Tuesday, 21 June 2022

The Black Dreams - 'The Wink and the Gun' by John Patrick Higgins

A genuine horror story, now, with all the ingredients of more conventional tales - strange children, a lonely protagonist, time out of joint, and a cruel assault. But the Northern Ireland setting gives 'The Wink and the Gun' a distinctive twist. It is almost Kafkaesque in its portrayal of a world where things almost make sense, but not quite. 

A first-person narrator goes on a routine errand and runs into someone he went to school with and didn't know at all. But she is an attractive middle-aged woman, he is alone in the world, and she seems pleased at the thought of seeing him again. He revises his decision not to go to the school reunion. But, on the way home, he sees something strange. A 'crude, wooden ziggurat' made of wooden pallets.A bonfire, but at the wrong time of year. An odd hallucination, perhaps.

The horror comes courtesy of two boys who don't look like other children in the district. The boys are hollow-eyed and malnourished, and simply stare as the narrator trips and drops some of his shopping. No laughter or jeering. The boys reappear later. Twice. The third time they see him, they do laugh. The story is arguably a nightmare, a conte cruel in which the impossibility of normal life is laid before the reader.

This is proving a good anthology not just in terms of the quality but also in its unpredictability. I had expected tales of 'the Troubles' galore, but now I think it though (duh!) why would people write about such things in a matter-of-fact way? Instead, we are offered exactly what it says on the cover, the black dreams of a 'landscape out of joint'.

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