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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.  

The Nightside Codex: horror anthology including my latest story

The Nightside Codex, the latest anthology release from Silent Motorist Media has been recently released which includes my story “The Redneck Library”, alongside those from Stephen Graham Jones, Brian Evenson, Richard Thomas, and others. A collection of tales of the written and [un]written words—cursed tomes, lost words, and infernal music scores—The Nightside Codex is a book about books, the creative and destructive power of language.

Thanks to editor Justin Burnett of Silent Motorist Media for publishing and providing the editing to my story and all the others. This is SMM’s second anthology, a follow up to 2019’s Mannequin, which was Rue Morgue Magazines 2019 anthology of the year. Hopefully, The Nightside Codex will be equally successful.

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The Nightside Codex, edited by Justin A. Burnett, Silent Motorist Media, 2020. Cover art by Matthew Revert, info: silentmotorist.media.

Contents:
Editor’s Introduction – Justin A. Burnett
The Book of Black Dreams – K.A. Opperman
In His House – Richard Thomas
I Cannot Remember – Brian Evenson
Les Belles Infideles – Nadia Bulkin
Pulpit Fiction – Jessica McHugh
The Past is a Foreign Count – Alistair Rey
Schattenlenker’s Hidden Treasure – Michael Fassbender
Monster of the Mind – Scott J. Couturier
The Red King – Selene de Packh
The Redneck Library – S.E. Casey
Tongue Tied – Devora Gray
As I Sit to Write This Story – Philip Fracassi
My Eyes are Closed to Your Light – Luciano Marano
For Bobby – Christine Morgan
Ouroboros – Sarah Walker
Rhys Hughes – Between the Circles
Vanity – Austin James
The Hero of Flight 247 – Stephen Graham Jones

[Featured image by Nino Carè at Pixabay]

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).

 

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Cover by Daniele Serra

Rue Morgue Magazine names Mannequin as Best Multi-Author Horror Anthology of 2019

Recently, Rue Morgue Magazine has named the anthology, Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, as the best multi-author horror anthology of 2019! Happy to have had my tale, “The Night Shift”, as one of its sixteen stories. Congratulations to Silent Motorist Media and editor Justin Burnett on this honor.

As the first release from Silent Motorist Media, this is certainly a big accomplishment. For a small press in a saturated market, publishing is a tough and often thankless job. In upcoming SMM news, they are soon coming out with a second release: The Nightside Codex. They also will be opening a submission call for a third anthology release tentatively named Mysterium Tremendum.

See the below for links and book description for Mannequin. Please also check out Silent Motorist Media’s website, facebook, twitter, and Patreon for those who would like to support indie creators.

Mannequin Kindle Link

Silent Motorist Media Website

Rue Morgue Magazine Link

Mannequin Book Description:

Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, an anthology celebrating the uncanny realm of the living inanimate. Featuring tales of dolls, mannequins, statues, and other varieties of humanoid horror, Mannequin explores the intersection between artificiality and life through a stunning variety of writers both established and new. This highly-anticipated debut anthology from Silent Motorist Media is certain leave readers of horror and weird fiction more than satisfied.

List of Mannequin Contributors:

Ramsey Campbell
Michael Wehunt
Christine Morgan
Richard Gavin
Kristine Ong Muslim
Nicholas Day
William Tea
S.L. Edwards
Matthew M. Bartlett
S.E. Casey
Austin James
Jon Padgett
Duane Pesice
Daulton Dickey
Justin A. Burnett
C.P. Dunphey

(Introduction by Christopher Slatsky; Cover by Don Noble)

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.

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Vastarien #4 (Vol 2, Issue 1) – Book Review, Professor Nobody, and Other Notes

The tri-annual literary journal VASTARIEN describes itself as source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas. Its issues are an eclectic mix of literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, artwork, and other hybrid pieces. VASTARIEN differentiates itself from the other horror/sci-fi/weird publications in the market with a focus on philosophy and experimental forms. See Christopher Ropes’ “Singing the Song of My Unmaking” in Vol 1, Issue 1 as example, a combination poem, fictional narrative, and confessional biography exploring the depths of clinical depression.

