Short Stories 366:298 — “A View from a Hill,” in the style of M.R. James

coverThe last of the quartet of The Conception of Terror, in which audio dramatizations were created in the style of M.R. James, “A View from the Hill” is probably the one with the most traditional horror story vibe of the bunch, in the sense of what I expect from the genre (especially in short fiction). The set-up is simple enough: a couple who have survived (barely) the loss of their child take their first vacation since their child’s death, and try to cope in their own ways.

For the husband, Paul, a former comedian/actor who had middling success, this takes the form of recording a podcast he’s been working on since the loss of his child, specifically about the loss of his son and how he and his wife are coping. Sarah, his wife, rather resents this, though she tries to rise above that feeling, as she doesn’t like how their pain is out there for anyone to listen to (she does agree that others in the same position can and do benefit, but stresses it’s more that there’s no way to stop others with worse reasons from listening). When she realizes he intends to keep recording on this break where he said they’d be getting away from it all, she’s by no means pleased, but relents and they take a good long walking tour—the reason they picked this place being the many walking and hiking trails. From one hill, they see a monastery that’s not on the map (though there is, on the map, an unmarked listing for monastery ruins) and they decide to cut across the valley to go explore.

And, of course, this is where the horror begins. What works really well in this story is the almost “infectious” way the horror navigates, seeping in at first through Sarah, who is more fragile, before attempting to reach Paul once Sarah suffers a setback. More, there’s the whisper network of the people in the area, and a great example of how whisper networks can fail so badly. “Everybody knows” this place is bad, but that means visitor’s don’t, and “everybody knows” what happened there, but the truth isn’t the story most often told, etc. The end results are horror done darkly, and while by no means did the story have even a hint of triumph to it, it managed to captivate me and it did exactly what it set out to do.

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