Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "The Long Hall on the Top Floor," Caitlin R. Kiernan


This is another story from a wonderful collection a friend gave me  years ago, AMERICAN FANTASTIC TALES, 1940 to the present. I probably would never have picked this collection up were it not for short story Wednesdays. 

Deacon Silvey moved from Atlanta to Birmingham, AL after a robbery that scared him. He has substance abuse problems and is stuck doing shift work at various places. While working at a laundromat in Birmingham, a guy named Soda comes in and asks Deke if it's true that he has psychic powers. He asks him if he will use his powers to help a female friend of his. After some attempts to avoid this, Deke agrees. 

Sadie Jaspers meets up with Deke and she takes him to the top floor of a building. Deke advises her he just gets impressions so it might not be what she wants. He keeps trying to get her to tell him what she is seeing on that top floor but she insists, it's better if he sees for himself. At the very top, she points to a spot and it turns out the spot is about the way it makes you feel rather than any specific terror. It is not just cold but "indifferent, the freezing temperature of an apathy so absolute, so perfect" that Deacon vomits. He tells her the "thing" doesn't want to be seen. "It wasn't meant to be seen.'

It is hard for me to make this seem frightening here. But the writing is so sharp and these two characters so well fleshed out that we don't see what they don't see and yet believe in it. 

Kiernan writes other pieces about this twosome and has published novels as well. Good writing is a reward in itself. Deacon Silvey is a character to remember--just from a 5000 word story. And so too is Sadie Jaspers. If Kiernan had named them John Black and Sara Jones, we would not remember them nearly as well. Names are important. It is easy to forget that. 

Kevin Tipple


George Kelley 

Richard Robinson 

Todd Mason


Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, this does sound potent, Patti! And it's hard to make characters seem that real within the confines of a short story. Thanks for sharing.

Todd Mason said...

Kiernan is one of the stars of horror fiction and has been for some years now...her career on a slow build (while widely appreciated by the relatively attentive) in the same way that, say, Ramsey Campbell's has been over the decades, or the late Dennis Etchison's was, as opposed to the "sudden bursts" the likes of Clive Barker, Grady Hendrix or (to some extent) Elizabeth Hand have seen (or so it could seem to the casual reader).

Glad you were given this book...I did an FFB of it some years back in my Even Busier Years and glad also you've found time for it. It isn't perfect, as opposed to all those perfect books, but it is as impressive as hell, and Straub is both a good writer and a good editor in horror and other fields (not a few of those, including some not even collected in these fat volumes).

I'm putting the finishing touches on my SSW for today (and it being another multivolume thing, my FFB for at least this week as I add to it).

Todd Mason said...

That fast take in 2015 on the Straub anthology, at the tail end of this FFB list:

Jeff Meyerson said...

I don't know the book or the story, though I think I've read one or two of her other ones.

I read Mick Herron's DOLPHIN JUNCTION. The title story was the longest and, for my money, by far the least interesting. It's the kind of story I always dislike. The last I read was "The Last Dead Letter," a Slough House story with Jackson Lamb, about goings-on in Berlin before the Wall fell. Not as good as the novels but nice atmosphere.

Laura Lippman, SEASONAL WORK. One of my favorite stories is her "The Book Thing," about the Baltimore free bookstore (involving her PI Tess Monaghan). When we were at the last Baltimore Bouchercon in 2008, our friend Jeff Smith took George and me and another friend there one afternoon. It is exactly what it says, a FREE bookstore. Everything you can carry away is free. Our other friend was browsing the medical texts. Sadly they've had a fire since then, but have reopened now - but according to the website, only one day a month.

One I really liked was "The Everyday Housewife" about Judith Monaghan, Tess's mother. It is set at a very specific time and place - southwest Baltimore, where newlywed Judith has left her Jewish enclave behind to move with her Catholic husband, in the summer of 1973 during the Watergate hearings. Really nicely done.

Steve A Oerkfitz said...

I've read a lot of her short fiction. Most of it I have liked. She is one of the better current writers of horror.

George said...

I'm a big fan of Caitlan Kiernan's work, especially her H. P. Lovecraft pastiches.

Todd Mason said...

for my SSW.

TracyK said...

Patti, I was attracted by the setting of Birmingham, AL but that really probably does not impact the story? The story sounds good, if I see one of her stories I will give it a try. Generally I would avoid horror even though I know it covers a broad range.