Chris Barnham's contribution to Cold Iron: Ghost Stories for the 21st Century is a variation on the modern theme of social isolation. The protagonist makes a big mistake - the sort that involves an attractive work colleague at the office Christmas party. His wife finds out and he is forced to move into a manky flat and have limited contact with his young daughter.
So far, so conventional. What makes the story a supernatural tale, for me at least, is the way the character's shame-fuelled isolation slowly overwhelms him. He cannot bear to face old friends, is unable to go into work, eventually resorts to only going out at night or in the very early morning when the risk of a chance encounter is minimal.
This bleak, well-crafted tale ends with the recognition that the protagonist has essentially obliterated himself by destroying all the relationships that make him real. Writing in the third person present Barnham suits style to content very well - the immediacy of his anti-hero's plight comes across all too well.
This is the first story in the anthology that does not involve a conventional ghost, so much as a man whose only option is to become a ghost. As such it represents a definite shift in tone and approach, and is all the more welcome for that.
More of this running review soon!