VASTARIEN issue #4 continues this tradition. In “All the Stage is a World” by Forrest Aguirre, a university student makes an unfamiliar cross-town trip to attend a off-campus play required for class. The play is absurd, the performance and its motivations unclear. Without giving away too much of the ending, in reading this, I was reminded of Thomas Ligotti’s story “Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror” where (speaking through the character of a like horror author Professor Nobody) Ligotti differentiates two types of horror writing. He argues that there are “stories that are just stories”—that is spun tales with a coherent plot, characters, and theme. Typically, in horror a monster is used as a device to represent some human fear (death, aging, insanity, isolation) in a fashion to make us “squirm and quake”. In contradiction, the good Prof. Nobody continues, there is also the story that doesn’t seek to confront our fears at a metaphorical arm’s length as a way to delude ourselves into thinking we have any measure of control over a horrible world; but rather a story that pulls back the lens to reveal the indifference of a universe in chaos. The universe in its many dimensions doesn’t consciously conspire to threaten us with mundane horrors, but instead is simply deranged. The highest law is disorder: existence as nightmare. So does “All the Stage is a World” linger, the horror not in the performance changing the world in some sinister way, but in the implication that the performance changes nothing, only dispels the illusions of  coherence.

Another stand out story is “In the Way of Eslan Mendeghast” by Farah Rose Smith. The imagery featured is rich and darkly beautiful. The writing is top-notch, language flowing and poetic. Again, the focus is not so much of a structured narrative, rather a frightening peek into an absurdist void.

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Vastarien Art by Dave Felton

“Vanpool” by C.M. Muller is an anxious and claustrophobic tale. The characters are unnamed, as is the suburb where it is set, but these ‘story’ details aren’t important. Told from the perspective of a child, there is the looming sense of the unknown existing beyond the confines of the home. Of course, as children, what did we know of where our parents go every day? Certainly, this mystery is traumatic, a daily ritual of abandonment. And who are ‘parents’? How does a child validate their creator’s backstory and origin? Not armed with the proper perspective or life experience to understand, there is little that can be done to alleviate these anxieties. And what of us? What assurances do we have of any ‘intelligent design’ of the universe in which we, ourselves, inhabit?

The two non-fiction essays are focused on horror authors Mark Samuels (essay by David Peak) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (by Gwendolyn Kiste). While I wasn’t familiar with either author, both essays proved to be illuminating. Like any story, allowing the writer to guide me forward, I ended up finding found both pieces interesting and relevant.

VASTARIEN’s other non-fiction entry is “Effigies of Former Managers” by Matthew M. Bartlett, a character study of his former bosses. Okay, *wink*, it’s fiction—one of those stories that for whatever reason I only wish were true. A group of character vignettes done in his ineffable style, it’s not a Leeds story (the fictional town that is the basis of Creeping Waves, Gateways to Abomination, etc), but is written in a similar vein. Like his collection of Leeds’ finest, Bartlett defines his middle manager wretches through a series of compulsive quirks which are so consuming to drive the humanity from them. If we can be defined as animals gifted with a ‘divine spark’, these characters are cursed by a doomed lodestone. They are haunted meat puppets, unconsciously possessed by their ghastly obsessions (and then nailed to the ceiling).

“Venio” by Gemma Files is the most ‘story’ story in the issue. It names its characters, flushes them out, and has a well-defined plot. It’s an invasion story with a Ligottian bent: a fantastical intrusion not into the world, but rather the sanity of its characters. By contrast, “The Lord as an Active Shooter” by Fiona Maeve Geist is a largely philosophical piece. Told in the second person, it explores the collision of gun culture with our evolutionary reflex of superstition in a parabolic way. I think Professor Nobody would approve of both tales.

Other stories include the fableist “The Curse of the Biblical Magi” by Sepehr Goshayeshi, the cosmic horror “Aharesia” by Natalia Theodoridou, the weird ritualistic short, “Burger Shop” by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, the body horror “Rat King” by Lia Swope Mitchell, and the satirical “Ageless Agelasts” by Rhys Hughes. Poetry includes “Orchid Architecture” by the prolific K.A. Opperman and the creepy “The Sisters” by F.J. Bergman.

For full disclosure, my own cosmic horror flash story, “Silhouette Golems”, is a part of this issue. I’m the worst judge of my work, so I’ll leave it that I am honored and thrilled to be published alongside such talented authors. Thanks to Jon Padgett for publishing and for creating a publication dedicated to Thomas Ligotti in the first place.

VASTARIEN is available at Amazon, however, it also can be ordered direct from the Grimscribe Press website. If anyone is interested in checking this or any other issue, please consider buying direct as more of the proceeds will go to the publisher. At the time of this review, the price of the ebook is actually lower at Grimscribe Press, so this is one virtue that will save you money. Of course, if you are absolutist in the belief that virtue must be accompanied with pain, you can certainly take the savings and buy another issue.

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Ten Weird Writers to Save Us All! – Silent Motorist Media’s annual list

The 2nd annual “Ten Weird Writers to Save Us All”, a speculative fiction writer spotlight, has been posted by the good folks at Silent Motorist Media. I am honored to be included this year. The List is compiled through nominations and aims to cast a light to those writers who work a bit under the radar as the below mission statement suggests:

Nominate a weird, bizarro, horror, or otherwise experimental writer you feel could use some recognition this year for their tireless work. Try to avoid nominating folks who already have a strong online presence and fanbase; the point of this list is to express gratitude to authors who might not receive it otherwise.

