Latest Posts

Creeping Waves by Matthew M. Bartlett: An Existential Book Review

Creeping Waves is New England.

Matthew M Bartlett’s sets Creeping Waves (Muzzleland Press) in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.  I grew up in the same state, albeit over on the southeastern shore (Moby Dick and Jaws territory), so it is a credit to Bartlett’s imagination that he can mine such apocalyptic darkness out of a region known for its pastoral tranquility and bucolic towns.

Atmosphere jumps off the page in Creeping Waves.  There is a great dedication to the setting, mood, and voice. While the book may appear a gathered collection of short stories, flash fiction, vignettes, discarded newspaper articles, and transcripts of Satanic radio broadcasts, there is a devoted world building here. Bartlett mindfully constructs a grotesque, maggot teeming memory-town from all angles which he transposes over the banal modern-day.  It is the rotting past versus the prophylactic present: a battle silently waged in many rustic New England towns with a foot in two eras.

Bartlett’s wicked imagination and calamitous prose make for a deliciously deep dive into this Stygian playground. Over and above the individual story narratives, I found myself craving more description, background, and history of this degenerate world, its denizens, and its shy morbid capital of Leeds.

creepingwaves2There is a dynamic spirit achieved through this overarching metaphor. The juxtaposition of time and place hints at the solemn pull of the past has on the present. Like many towns, mine is littered with old houses affixed with historical plaques reading 1891, 1815, 1737, and before. There is an empty and forgotten grange hall. Mysterious old men and women fuss about in my town’s Historical Society, only their ubiquitous flyers proof of their existence. There are bygone graveyards where the stones have worn to smooth surfaces, rock walls in the middle of the woods, and blackened ash circles of (what I hope are) old fire pits.

Creeping Waves is ripe with New England’s eerie history of sinister Puritanical ministers and Salem witches.  It is sepia stained pictures of weathered slumping churches.  It is water damaged daguerreotypes of grave looking men and women in black formal attire as captured by some arcane camera obscura.

Creeping Waves is New England.

While maybe best described as a fragmented novel, there is a consistent central premise to its chaos. Bartlett does not set a straight-line narrative towards a climactic destination, rather he sends the reader in orbit around a thematic epicenter allowing a look at its many facets.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of a vision of the America in which he lived into many of his stories. Fitzgerald hung an omnipresent sense of the corruption of the American Dream over his settings, characters, and plots. In Fitzgerald’s world, the idealistic capitalist dream that inspired America and fueled its ascension was doomed to an inevitable disillusion. Fitzgerald presents a ballistic theory of everything: business, government, culture, and even our lives following this unfortunate bell curve. What comes up must come down.

Matthew Bartlett inverts Fitzgerald’s curve as he presents his own ballistic theory of stagnation.

Creeping Waves is an ode to the consequence of rot. Every small New England town has its aristocracies, whether they be its founders, benefactors, or heroes. However, the gifted and ambitious progeny of these leading families are most often lured away to the big city or exotic locales, their dreams too large for a small town. It is only the less enterprising and less altruistic ones who stay. These dull men and women cling to the past dependant on the family’s past deeds and inheritance. They are hostile to strangers. They fight change entrenching themselves and their institutions with a septic bitterness. Even in death, they are loathe to give up what not they had worked for but what had been bestowed unto them.

creeping wave3Creeping Waves is the cautionary story of a town in full spoil. It is systems failing miserably from neglect and indifference. Bartlett’s protagonists: the Dithers, the Sloughtons, the Shinefaces, and the Goldens scrabble and cling to their stagnant kingdoms. So too, the anarchic business enterprises of Radio WXXT and Annelid Industries International radiate a mad nihilism as a consequence of being unchecked and uncurbed. Reality erodes in the town of Leeds, even time becoming a casualty.  The only winners are the leeches and maggots. In Leeds, only the conqueror worms thrive.

And this is why we should care. We know what happens when an unexplained puddle in the basement goes ignored and untreated. The musty smell may be masked, but in time a virulent mold will bloom and be released through the air ducts. We know what happens when institutions go unregulated. Markets fail, pollution sickens, and ordinary citizens lose. Psychologists know what happens when a phobia or other post-traumatic stressor isn’t treated. It will grow and manifest into all manner of pathological and self-destructive behavior. Only when our deepest anxieties are named and confronted can our health be restored. However, if we ignore our disorders, they will fester leading to paralyzing neuroses and violent psychoses.

This is the ballistic theory of stagnation. This is the real Leeds.

