last of the wrapping paper stripped away, Timmy flipped the empty box in his hands. Dyed black and dotted with what looked like stars, it seemed to be an ordinary cardboard shoebox.

“It’s a quiet box.” Grandpa’s voice cracked. The left side of his face drooped from palsy and he slightly shook all the time. Timmy only saw his Grandpa at Christmases. The change in his health from the previous year was noticeable.

Timmy shrugged. “What’s a quiet box?”

“Grab that egg timer.”

Timmy retrieved the timer from under the tree, one of the cooking gifts given to his Mom from the new boyfriend, Carl. Without need for further instruction, Timmy set the timer for one minute and placed it in the star-speckled box. He closed the lid.

Tracking the time on his phone, he waited. There was no sound. Timmy was surprised, the cardboard top of the box fit loosely, some sound should have escaped. But the room was noisy, filled with conversations of adults, crinkling of wrapping paper, and the excited chatter of his cousins.

Timmy ran to his room retrieving his alarm clock. Carl hated it, the buzzer obnoxiously loud. He set the alarm to go off in two minutes and put in in the box.

Silence.

After five minutes, Timmy opened the box. The clock’s shrill alarm buzzed loudly. Everyone in the room stopped talking; aunts, uncles, cousins, and Carl angrily glaring at him.

Timmy turned it off.

“Sorry.”

He put the lid back on the box and slid it under the tree. There were other toys with which he could play. He nodded at his Grandpa, giving his best effort to appear grateful.

His Grandpa smiled. Timmy couldn’t tell if he winked at him or if it was just a tic.

***

After his Mom and Carl had gone to bed, Timmy snuck out of his room tiptoeing past their bedroom door into the living room. In the dark, he approached the Christmas tree and turned on its lights. He liked how the blinking colors lit the dark room.

Timmy found the quiet box under the tree. It struck him that it could be the last gift he would receive from Grandpa. He studied the box, curious to how it worked. The edges were frayed and the corners were slightly ripped. It definitely wasn’t airtight.

Opening the lid, he inspected the inside. Similar to the exterior, the threadbare cardboard was dyed black dotted with yellow stars in random constellations.

Timmy spied Carl’s phone on the coffee table. He grinned. Taking the phone, he placed it inside the box and closed the lid. Retrieving his own phone from a pajama pocket, he dialed Carl’s number.

Listening intently, in the still of the house, he couldn’t hear the ringtone. Timmy giggled imagining Carl frantically searching for his phone by having his mom call the number to listen for the ringer.

Timmy turned off the tree lights. He would resume figuring out how the box worked tomorrow. Maybe his Grandpa knew. Timmy made a mental note to call and ask him. He would need to do it soon. Timmy bit his lip thinking about the time his Grandpa had left. He wondered how it felt to know that time was so short.

Treading lightly, he made it back to his room ready for bed. It had been a long day. He took out his phone placing it on nightstand.

Timmy was surprised to find the phone lit, the call duration timer displayed. The call he made to Carl’s phone hadn’t rung through. Someone had picked up.

Bringing the phone to his ear, Timmy listened. The connection was strong, but he couldn’t hear anything. In fact, he heard nothing. He increased the volume, but there was only silence on the other end. It was strange, a deeper kind of quiet than he had ever heard. There was no ambient noise, no static, no background reverberation.

It was an absence of sound.

Timmy kept the phone hard to his ear as he put on his slippers. It was tricky doing it one-handed, but he couldn’t bear to miss the perfect silence fed to him from the other end.

He left the house out the backdoor, not bothering it to close it despite the December cold. Walking through the backyard, he entered the woods. The trees had long since lost their leaves, the starlight from the cloudless sky was bright enough for him to find his way.

Timmy found the gap in the chain link fence that divided the woods from the interstate highway. Keeping the phone to his ear, he snuck through. One of his slippers came off, snagged on a jagged fence barb. He left it behind.

