Yes, there is still one more of these Nightjar Press fiction chapbooks for me to have a look at, and completely by accident I have left the best for last. Fury by DB Waters is an atmospheric, terrifying piece of supernatural horror that kept me engaged throughout.
The piece is about a forensic scientist visiting the scene of a bizarre and gory series of deaths. He arrives in the middle of the night to find a superior officer stood in the doorway having vomited in disgust, but when he enters the house he removes his gloves so he can better commune with the building. Waters plays with the bizarre and the unconventional in a striking way. From the moment that the unnamed protagonist removes his gloves, the text has stepped away from reality, and once he starts exploring and commenting on the state of the house the things he find become slowly more unreal, and Waters gently increases strangeness, gradually, from item to item, from room to room, so that when the narrator finally sees the supernatural destructive force in action, it is not a shock. Waters manages to make the antagonist an evil place “old soil”, without this seeming ridiculous. By slowly and methodically describing someone who is witness to violence enacted by a normatively non-sentient thing – i.e. the ground a house is built on – Waters is able to somewhat poetically evoke a terrifying, sinister, force, and one that manages to be scary by being both unknown and unknowable.
There is some impressive imagery in here, such as this description of plaster falling dustlike from a wall: “the air around him shaded into delicate lemon columns”: though this is a story about a house that hungrily sucks people and things into its walls, Waters’ expression of this is more literary than one would have expected, and I think that is why the story in this chapbook works: it as a story, takes itself seriously, which helps the reader to do so too.
I think the reason why I don’t normally read things that are supernatural, or unreal, or fantastical, whatever, is because I feel that often ideas like this don’t “grow” or expand. If something unbelieveable/unrealistic happens, I need for that to happen again, but bigger. If something magical or fantastical happens, I want it to be central, rather than incidental. I am currently watching the final season of The Leftovers and for me this is a perfect example of that strategy working well. Something has happened so dramatic, so unexplained, that everything changes. I don’t like stories – be they cinema or TV or fiction – where something happens that COULD NOT POSSIBLY happen in this real world but the characters blindly accept the event. If something unreal happens, it needs to fuck things up. If suddenly wizards exist, we need to be surrounded by a new world, if dragons exist then other magical beings need to exist as a counter point and we can never be allowed to forget that dragons exist… If we can time travel or shift dimensions, we need to focus on time travel or shifting dimensions…
I think that what I find problematic in these kinda genre works is when people accept things too easily. In The Leftovers, 2% of people spontaneously disappear in a rapture-like event. The world, believed to be the world as we live in it before this event, is not the same. People, everyone, questions the very nature of existence. If you find a house that sucks people into the walls until they die, you become fucking fascinated by it, if your world changes – which it must do in these kinda texts – then your world changes.
You don’t meet a werewolf, kill it, go home and carry on as if nothing has happened. Monsters exist, this changes everything.
You don’t encounter a dragon, a witch, an angel, an alien, a mermaid, a talking dog, whatever, without your internal narrative being utterly fucking flipped. I want a sense of truth, of a human truth, and I think that is what Fury has and what makes it succeed. The protagonist is present, is real… the protagonist responds realistically to something unrealistic. This story couldn’t happen, but the character becomes obsessed and is [inevitably] destroyed by it. Like in The Man In The High Castle, the characters become obsessed by the possibility of a route to a better world, they want to believe it, and it changes their lives. This is what happens when humans encounter something unknown, something terrifying, something unignorable.
If something is unignorable – like magic, monsters, space travel – then we cannot ignore it, we cannot go back to our previous lives pretending like nothing has happened. That’s what I don’t like. I need to see either a death or a complete change, if magic is introduced. There is no coming back from the other side, there is no coming back from the future. Trauma lasts forever, and having your psychological idea of what it means to be you in the world shattered is traumatic. Grief is the process by which we come to terms with the death of a loved one, but we all know that death is coming, so it is sad and difficult, sometimes, to accept its direct effect on certain people, but it is not impossible. But if someone died and then came back from the dead, everything would be changed. And that is the premise of one of the world’s biggest fucking religions. BECAUSE IT DOESN’T HAPPEN AND IF IT DID IT WOULD BE RIDDLED WITH MEANING.
When everything changes, it cannot be unchanged.
I really enjoyed Fury and, tbh, I could be tempted to read more works in this genre, as long as they were short.
See what fiction chapbooks are currently available from Nightjar here.
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