I think “The Vanishing Apple” marks one of those rare cases where I can trace the story's concept back to most of the individual sources of its inspiration. Its obvious roots lie buried in my own fascination—literary and personal—with the great nought, with nothing. This, and with the very old and rather stale question of why is there something rather than nothing? I’m almost certain that this question can’t be answered; it seems pointless to try and a bit childish to linger on it anyway. Still, I return to it often, if only because I like the scary feeling of twisting my mind close to its breaking point. Also, because it nourishes stories like this one. It’s a great theme to write about!
How I approach this impossible question has been vastly shaped and informed by my study of philosophy at the University of Vienna. That is also where I learned how to focus on a single question to the point of redundancy: how to view it from as many angles as possible (and then some), how to make perspectives available to me that weren’t mine originally, and how to have at it, incessantly, until the question finally shatters my teeth and claws, and I have to concede that I know as little as, if not less than, before I tackled it. This can be maddening, but it’s also useful, both academically and artistically. In “The Vanishing Apple,” this skill (if that’s what you want to call it) is turned into the protagonist’s bane of existence—the cause of his trouble—much more so than the primary incident of the apple's disappearance.
I assume the story draws literary inspiration from the works of Lovecraft and Kafka but, even more strikingly, from Patrick Süskind’s “Die Taube” (although it’s been many years since I read it on my grandmother Ilse’s recommendation). It wasn’t on my mind before or while writing Apple, but “Die Taube” is where I first consciously encountered the idea of unsubstantiated, but no-less-paralyzing panic. I’m sure that influence was roosting and gestating within me, only waiting for the right moment to appear in my own writing. The sense of overwhelming obsession and irrational fear centered around a putatively innocuous, quasi-object—the intrusive dove, the disappeared apple—might not be the only thing the two stories have in common now that I think about it.
This particular story’s true initial spark, though, must have ignited some six to ten years ago, when something similar happened to me. After shopping for groceries, I put every item into my cart, neat as you please, trundled the cart out to the parking lot, stowed my purchases in the trunk of my car, and drove home. Only when I put the goods into the fridge did I realize that something was missing: a package of vegan salami I’d bought and paid for (it was listed on the receipt). It wasn’t in the bags, and it wasn’t in or near my car, so it must have disappeared somewhere on the brief journey from the cash desk to the parking lot. Now, vegan salami is not exactly the largest of items, and it’s easy to imagine that it simply slipped from my fingers at some point; then again, I distinctly remembered placing it in the cart, and a package of vegan salami isn’t the smallest object either. It's definitely not small enough to fall through one of the narrow rectangles in the cart’s grid body. I contented myself by deciding that I must have left it at the cash desk after all or that I dropped it on the parking lot ground while loading my car. As hard as that was for me to accept at the time, it was in all likelihood the truth. A very mundane story, I know—sorry! Even so, the episode stuck with me and, all these years later, I still find myself thinking back to it now and again, remembering my surprise, my fugacious disgruntlement, and my stubborn confusion, which refused to surrender to the obvious explanation. Luckily for me, I guess. Without this nagging, lingering confusion, I might never have written this story!
Why do you write horror?
I consider myself a fearful person, but I also strive to understand, overcome, and deal with my fears. I think that this inherently endless struggle is an important part of becoming a more interesting and more capable version of oneself. I believe that nightmares have a therapeutic effect, reading and watching Horror doubly so, and creating horror fiction maximizes that effect.
Of course, that is merely rationalization—an attempt to explain my personal predilections to myself. For the simple fact is this: I love horror, have been fascinated by scary stories about ghosts and witches and demons, even back when they terrified the living wits out of ten-year-old me at night. That is why I write them now.
One specific reason why I enjoy horror so much—a reason with particular relation to “The Vanishing Apple”—is that it lends itself to the examination of all things 'evil,' forbidden, different, strange, unexplainable, and obscure. It deals in otherness, ugliness, and darkness, and so smooths the way for subversion, emancipation, and release. Like I said above, the question as to why something exists rather than nothing, is to me both scary and moot. To live a happy and successful life, I refrain from dwelling on it too much. But, while the question is nothing but a hindrance in everyday life, and while science and philosophy might not be able to provide an answer, I found that creative writing—especially horror—makes the asking a lot more pleasant, bearable, and interesting.
THOMAS KODNAR, born in 1992, is an Austrian writer. He studied Philosophy at the University of Vienna, graduating as Master of Arts in 2015. Since then he has published short stories in a variety of anthologies and magazines, e.g. in Zwielicht, HORLA – The Home of Intelligent Horror, phantastisch!, ParABnormal Magazine, and Devil’s Rock Publishing’s The Other Side. He also writes stage plays in cooperation with the glashaus collective. He likes coffee, Stephen King, vegan cake, Donna Haraway, Digimon (the TV-series) and Pokémon (the video games). More on his German website www.thomaskodnar.at and on his Instagram @thomaskodnar