Creeping Waves gets an enthusiastic recommendation from me. For those who crave atmosphere (especially the dark and sinister), this is essential reading, one of the most fascinating, fully fleshed out literary worlds I have had the pleasure to visit in a long while. It is not for the faint of heart, however, it should be read in the same spirit as Carl Jung’s Red Book—an unexpurgated, uncensored exploration of the unconscious. This is an artist dedicated to a vision, not a promulgation of an ideology. Creeping Waves is a work done in the phantasmagoric borderlands of the rational and the psyche’s symbolic weirdness. It is an important book to be individually interpreted, more questions than answers inside. In Leeds, all cats are grey.

creepingwavesSo as an unsolicited service to Massachusetts tourism, please consider a visit to Leeds. Come in the fall when the Berkshire’s foliage is in peak if you like. Just drive, it doesn’t matter the roads or the direction. Turn on the radio, sling the dial all the way to the left, and sing along to the apocalyptic polka (you and your family will know all the words). When you see the trees stripped of their leaves, the fat branchless trunks stretching into a blood sunset, you are close. Hit the gas and take your hands off the wheel.  Almost there!  And when the car veers into the woods as if on its own accord, and the trees whizzing past become so straight to be tent poles, and the radio gets dangerously loud, and the black canvases billow in the gale to blot out the moon: close your eyes and rejoice.  Welcome to the real Leeds.

Purchase information:

Link: Creeping Waves – Amazon Kindle

Link: Muzzleland Press, Storenvy – Paperback

Also, Check out the precursor to Creeping WavesGateways to Abomination by Matthew M. Bartlett for more Leeds.

And finally, Matthew M. Bartlett website: http://www.matthewmbartlett.com/

– S.E. Casey

creepwavescover

[Note: this is the second of my ‘Existential Book Reviews’, which are unsolicited reviews of my own choosing, the ideas and opinions all my own. My first review in this series of Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism can be read here.]

 

 

Beauty of the Outgoing Tide – Short Story

 

He constructs the walls and erects the towers. She carves the decorations and styles the treatments. In the safe, shimmering heat of the beach, the boy and girl build the sandcastle.

Stealing glances during his frequent water-fetching trips, he decides she is beautiful—the first girl he has ever considered so. Her attractiveness goes beyond the sleight double curve of her lips, the symmetry of her face, and the delicate slenderness of her legs. Something intangible in her whole resonates with him, an electric aura that stirs a palpable ache and longing.

Constructed below the tide line, the ocean advances to lick the castle’s southern wall. It won’t be long before it will be breached, the leaning towers behind toppled. He considers reinforcing the bulwark, or diverting the water using a system of French drains, but decides against either delaying tactic. The castle isn’t meant to be permanent, only an afternoon fancy to be briefly enjoyed. The structure and design would rest in their memory for a short while, in time replaced by newer thrills and charms.

She, however, continues to toil over the details of the doomed palace’s grand entrance. Using the tip of a plastic shovel and the subtle angles of a scallop shell, she carves elaborate figures into the door of sand. The twisted faces and gargoyle torsos seem too complex for the medium, but in youth, under the magical summer sun, anything is possible.

“Wow. You’re really good at that!”

A sunburn disguises his blush. However, deep in concentration, she ignores the compliment, continuing her work in silence.

Her indifference thrills him.

The boy continues undeterred, “Who should we have living here? Maybe talking starfish . . . or how about mermaids!”

Still etching her crooked compositions without pause, she absently responds.

“Not mermaids—murderers. And the madness in insanity’s heart. And cursed human threshers with spinning blades made from the most dreadful nightmares sharpened by whetstones of misery.”

He grins wildly luxuriating in the words meant for him and only him.

Finishing, the girl stands, her narrow shadow falling over the door. A dark spark is struck. Her shade doesn’t dull, but rather animates the contorted figures stitched into lintel and jamb. Nonetheless, she only manages a bored sigh as if disappointed. She turns to the parking lot squinting back into the lowering sun.

“I have to go. Promise to stay until the water washes it away?”

The boy nods. His smile dims as he watches the most beautiful girl in the world walk away.

Dutifully, he remains as ordered. In the setting sun and emptying beach, he makes his parents and brothers wait until the tide drowns the castle and dissolves the ornate door.

