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…
My short story Playing Dead will be one of fourteen featured in the upcoming anthology Monsters Existpublished by the Deadman’s Tome. As the title would suggest, the theme is monster, cryptid, and other legendary creature horror. The release date is July 1 and it can be preordered now (See Amazon link below).
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 paint-scapes. As the submission call for Monsters Exist asked for some presence of a monster, of course, Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Children” sprung to mind. It’s not too difficult to see the direct influence in my story that I built around it.
Where a Wonka-esque twilight carnival serves as the story’s physical setting, the Goya painting contributes to its plot and theme. As background, Goya’s “Saturn” is based on Peter Ruben’s painting “Saturn Devouring His Son” (1636). Ruben’s Saturn (the Greek Titan Cronus, the god of time) is represented as a powerful, muscular old man who is focused on the victim he is devouring. Ruben’s style is evocative of Michelangelo, exuberant, detailed, and grandiose. Goya’s Saturn by contrast is a fuzzy nightmare of some wild hominid who crouches awkwardly as if his legs are too thin to properly support his malnourished frame. However, it is the eyes that mark the biggest difference between the two paintings. In Goya’s dark shadowy background, the only white is found in Saturn’s eyes, to which the viewer is immediately drawn. The fact that the sclera (the white part of the eyeball) can be seen above, below, and to the side of the iris (called sanpaku eyes) is a subliminal suggestion of madness and penchant for impulsive violence. Ever wonder why Charlie Manson’s gaze is so fundamentally unnerving? You may not have been able specifically name it, but it is the sanpaku condition that triggers our evolutionary intuitional sense of danger. Also, Goya’s Saturn is not looking at his victim, or off in a random direction, but seemingly staring right off the page at us. One of Saturn’s brows is even tilted upward as if asking us the question, “Who am I, and why am I doing this?”, or even more sinisterly implicating us as co-conspirators in his crime against humanity!
Surely, too, Goya could have depicted the victim in grand distress as Rubens did. However, there is no arterial spray, no limbs splayed akimbo suggesting of any struggle or tragedy. No, Saturn’s unfortunate quarry is secondary in the picture, barely important, and maybe even complicit in the act. Is she, in fact, lazily offering her left arm to be eaten? And yes, I identify her as a she despite the work’s title as in a dissertation on the painting I once read stated the gender could be determined from (and I am not making this up) the rounded buttocks. So, there you go…
The monster lore I ended up choosing for Playing Dead is one of the devil-monkey of New Hampshire, a local legend of an aggressive, but stealthy primate running around the woods. Of course I added a few cosmic elements to make it close enough to the bushy haired creature in Goya’s painting. While my story references the depicted Goyal scene, it also grapples with the existential struggles against Time (Cronus). What do we do with the limited days we have? Are we living for ourselves or someone else? Are we too agreeable with our ultimate fate: is there any point in building some elaborate sand castle knowing the tide will come it and wash it all away?
Monsters are everywhere in this sense, the external representations of things we internally fear. So does Monsters Exist contain fourteen stories of various Bogeymen, Bugbears, and Strawmen. I like the symmetry of fourteen, 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”. Please consider picking up a copy of our own virtual ‘kindle’ house and its fourteen nightmarish lessons painted within.
…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…
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.
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.
Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism (Dunhams Manor Press) hits the same sweet spot as the HBO mini-series Westworld in that at 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 meta-fable (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 lead to this deeply piercing view of humanity as mostly Padgett 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 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 undetectably worm into the consciousness as if it were there our entire lives. Of course, there are inclusions of the straight-forward horror tale best represented by the terrifically stylish “The Infusorium”. Whatever the form, Padgett cleverly weaves in the thematic elements, much like a behind the scenes commentary, to deliver a coherent examination of those ever-present enigmas of: What is it to be human? What separates dummy from man? Where on the spectrum of dummy and man (the animal-dummy paradox) do we cross that human/non-human line?”
Indeed, there is an entire world based on this that Padgett builds and populates with each successive story. 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 sit 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 banal humdrum lives.
Who should read this? I highly recommend it to weird fiction aficionados as there are a number of fresh concepts and ideas that demand their own entry in the weird fiction canon. But too, the stories themselves aren’t purposefully obtuse or overly bizarre to turn off the conventional horror/dark fantasy lover. With its rich and evocative prose, the stories have great purpose and the characters are relatable, oftentimes scarily so. All in all this is a wonderful book and an exciting new literary voice. Hopefully, this will be the first project of many we see from Jon Padgett.
I am happy to announce one of my short stories, “Memories of Farrowlee Beach” has been accepted into the upcoming Utter Fabrication:Historical Accounts of Unusual Buildings and Structures anthology from Mad Scientist Journal due out late summer 2017.
Mad Scientist Journal is a quarterly themed e-zine and online magazine specializing in speculative fiction. As the title of this particular issue would suggest, the Utter Fabrication issue will feature stories about haunted and weird places, all written from the first person perspective. The submission call encouraged tales that are different and not the typical haunted tropes.
I first conceived my story a year ago while sitting in the church for my Grandmother’s funeral. I suppose it is a tribute to her as the story does center around a strong grandmotherly figure, and takes place in a very cold New England day in early winter, as was the case with the funeral. It qualifies as quiet horror, the protagonist a very different, morbid sort. I am very excited that this story got picked up by Mad Scientist Journal as they have raised over 5K from some 175 backers in donations in their kickstarter for this particular project, and from their other quarterly anthologies available on Amazon, looks to be a quality publication done by some passionate editors (Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman).
Thank you Dawn and Jeremy! Looking forward to this being published late summer 2017! I will release more information one it is known.
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.