I’m not sure who nominated me for this (but I have a few ideas), but it means a lot that someone(s) thinks enough of my work and took the time/effort to do so. Thanks, too, to Justin Burnett, the mind behind Silent Motorist Media for hosting this. One of the aims of Silent Motorist Media is to help and promote independent writers. I have always had positive interactions with Justin and have two flash pieces previously featured on the site (“Biological Determinism” and “The Beauty in the Breaking“). Also check out SMM’s first release, the anthology “Mannequin” featuring puppet related weird stories by Ramsey Campbell, Michael Wehunt, Richard Gavin, and Jon Padgett to name a few.

So I hope everyone will follow/support Silent Motorist Media. Congratulations to the other winners. The full list appears here.

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MANNEQUIN: Wood Made Flesh- Anthology Release

From publisher Silent Motorist Media, the themed anthology MANNEQUIN has been released this week. My story “The Night Shift” is one of sixteen stories about dummies, puppets, mannequins, scarecrows, and other various human-disguised automatons. From the back cover:

Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, an anthology celebrating the uncanny realm of the living inanimate. Featuring tales of dolls, mannequins, statues, and other varieties of humanoid horror, Mannequin explores the intersection between artificiality and life through a stunning variety of writers both established and new. This highly-anticipated debut anthology from Silent Motorist Media is certain leave readers of horror and weird fiction more than satisfied.

I’ve always avoided writing a puppet story. It’s well trammeled ground in the horror/weird fiction world and, as a Ligotti-phile, I subconsciously accept anything I attempt would grossly pale in comparison to such masterpieces as “Dream of a Manikin”, “Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech”, or “The Clown Puppet”.

However, because I wanted to be a part of Silent Motorist Media’s inaugural anthology, I got to work to come up with a puppet story that wasn’t too derivative. I ended up being inspired by a title that I didn’t end up using: “Hypergamy of Puppets”. It’s a ridiculous concept, of course, but interesting too—how to fit a story that makes sense around such an absurd abstraction? Sleeping on this conundrum a few nights, an idea formed although in the end I dropped the title. I’m not sure how many people know what hypergamy is without looking it up; plus, I needed to use the title to keep the reader focused on the corporate elements lurking behind the narrative.

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View of a city park from the 21st floor

Many of the details in “The Night Shift” are experienced. I work a desk job in Boston on the 21st floor across from a small city park. The park is nicknamed “Pick-up Park” as in the story, and underneath its lush tree-lined lawn is concealed a parking garage. Also, I’ve worked long enough to notice the trends in corporate life explored in the story such as the taking down the walls of cubicles, no longer assigning seats, and the investments in flexible work-at-home, work-when-you-can technology. I can also see where further technological advances will influence work culture in the future. I’ve always avoided using my mundane office as a environment in a story. Again, maybe subconsciously I know I can’t compete with Ligotti’s “My Work Has Not Been Done”. However, given corporate life’s invisible coercive strings of scheduling, time sheets, dress codes, and office etiquette; what better place to set a story about puppets?

Another trend of working in the city I have lately noticed is the use of greenery. In the lobby of my building, for example, vertical gardens have recently been installed around the elevator wells (see pic below- yes, the plants are real). The tops of most buildings are ugly slabs of concrete with a physical plant inartfully perched on top. However, more and more, gardens are being built on rooftops as perk for its occupants. It’s quite a juxtaposition to see these oasis suspended high above the streets. It’s rather calming and makes me feel less stress about the hustle of the city.

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Vertical garden structure in the building lobby.

MANNEQUIN is available in print and ebook (click here for link). The full list of authors is as follows:

Ramsey Campbell
Michael Wehunt
Christine Morgan
Richard Gavin
Kristine Ong Muslim
Nicholas Day
William Tea
S.L. Edwards
Matthew M. Bartlett
S.E. Casey
Austin James
Jon Padgett
Duane Pesice
Daulton Dickey
Justin A. Burnett
C.P. Dunphey

(Introduction by Christopher Slatsky)

Thanks to Justin Burnett from Silent Motorist Media for publishing and compiling such a great TOC (Ramsey Campbell!!). There are many of the best weird/horror authors working in the industry today here and am honored to share a few pages with them.

Here’s a few more Boston pics from outside my office windows. Until next time. -S.E. Casey

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Rooftop lawn and reflecting pool

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Another vertical-indoor garden shot

 

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.

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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