***

The first girl he kissed wasn’t as beautiful as the girl on the beach. The girl who turned him down five times before finally agreeing to go to the prom wasn’t as pretty. Neither was the brunette in the philosophy class with whom he had a crush freshman year, nor his junior-year roommate’s blonde girlfriend. And despite the many wedding day compliments she was afforded for her shapely radiance, it was the same with his wife.

The pony-tailed barista who worked in the coffee shop forty minutes out-of-the-way from the office wasn’t as beautiful. So too, wasn’t the secretary with whom he had an affair. The beauty of his second wife also fell shy.

No one measured up to that girl on the beach. No day compared. No thrill rivaled.

His third wife wasn’t beautiful by any standard, but she had money. They spent their retirement traveling the world, he content in following her whimsical itineraries.

***

On yet another excursion to another old, historic city—he lost track of the name and significance—the old man lags behind the tour as usual. Without warning, on a plain street lined with a most ordinary wall, there is cut a most magnificent door. He has seen it before. The bronze figures and anguished faces that jut from the portal remind him of those carved from wet sand.

Pressing his weathered hands on the heavy iron, he feels it give. This door has no lock, begging to be opened. If he had once been told what resides behind, he has forgotten. However, it doesn’t matter. Only her face, her shining green eyes, and the sparkle of the golden sun dancing in her hair matters. A longing that had never washed away kindles and burns.

He hears his name being called from down the street. The shrill voice belongs to a strikingly ugly woman dressed in an awful tourist outfit similar to his own. He doesn’t heed the call of the old woman, rooted in the soft sand beneath his feet.

He smiles—back on solid ground after all these years.

Before the tide sweeps him back into that desperate, quiet sea, he pushes the doors wide loosing those beautiful, wailing wonders within.

END

(Story originally published by FlashFictionMagazine.com 3-11-17)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I couldn’t help rereading Beauty of the Outgoing Tide while posting it here and making some edits/changes. As this is one of my first stories of mine to be published, it makes me happy that I can self edit and improve this, my writing knowledge and awareness becoming more advanced in the last year and a half. I revived this story here as I have another flash fiction piece recently accepted by Flash Fiction Magazine. My story Tickle Jar will be published online on October 1, 2017. Again, it deals with obsession (a common theme of mine apparently): what starts as a curious hobby threatens to become a real handful. Hopefully, my new story will show a jump forward in my writing and story building skills. I believe Tickle Jar flows much better and is more natural.

Thanks for reading. If anyone is interested in two other companion flash fiction stories concerning the sinister aspects of Beauty please check out A Broken Oath (Spelk Fiction) and Last Meal of Adonis (Deadman’s Tome).

Also, I hope everyone enjoys the summer. And for those young, optimistic romantics heading to the beach to find love, I will leave with Sartre’s words of wisdom about love…

‘I know that I shall never again meet anything or anybody who will inspire me with passion. You know, it’s quite a job starting to love somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment, in the very beginning, when you have to jump across a precipice: if you think about it you don’t do it. I know I’ll never jump again.’ – Jean-Paul Sartre

Beach blue– S.E. Casey

Horror Anthology: Monsters Exist- Release Day

My story Playing Dead is one of the stories featured in the new horror anthology, Monsters Exist (published by The Deadmans Tome) which has released today (7/1/17). This book features 14 stories all concerning monsters, urban legends, and other cryptozoological mayhem. In truth, Monsters are everywhere as the external representations of things we internally fear: man’s many hobgoblins, strawmen, bugbears, and other bogeymen. Thanks to Mr. Deadman and the Deadman’s Tome, editor Theresa Braun, and all the other contributors who helped write, market, beta-read, and support this independent project.

Excerpt from Playing Dead:

Under the golden eye of Saturn, the only celestial light visible in the pre-night sky, the field vomited up a monstrosity. Rickety poles tilted at odd angles. Slug-like tents squirmed from the ground like nightcrawlers after a downpour. Deflated minarets rose reluctantly, topped with flaccid banners that didn’t look like they could be aroused in a gale. Dark outlines of amusement park rides contorted in fossil shapes of prehistoric skeletons. Faded neon lights blinked and flickered, the dashes and dots spelling out some forgotten mariner distress signal.

Notes on my story, Playing Dead, and its Goya Saturn/Willy Wonka connections can be found here.

To purchase (and support independent writers/publishers) please click here.

List of authors:

Wallace Boothill, Theresa Braun, S.J. Budd, Gary Buller, S.E. Casey, Mr. Deadman, Calvin Demmer, Philip W. Kleaver, Sylvia Mann, William Marchese, John Palisano, Christopher Powers, Leo X. Robertson, and M.R. Tapia.

