Let's Talk About Fleshtrap
October is here, and I'm feeling spooky. As such, my debut horror novel Fleshtrap is on sale for .99 through Halloween. I haven't talked about this book in a long time, for a lot of reasons. I started it in 2010, and it was published in 2013. Since then, a lot of other things have happened to me. I finished two other books, signed on at Booktrope, and am in the middle of getting The Crashers out into the world. I've gone back to school and taken an interest in comics criticism, although I've had more success with the former than the latter, I'd say. I'm a very different Magen from the one that wrote this book what now feels like eons ago.
And that's a good, albeit very strange, thing.
With Fleshtrap, and its terminally remorseful protagonist Casey Way, this was the first time I'd written anything as brutal, angry, and sad. It's a book about hope and healing, as I've often said, but it's also a book about what it means to be broken. Casey is a broken character, and certainly the most broken I've written to date. He's haunted. He's angry. He's a little too sharp-tongued for his own good. He's oddly charming in his own earnest, well-meaning kind of way, always the first to fall on swords both real and imagined. He's trying very hard to stay alive in a world that doesn't seem to want him in it anymore, if it ever really did.
More than anything, he's his father's son, and that's destroying him a little bit every day.
Thinking on Casey now, on both his story and the season, I thought it might be nice to revisit him. So if you've read the book, and even if you haven't, below are some very Casey things about Casey Way. Even if you haven't read the book, stick around anyway. There might be something useful in here to change your mind.
The Protagonist. Thirty-two. Library cataloger. Daddy's favorite little weapon.
One: The Beginning
O Father, don’t you know?
You have made me into a quiet man.
Casey was born David Casey Way on August 30th 1978, to David and Christine Cohen-Way. He was supposed to be the third in a line of David Ways that had worked at the Berming and Sons Bank since it opened in 1949. Two pounds underweight at birth and smiling from cheek to cheek, Christine had felt that he wasn’t David Way III, insisting her only son be given his own name. His father had agreed and so he was simply Casey instead, after Christine’s great uncle Casey Barton of Charleston, South Carolina. He never went by David. That name was saved for the little brother he would never have.
Christine stayed home with her baby while David carved out a comfortable living as a housing loan officer as his father had been before him, affording them the quaint white house on 6621 Mooreland Street. Casey grew up there, behind manicured shrubs and pristine white shutters, two cars in the long driveway and a white picket fence. Christine kept a garden of flytraps in the backyard, transplanted from her father’s home in Greeneville, to David’s passive dismay. He would wrinkle his nose at them whenever he looked out the backdoor, flytraps a more morbid choice than the roses or daisies found in their neighbors’ yards. Flytraps made Christine happy, just as leaving her marketing position in the city had made her happy when Casey was born, and so David said nothing of the traps.
There were a lot of things they didn’t talk about, but Casey would never about that. Christine went to Heaven when her car was struck by a pick-up one September morning after Casey’s third birthday. After his fourth birthday, David was already courting a Berming and Sons administrative assistant named Alyona Kovol and her six-year-old Mariska. Before his fifth, their families were married together. Things were supposed to get better then. It only got worse.
David loved Mariska more than any of his wives, and came into her room to take photos at night. Alyona said nothing and ran their home like a dollhouse, throwing parties and redesigning the bathrooms, the kitchen, the master bedroom. Casey and Mariska lived like spies in a house of wires, soldiers behind enemy lines. One false move and it was all over. They always spoke about their parents in clinical terms. He and She, Them and They. Not Mom or Dad or Alyona or David. Casey’s father was never talked about, not even in private or when he was at work. It was just a matter of survival, two steps above Morse code, smoke signals or passing messages under doors. Soup cans on strings and sign language. They have no one but each other, nothing but blood pacts and whispers.
When Alyona found the photos, she killed David with a kitchen knife. The police found Casey sitting in the blood while Alyona sat in the corner and screamed about holes. Then Casey had to go away for a little while, and Aunt Cheryl took him and Mariska to live with Uncle Jeff and Cousin Heather, and nobody ever talked about what happened at the house on Mooreland Street.
Two: The Set-Up
Like a shotgun needs
I’m your prostitute
You’re gonna get some.
The last of David’s money paid for college, where Casey went to school for a journalism degree he didn’t care about and Mariska spent more time smoking than studying. Casey fought and drank his way through school. He slept with a lot of men he didn’t really care about (because he didn’t want to sleep alone) and didn’t regret but didn’t bring home for Sunday dinner either. Mariska wandered around the desert experimenting with drugs and lifestyles until she stopped hating her mother. Casey got a job at the campus library because he found out he was good at updating and reorganizing their catalog system. Mariska got a job getting coffee and cleaning up at the campus radio station and ended up being a DJ instead. After school they found real jobs doing these things but never let one another out of their sights.
Casey went through eighteen therapists, trying to figure out why he didn’t sleep at night, and saw his dead father all over town, at bus stops and at the grocery store and in his room. He still fought and drank, and slept with people he didn’t care about, and hated everyone, including his idiot therapists who couldn’t fix him. Until Dr. Jones gave him a card with a number on it, and said Casey should seek out group therapy for rape and incest survivors. Just to observe and see how people can move on after these things, to see that people like his father didn’t always win. Then Casey saw Joel, sitting in a community center gymnasium in a circle of tired, sad-looking people. Joel smiled and said everything would be okay.
Casey wanted to believe him. It was the first time he ever tried. Then everything changed.
Never gave a thought to an honorable living,
Always had sense enough to lie
It's getting hard to keep pretending I'm worth your time.
Casey drinks too much coffee and smokes too many cigarettes, and always looks skittish and pale from all the sleep he isn’t getting. His mother’s eyes don’t help that, big and intensely blue like he’s been staring into fluorescent lights. He has his father’s straight nose and strong jaw, full lips that he’s prone to licking when he’s nervous (but Casey doesn’t get nervous, he plays with matches instead), because he’s built like his father but two sizes smaller, two sizes shorter and thinner. Lean muscled, like a runner which he’s always ever been, long fingers, long neck, thin wrists that have seen the snap of handcuffs more than once. (Sometimes for fun, sometimes not, but he’ll never say which.)
He’s always seen in dark clothes, tissue-thin sweaters, t-shirts with cigarette burns in the collars, old jeans and jackets, his favorite pair of red Converse lo-tops. Always has a five o’clock shadow. Always looks just a bit rumpled, wind-swept, slept-on, hair (brown in the summer like his mother, black in the winter like his father, hovering between his parents seasonally) a little long and shaggy. Almost never smiles, but when he does his teeth are straight and he looks careless, maybe even happy. (Joel says he doesn’t smile enough.)
I can’t justify my thoughts,
Draw symbols on carpeted parking lots
Popping pills to stay awake,
But all them pills make me shake.
Casey keeps a garden of Venus flytraps and a portrait of his mother by the patio door. He likes Thai food and Mexican beer and reading. He’s had his nose broken once and his index and middle fingers on his right hand broken three times. His sister Mariska is his best and only true friend. He hates sleeping alone. He’s been arrested twice. He liked to play with matches as a teenager, and once burned down a field. He lost his virginity when he was fifteen and doesn’t remember with whom. Joel is the only person he’s ever dated, ever lived with, ever said “I love you” to.