O Unholy Night in Deathlehem – a holiday horrors charity anthology available now

My doom laden Christmas story, TRADITIONS AND ROTTEN DELICACIES, is included in the latest edition of the Grinning Skull Press annual Deathlehem charity anthology series available here. Its for a good cause as proceeds go to The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

This was a story I wrote a long time ago which was to be included in a Christmas/winter weird horror anthology by me. Due due to some heroic procrastination techniques I diligently employed throughout 2018, it hasn’t yet gotten off the ground, so it gave me an excuse to work on polishing one of the stories. Plus, it’s going to a good cause.

Thanks to Harrison Graves (editor) and Grinning Skull Press for publishing. Other authors include fellow flash fiction writers I often get published with Wiebo Grobler and Christopher Stanley (#teamdarkness).

Happy holidays and good reading!

S.E. Casey

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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.

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

“As Thou Wilt (Ms. Self-Destruct)”- short story released in the Strange Behaviors Anthology

My story AS THOU WILT (MS. SELF DESTRUCT) is included in the recently released anthology Strange Behaviors: An Anthology of Absolute Luridity published by Nihilism Revised. This anthology contains 30+ stories and 420 pages of the weird, bizarre, mad, and just plain revolting, as the title and artwork suggests. So snuggle up in your favorite reading nook and keep those support peacocks close if you dare to order, intrepid readers!

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My story was conceived and written a few years ago as an unchecked ego, downhill, destructive, stream of conscious, one-act play. The dating scene, ocean waves, gossipy waterfalls, cubist kingdoms, and tigers whizz by quickly, but, like all failed relationships, it all makes sense in the end. Although an older story of mine, I didn’t submit it to many places thinking it needed the right platform to have its desired effect. I think I’ve found a proper home for my grotesquerie to invade the world. Enjoy.

Thanks to S.C. Burke editor! Amazon link here if you missed it : Strange Behaviors

Product Description: In the land of the lurid, the weird are wonderful, and the behaviors on display are at their strangest. Welcome to Strange Behaviors! An anthology of literature’s freshest and loudest voices, a new-new wave of dangerous writers – letting their words run wild with madness. The stories that melt from their minds are emotionally charged, surreal, nihilistic, grotesque, horrific, depraved, often humorous, and always with a depth that just keeps getting deeper and deeper. This is literature for the misfit minds of rebellious readers. Join us… Featuring: Sam Richard. Theresa Braun. Jordan Krall. M.P. Johnson. Nicholas Day. Donald Armfield. Austin James. Alex Karl Johnson. Charles Austin Muir. Joseph Bouthiette Jr. Michael Faun. Zak A. Ferguson. Jason Morton. Mark Zirbel. S.C. Burke. Eileen Mayhew. D.B. Spitzer. Howard Carlyle. Christopher Lesko. Ben Arzate. Rob Easton. Catfish McDaris. Dav Crabes. Dani Brown. Nicholaus Patnaude. S.E. Casey. Ross Peterson. Brendan Vidito. Justin A. Mank. Benjamin Clarke Younker. John Claude Smith. Shaun Avery. Kyle Rader. Calvin Demmer. Evelyn Joyce. Gomez Aggonia. Gentry M. Calhoun

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Book Review: The Secret of Ventriloquism – Jon Padgett

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Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism (Dunhams Manor Press) hits the same nerve as the HBO mini-series Westworld as in its introspective core it asks the basic existential question: what, precisely, is it to be human?

The Secret of Ventriloquism amplifies the surreal and weird to provide not a picture of man, but an x-ray. The examination of our nature is not the virtuous and noble fabling (coming of age, self-sacrifice, etc) of what we want ourselves to be, but a penetrating look at man as that morally obliquitous, phenomenally ungrateful biped of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. From the first story, Padgett displays a wonderful imagination for human pathology and self-destructive compulsions.

The story structures themselves lend to this piercing view of humanity as Padgett often dispenses with the traditional first/third person linear narrative. The story “20 Steps to Ventriloquism” reads as an instruction manual. “The Indoor Swamp” takes on the rare second person perspective. “The Mindfulness of Horror Practice” utilizes the imperative mood written in a hypnotic cadence. The titular “The Secret of Ventriloquism” is structured as a play replete with a scrawl of disturbing stage notes. Much like a ventriloquist using his dummy’s flapping lips and blinking eyes to misdirect the audience, so do these non-traditional story forms allow the dread and the uncanny to worm into the consciousness as if it were always a part of us.

