on Nov. 27, 2015 :
“On the worst nights, like tonight, there is a third movement, a third sound. A soft moaning, in between coughs, which grows mournfully to a sob, a wail of such pain, such sorrow as to leave their skins crawling with horror at the sound of it.
“This is the sound they hear tonight. A quiet, horrible sobbing which emerges, inexplicably from out of the darkness of the room in which they sleep. He wakes first and lies quietly for a while. For ten minutes, thirty minutes - at this time in the morning the passing of time is obscure and difficult to judge - he lies still with eyes open. As he listens, he feels her shift beside him, pulling the covers around her as she moves. He listens as her breathing softens and knows that she too is awake now, she too is listening. This always frightens him more than he imagines it should. It ought to be a relief, he tells himself. He should be glad that he is not facing this alone, is not, after all, losing his mind and imagining the whole thing. But it is not a relief. If anything it makes the fear stronger. It makes the thing real.”
That excerpt comes from the second story “Cold Companion” in this three story collection by Rufus Woodward. I don’t know much about the author except that he tells good tales. I suppose they are to be considered horror stories, but they’re not gruesome or gory. They evoke a range of feelings from suspense to sympathy. The third story in the collection, which is literally titled “Ghost Story (Not Scary)” even made me smile at some of the lightly sprinkled humor.
Woodward has a deft hand at description, narrative, and character-sketching and gives just enough of each to build the stories. He explores literary devices like tense and person in ways that aren’t jarring to read, but might have been a challenge to write. For example, the third story seems to be written in first and second person simultaneously, but after furrowing my brow and giving it a go, I fell right into it after a few lines. It was quite a wistful, touching thing. As the first person protagonist says at one point:
“Whatever we were, where we lived, what we did, all of that is forgotten. None of it matters anymore. It’s all gone. We live here now, strolling up and down the deck of this ship, watching the passengers come and go, watching the staff work through their shifts. We see their little intrigues, their dramas, their day to day routines, but mostly we don’t pay them much notice. They don’t see us and, most of the time, we hardly even notice they’re there either. We keep to ourselves, you and I.”
In short, Woodward has fast become one of my favorite writers, especially for weird, literary suspense. I stumbled on his work at random, and know nothing much about him. There’s little biographical information in his books or the sources for them, and some of the links I checked from the homepage link of his website were dead. Maybe he himself is a ghost or maybe it’s just a part of his shtick, but it rather makes him even more intriguing. I have one more short collection of his to read, and will just have to hope that he writes more.
(review of free book)