Featured Image -- 4650

Book Excerpt: From the time we are young, we fear the monster under the bed or in the closet, making it impossible to sleep without a nightlight. Then, we hear stories of Bigfoot, and maybe even the Mothman around campfires. When we are adults, we wonder if there might actually be supernatural creatures lurking in the shadows. Are these tall tales and urban legends only metaphors for what horrific things humanity is capable of—or do monsters exist?

Go to some terrifying places with this cast of authors. You will be dragged into mystifying realities where demonic fairies hide, where devil monkeys lure carnival-goers to their demise, where Goatmen seek to destroy their prey, and where the goddess of death puts out a hit on victims of her choice. These shocking tales will have you biting your nails and locating that childhood nightlight. Because, in the end, we all know monsters do exist.

Book review: Monsters Exist – Anthology

The Grim Reader’s review of Monsters Exist, including my story “Playing Dead”, anthology available July 1, Kindle and Print.

Grim Reader Reviews

35298232

I set the bar very high for anthologies. Why? because I’ve read some incredible books over the past 18 months and in these were some incredible short stories. Monsters Exist features a number of writers that I am acquainted with, though I never let this get in the way of me posting my honest opinion.

I much prefer a themed anthology rather than one that merely collects a number of “horror” stories that have little connection with each other. Monsters Exist is about…wait for it….MONSTERS! I like monsters quite a bit, so I was keen to dive into this. Cryptid horror, tales of myth and legend, it’s all good stuff, but where does this book stack up compared to other anthologies I have previously enjoyed? Well, as with a lot of anthologies and short story collections there are always some entries that speak to you more than others, and this…

View original post 394 more words

About ‘Playing Dead’ – my short story featured in ‘Monsters Exist’ and Goya and Saturn

Excerpt from Playing Dead:

Under the golden eye of Saturn, the only celestial light visible in the pre-night sky, the field vomited up a monstrosity. Rickety poles tilted at odd angles. Slug-like tents squirmed from the ground like nightcrawlers after a downpour. Deflated minarets rose reluctantly, topped with flaccid banners that didn’t look like they could be aroused in a gale. Dark outlines of amusement park rides contorted in fossil shapes of prehistoric skeletons. Faded neon lights blinked and flickered, the dashes and dots spelling out some forgotten mariner distress signal.

My short story Playing Dead is one of fourteen featured in the upcoming anthology Monsters Exist published by the Deadman’s Tome. As a writer who leans toward the weird, two of my favorite “go-to” horror spaces are Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and Francisco Goya’s ‘black period’ paintings. As the submission call for Monsters Exist asked for some presence of a monster, of course, Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Children (1823) sprung to mind.

Saturn
Goya – “Saturn* (1823)

Where a Wonka-esque twilight carnival serves as the physical setting, the Goya painting contributes to its plot and theme. As some background, Goya’s Saturn is based on a Peter Paul Ruben’s painting Saturn Devouring His Son (1636). Ruben’s Saturn (the Greek Titan Cronus, god of time) is represented as a robust, muscular old man who is wholly focused on his victim. Ruben’s style is reminiscent of Michelangelo, detailed and grandiose. By contrast, Goya’s painting is a fuzzy nightmare, the brush strokes smudged and unspecific. Goya’s Saturn is a wild hominid who crouches awkwardly, his legs too spindly to properly support himself. But it is the eyes that mark the biggest difference between the two paintings. In Goya’s dark shadowy backdrop, the only white is Saturn’s eyes, to which the viewer’s own are immediately drawn. The fact that the sclera (white part of the eyeball) can be seen above, below, and to the side of the iris (called sanpaku eyes) is a subliminal, evolutionary cue of madness and impulsive violence. Ever wonder why Charlie Manson’s gaze is so unnerving? You may not have been able to rationalize it, but it is his exaggerated sanpaku condition that intuitively triggers a deep-rooted danger instinct. Equally disturbing, Goya’s Saturn is not looking at his victim, but seemingly staring right off the page at us. One of Saturn’s brows is tilted upward as if asking the question, “Who am I, and why am I doing this?” perhaps implicating us as conspirators in his crime against humanity!

Rubens_saturn
Rubens – Saturn Devouring His Son (1636)

Goya, too, could have depicted the human victim in grand distress as Rubens did. However, there is no arterial spray, or limb splayed akimbo, suggesting of any struggle. There also isn’t any hint of tragedy in the picture. Saturn’s unfortunate quarry is secondary in the composition, and in fact, a case could be made that she is actually complicit in the act. Is she willingly offering her left arm to be eaten?