Scrambling down the embankment, he stood on the highway shoulder. From around the corner, bright headlights suddenly blazed. A truck barreled toward him. Timmy could feel the rush of displaced air as it passed and the heat of its engine. The truck didn’t slow. It didn’t see him, the brush at the point where the highway bent hiding him from view of oncoming vehicles.

Keeping the phone to his ear, the sublime silence continuing to gush, Timmy took a step into the road. Serenaded by the sounds of nothingness, he thought again of his Grandpa. It would be his last Christmas and he hadn’t gotten him a gift.

Sometime soon Grandpa would hear the quiet. It would be all there was at the end. Timmy only wished he wouldn’t be alone when that day came. He now knew what gift he wished to give. If he only could.

Timmy took another step onto the road.

He looked up. The sky fit loosely above, the horizon dissolving into corrugated black edges.  The stars looked tired, drops of paint mistakenly spattered on a faded canvas. He looked in between the stars, into the vast open spaces, searching for the quiet.

And he listened to that still, dark emptiness. Listened to it until the lights came and took him.  

Coven Justice – Drabble published in Quarantine Quanta

My drabble, Coven Justice, has been chosen for a slot in the recent drabble contest, Quarantine Quanta, run by fellow writer Maura Yzmore. The contest spans a variety of speculative fiction—horror, sci-fi, and slipstream—as well as some unclassifiable pieces. My drabble landed in the Quanta of Levity category reserved the cross-genre humourous (in my case sardonic humor) selections.

[Click for story link.]

Much thanks to Maura Yzmore for spawning this contest during these days of quarantines and distancing. It was a most generous contest especially considering it being free to enter. So please check out, spread the word, and support Quarantine Quanta as well as checking out some of Maura’s own drabbles (she’s written one or two…or more).

 

coverqq_v3
Cover by Daniele Serra

The Quiet Box – Flash Fiction Xmas Story up at Kendall Reviews

My latest Christmas Flash Fiction Horror story, The Quiet Box, (click title for link) is now up on Kendall Reviews site. This one follows my Christmas flash, The Toy Gun Factory, of two years ago, and The Stars Over Casper, Texas, last year. Although not intended, these three stories share a similar voice (Dickens vs Ligotti perhaps). They seem to be getting progressively bleak. Wonder what I’ll get up to next year.

Thanks to Gavin at KendallReviews.com for posting it on his site. Kendall Reviews is a growing horror blog featuring book reviews, author interviews, guest posts, articles, and promotions. It’s an active site with new content posted most every day. So please check them out and follow on twitter (@gjkendall)! Promote Horror.

KendallBanner7.jpg

 

Limbo in Limbo: New Story Up At Bizarro Central

Mayhem on the high seas! Cosmic cruise ship horror! My latest flash fiction story, Six Days and Endless Nights (click for link), is now available to read at Bizarro Central.

Like most of my flash stories, this tale was sparked by its first line—a cruise ship limbo contest that doesn’t seem quite right—and letting my anxieties decide the logical course (at least to me) of everything that would follow. Purple pools, snake roads, doppelgangers, and secret fights in the engine room, all set to the piano melody of John Carpenter’s Halloween. The world is a scary place folks. This is why I don’t travel. This is why I rarely leave the house.

cruiseship10
Click for story link

Thanks Eric and all the good people at Bizarro Central for publishing! If any other authors have a weird/bizarre flash fiction story, they have an open Flash Fiction Friday submission call (see BizarroCentral.com for details). I found in shopping this piece that there are very few online sites specifically looking for bizarro shorts, so I’m glad I found this. Hope other authors will considering submitting here and make Flash Fiction Friday a thing.

