This short story transposes the classic Gothic story of a son closing up his dead parent’s country residence to the snowy woods of the United States. Balancing the modern world’s greater freedom to acknowledge grief with the loss of support abandoning the rituals of the past has produced, Moss crafts a world where the traditional looming threat of the Other remains, but the potential identity of that Other owes nothing to the mores of past ages.
When Jake’s father is killed, Jake must sell his father’s cabin. But before he does, he makes one last visit, in the hopes of finding closure, or even enough sense of his father’s presence to say farewell properly. Instead he finds hints of something much less pleasant. Are childhood memories and current grief making him read too much into natural events or is some intelligent, yet bestial, creature stalking him?
Moss skilfully builds tension throughout the piece, fitting a significant level of potential evidence of whether or not there is a threat and what it might be in without seeming rushed.
The parallel story of Jake’s grief and rage at his father’s death is similarly well-paced, and is fully integrated with the recounting of current events.
Of particular note are the memories of potential mundane threats included within Jake’s recall of his father. Moving beyond either merely showing the reader there are bears and other risks in the woods or providing helpful advice Jake can use in the present, these memories provide a sense of how Jake’s father was a source of safety; a sense of safety that has now been taken away, leaving Jake primed to jump at shadows.
However, there are occasional moments when Moss’ description of events and thoughts might be a touch too clear to maintain true doubt about the causes of certain things.
Jake is a plausible and sympathetic protagonist, revelled more by actions and emotions than exposition. Casting his story in the first person, and presenting other people only in his memories, Moss denies the reader the opportunity to measure his perceptions against reality. Combined with the realism of his grief, this leaves the reader knowing he is an unreliable narrator but caught between wanting him to be right-but-in-danger and unhinged-but-safe.
I enjoyed this short story. I recommend it to readers seeking horror that focuses more on the experience of fear than the descriptions of atrocity.
I was not asked to write this review. However, I am in the same online writing community as the author.