The monster lore I choose for Playing Dead is the devil-monkey of New Hampshire, a local legend of an aggressive, yet shy primate running around in the region’s copious woodlands. Naturally, the few reported sightings have been unrecorded and unsubstantiated. I added a few cosmic elements to make the creature reminiscent of the bushy-haired, sentient Saturn. While my narrative obviously references the depicted Goya scene, it also grapples with the existential struggles related to time (Cronus). What do we do with the limited days we have? Are we living according to our will, or simply to please someone else? And are we overly agreeable: playing life too safe?

Monsters are everywhere in this sense, the external representations of things we internally fear, man’s hobgoblins, bugbears, strawmen, and other bogeymen. I like the symmetry of Monsters Exist having fourteen stories, as well. Goya’s Saturn was one of fourteen works he painted directly onto the plaster walls of his famed villa, “The House of the Deaf Man”

As for the inspiration of the main character, that middle aged man drowning in a rancid soup of his own psyche, caught in the throes of some Jungian midlife meltdown, in which the conscious and unconscious—what is real and what is metaphor—become indistinguishable, and yet who still manages to go to work every day maintaining an outward veneer of calm and normality? Well, that’s another story for another day…

S.E. Casey

AMAZON ORDER LINK:

GOODREADS LINK: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35298232-deadman-s-tome

 

 

The Suicidal Civilization: Technopessimism and the Coming Collapse

A poetic essay on the history of the next 200 years and the ever-present cliff of Nihilism.

Techno Occulture

…suicide is the decisive political act of our times.
― Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody
It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.
― Emile Cioran, The Trouble with being Born

Base materialism begins in the tomb, a world of death that presents itself as life. This is neither Plato’s Cave, nor the scientific infinity of stars and the abyss. This is rather an ocean of energy, a realm of annihilating light and inexistence. Following Nick Land we promote a diagnostic truth against the “speculative, phenomenal, and meditative” philosophers of a false intuitionism, following instead the underbelly of those criminal outcasts of thought: Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Bataille among others toward a materialism that seeks not the phenomenal surface of things, but rather the ‘noumenon’ – the impersonal death and unconscious drive of an “energetic unconscious”. This is an experiential turn toward an heretical empiricism not of knowledge, but of…

View original post 3,094 more words

Courtship of the Sewer King (a Red Girl story)

Misty slipped between the bent bars of the spillway grate.  It was becoming a tight fit; another year and she would be too big to pass through.  Careful as she was, her school dress got smeared with rust.

It couldn’t be helped.  When he called, she had to obey.

The sewer’s foul sweetness helped erase her worries, as did the singing.  The acapella’s volume neither rose nor fell no matter the tunnel she choose convincing her that he was singing directly into her head.

The King could do that.

She walked over the mostly dry concrete plank-ways that sidled the sludge trench.  However, where the fecal gunge had crested, or some amphibious sewer creature surfaced to shake off its filth, the fetid puddles hidden in the gloom seeped into her shoes.

Bad day to wear her cute sneakers.

Misty turned through the oft-branching labyrinth without much thought.  Follow your heart, he said.  And so, she did.

Bathing in the slivers of broken sunlight that bled in from the storm drain above, she found him.  He was propped upright, his excrement laden military uniform snagged on some exposed rebar.  She wondered how his waterlogged girth had been hoisted there.  Perhaps, the other girls…

A wonderful putrescence overwhelmed the sewer fragrance in the King’s chamber.  His face was horribly burnt, lips peeled off exposing yellow teeth and white bone and charred gums.  He smiled at her this way, loving voids for eyes drinking her in.  His throat was torn open, a feast for some gutter beast, but it didn’t stop the singing.

Oh, such a beautiful voice!

He would turn her red.  But not today.  He only sung for her today.

For now, he bid another farewell.  As always, he asked for a kiss goodbye.

She was only too happy to oblige.

tunnel-336693_1280

 

****

 

Author Note: This story was submitted to Zero Flash’s (https://zeroflash.org/) March 300 word horror story contest, which it received an honorable mention.  This is a companion piece to another Red Girl story that can be read here: THE RED GIRLS.  Find out how the King got his smile.

burn-96145_1280
The Red Girls – drabble posted on TheDrabble.wordpress.com 

Oh, and more ‘Red Girl’ Mythos coming soon…

 

S.E. Casey