Bon Voyage, S.E. Casey

 

THE STARS OVER CASPER, TEXAS — honorable mention, Weird Christmas Flash Fiction Contest

My 350 word short holiday story, THE STARS OVER CASPER, TEXAS, received an honorable mention from WeirdChristmas.com‘s inaugural holiday flash fiction contest. You can listen to my story and 11 other weird flash fiction stories from the contest results episode of the podcast (mine starts at 12:41), or read it in the comments section. So, what is my story about? I think the host’s introduction to it says it all, “…a mix between Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Ligotti”. So, that’s going in the Author Bio; heh, heh.

Thanks to Craig at Weird Christmas for running the contest. He has committed to doing it again next year, so get your stories ready (only 350 days until the 2019 deadline). Also, thanks to Brian Earl (twitter- @XmasPastPodcast) from the Christmas Past blog for his reading of my story.

S.E. Casey

texasPic
CLICK FOR STORY LINK

The Toy Gun Factory – (A Christmas Horror Story)

There were no ceremonies and no witnesses. Twelve days before Christmas, in the middle of the Shaker Hills Mall parking lot, the tree appeared overnight.

Driven clear through the asphalt, its expansive width obliterated several rows of prime parking spaces. Gnarled bark and cankerous knots pocked its sooty trunk. Laden with rotten needles, its black branches swept off the stocky axis casting an ominous shade in the weak December sun.

Ribbons of mercury festooned the dark conifer, an infernal beauty in the cancerous tinsel although no one was fool enough to touch. We knew to steer clear, a tangible blight radiating from its awful core. At night, we beheld the lights recessed in the stygian foliage blinking deliberately like eyes of some wicked deep-forest predators.

No one knew the motivation behind the unwanted gift or the identity of its silent benefactor. The mall remained open despite the sinister presence. However, sales were sluggish, the mall plagued by a myriad of strange phenomenon. Without explanation and at irregular intervals, dirges of bassoons and oboes would blare over the PA system. Escalators suddenly reversed zooming backwards at ten times the speed, several broken bones and concussions the consequence. A six-year-old girl’s hand was badly scalded in the atrium wishing well, the waters somehow brought to boil.

The odd occurrences continued after hours. The department store mannequins were repositioned during the night, no one admitting to the deed. In the morning, the store owners would find them lurking in menacing poses or dangling from the ceiling in mock hangings. Thirteen mannequins went missing, the same number as the work gloves and coveralls mysteriously stolen from Krauss’s Sporting Goods.

Silent for decades, the abandoned factory behind the mall fired up its furnaces. Iron dust spewed from the dilapidated smokestacks which had been painted in a candy cane swirl. No one smiled at the mockingly festive design, a foul brown cloud gathering above the dilapidated building. Whoever manned the old assembly lines remained a mystery. No one could get close enough to find out, the demonic growls of the watchdogs slinking unseen amidst the winter shadows keeping everyone at bay.

The mall shut down three days before Christmas, abandoning the most profitable shopping days. The Yuletide spirit had been wrung out of us. We mostly stayed home, the shuttered factory’s hellish growl and faceless laborers the town’s only commerce.

On Christmas Eve, we were compelled to gather around the monstrous tree. Basking in the icy moon shadows, we celebrated under the starry black limbs, foolish worshippers shushing the crying children before hanging our sacrifices in those solemn, malevolent boughs.

facttree4

 

 

Story first published in 2017 on HorrorScribes.com. Placed 6th place in the Horror Scribes 2017 Christmas Horror Story Contest.

Needles – Drabble published by Trembling with Fear (HorrorTree)

My 100 word story, Needles [click for link], is included in the 12/2/18 edition of The Horror Tree’s Trembling with Fear weekly fiction blog.

I thought of the story more than a year ago as a possible drabble, but never actually wrote it due to laziness. I originally came up with the idea while commuting, which I have found where most of my stories are born. Writing a number of drabbles over the summer, I decided to see if my ‘Needle’ idea worked and finally conquered the procrastination imp to write it.