One of the stand-out stories, ‘The Indoor Swamp’, effectively immerses the reader in the title’s fetid muck pool artfully described. It is a strange trip on a phantasmagoric lazy river. Like a bizarro Huck Finn, Padgett sets the reader adrift at the unyielding mercy of an unreliable current, a miasma of confusion warping the world and our former selves left behind. We can never stop the ride really; not any more than we can stop growing old.

There is also some terrific traditional narratives. “Origami Dreams” and “The Infusorium” are wonderfully imaginative short stories with strong character building and a great sense of setting. Whatever the story form, Padgett cleverly weaves in thematic elements, much like a behind the scenes commentary, to deliver a coherent examination of the enigmas: What is it to be human? What separates a mechanical dummy from man? Where on the spectrum of dummy and man (Padget’s animal-dummy paradox) do we cross that human/non-human line?”

Indeed, there is an entire universe based on these questions that Padgett builds and populates with each successive episode. The Secret of Ventriloquism is much more a whole than a collection. And it is a satisfying place to visit, which to the author’s credit, the familiar and homey sits comfortably side by side with the sinister and strange. Whether if we have come from here, or if it is a glimpse of a certain future, there is an instinctive connection that tethers Padgett’s nightmare-scapes to our own humdrum lives.

I highly recommend this book to weird fiction aficionados as there are a number of fresh concepts and ideas that demand their own chapter in the weird literature canon. But too, the stories themselves aren’t too obtuse or convoluted to turn off the more conventional horror/dark fantasy reader. With its rich and evocative prose, the stories have great purpose and the characters are relatable, oftentimes frighteningly so. All in all, this is a wonderful book and an exciting new literary voice. Hopefully, this will be the first book of many we see from Jon Padgett.

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Review by S.E. Casey.

Black Lung Hay Fever- Short Story published at Aphotic Realm online

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My latest short story “Black Lung Hay Fever” (click title to read) is now online at Aphotic Realm.  A scarecrow and a small town engage in a silent, passive-aggressive chess match in a race to determine who is more evil.  Who wins the battle of quiet villany?

Aphotic Realm is a fairly new website whose motto is “Home for the strange and sinister”.  That really says it all and I am happy to place this particular story here as it fits their slogan.  Aphotic Realm has also featured me in an author spotlight on their homepage interviewing me about my story and writing background.  The interview can be read here ⇒ Aphotic Realm Author Interview – S.E. Casey.

Happy reading!

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BLACK LUNG HAY FEVER – S.E. Casey story on Aphotic Realm

The Faithful- short story up at Flash Fiction Press online

My latest flash fiction story The Faithful has been posted to the Flash Fiction Press .org website. Click here for the story link.

Some notes about the story:  I drew inspiration in writing The Faithful from the many Sunday mornings spent in a small town church as a child.  My family (less my dad, he never went) always sat in the same pew, off to the left and in the back.  My grandmother was always waiting for us.  She probably sat in that same pew for decades, everyone in the church conceding it to be hers.

Typically bored out of my mind, much of my attention was focused on the large chandelier that hung in the middle of the room.  I remember the huge dent in its copper bottom bowl that I speculated over and over again how it may have gotten there.  Strange how it may have happened suspended so high above.  Only now it occurred to me that I never thought to ask anyone.  Perhaps I knew the true answer would ruin the mystery…

I came up with a lot of stories about that dent as a child. I also admit I did a lot of imagining of what would happen if it fell.  Our family pew was safely out of range so I was free to gleefully fantasize.  It did have a menacing spike at the bottom which I wondered if it would be able to pierce someone’s skull.

So, many years later, while I don’t remember a single sermon or any other words of wisdom, I can still see that chandelier in my mind’s eye, always from the same vantage from the back and left.  I wasn’t trying to write a story about it; it just popped into my head.  I also wrote another story a few months ago in which a chandelier plays a tragic role.  Amazing what memories get caught in the subconscious…

Now I have my answer to all those past Sunday daydreams in my writing of The Faithful.  It is much different than anything I came up with as a child as I believe I may have figured out what deep down philosophically intrigued me about in the first place.

I wonder if the old chandelier still hangs.  I stopped going to church altogether directly after confirmation.  A few years ago, however, I was back in the church for my grandmother’s funeral, but I don’t remember noticing if the chandelier was still there or not…  Of course I sat in different seats that day, and had a very different perspective.

S.E. Casey

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What is Existential Horror? – Some free-to-read short stories online

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).

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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.

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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.

silhouette-woman-6A 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.