Thanks to the Horror Tree—Steph Ellis, and Stuart Conover—in publishing. I have been using the Horror Tree for submission ideas, publishing news, and industry tips since I started writing. It’s a great resource, informative, and a big time saver. Glad to contribute a little something to the site, hopefully this goes some of the way to saying thanks!

HORRORTREE

The Scaredy Men – New Story, Top Ten #FlashMonster Contest Finisher

Happy to announce that my new flash fiction story The Scaredy Men is part of the Molotov Cocktail Lit Zine’s Halloween #FlashMonster edition. This story started as one of the drabbles I wrote over the summer for another submission call. Initially titled “Scarecrow Music”, I decided this idea had so many facets and possibilities for something bigger that it needed to be expanded. In fact, one of the many drafts ended up being 1,200 words. Although there were many directions it could have gone, I committed to one pairing it down to the 1,000 word limit.

scaredy-men1
Illustration by The Molotov Cocktail

One of my biggest frustrations in writing is choosing a definite path from the multitude of possibilities any premise can travel. Much like a cornfield maze, I know all the turns that I forewent and wonder if the story would have been better if I had chosen differently. It’s the same with most stories I write, the final result just one possibility out of the hundreds that could have been. Much like regrets and buyer’s remorse over any life decision, I suppose. But that’s another post…

My story ended up finishing 10th in the contest. Congratulations to the winners in the Top 3, and the other stories rounding out the Top 10 as well. Happy that some of my twitter friends, Christopher Stanley and Emma Miller, are part of this issue as well. It’s good to see some familiar faces who have read and commented about my work in the past being successful in their own writing endeavors.

Finally, thanks to Josh and Mary from the Molotov Cocktail for running the contest. I love the illustration for my story (see above). Also, as a top-10 finisher, I will be a part of the year end Molotov anthology which will be my third!

Happy Halloween!

S.E. Casey

BlackLung_Color_update

 

Vinegar Chips available at 101Words.org and Other Drabble News

My 101 word story “Vinegar Chips” has been posted at 101Words. It’s the first in a group of drabbles I have recently written. There has been several recent drabble horror anthology releases that have been making the rounds in recent months (DrabbleDark, ed. by Eric S Fomley and 100 Word Horrors, ed. by Kevin J Kennedy), so I thought I would throw my hat into the ring. Perfect, the short-short format, as in the summer, my time to write is limited.

I also have 100 word stories accepted to be published in Chronos: An Anthology of Time Drabbles (available for pre-order) and Drabbledark II (release TBA). Also, I have written two other drabbles that I am waiting for markets to open. Another 100 story I wrote I expanded into a full fledged flash which I am excited about.

Thanks to Maura and Shannon from 101Words for publishing. Check out 101Words.org and their sister site, FlashFictionMagazine.com too!

S.E. Casey

potatochips

Biological Determinism – Short story up at Silent Motorist Media

My latest flash fiction surreality, Biological Determinism, has been published by the relatively new weird and bizarro online magazine/blog Silent Motorist Media. Originally, I wrote this in response to a contest call by SMM for 200 word stories relating to “Esoteric Sausages”. While an idea based on this theme came to me quickly, I had a little problem deciding which 15-20 darling words I would need to chop off to get it down to the count limit that, along with other deadlines distracting me, had the contest end before I got a chance to submit. What to do with a odd, esoteric sausage story? Fortunately, Silent Motorist Media opened up soon after for general submissions. Without the word count limitation, I was free to expand my abstract creepiness to 420 words. Submitted. Done.

Biological twitter
        *Click for Biological Determinism story link*

 

Thanks to SSM’s creator, chief editor, and benevolent tyrant Justin Burnett for publishing. Justin has a lot on his plate, but was really enthusiastic about working with me and featuring this piece on his site. Check out and subscribe for other Silent Motorist Media content. Music, literature, philosophy, art. Interviews too, most recently a-list horror authors Michael Wehunt and Philip Fracassi. Hopefully, I will be talking with Justin myself, soon.

SMM logo