When a freak combination of her father’s mistake and snap pandemic restrictions leave Portia stranded at her grandmother’s farm without a change of clothes or the internet, she thinks things can’t get worse. However, as when the initial disruption of being in a new place is replaced by the feeling someone else is in the house, then by slamming doors and scratches in the paint, she becomes certain the farm is haunted.
Elizabeth follows the classic arc of a Western ghost story, slowly building from subtle hints that the protagonist disregards, through events that occur when the protagonist is alone and not at their best, to a sudden tipping of evidence. This both leaves the protagonist doubting there is something going on and then her ability to convince others, and builds tension by providing the reader evidence something odd is going on without confirming exactly what.
Portia’s sudden separation from her normal surroundings and from the internet add to these tensions, providing a plausible mundane explanation for her being unsettled and denying her access to people she believes will give her the benefit of the doubt.
To the unforgiving eye, the premise that Portia’s father would mistakenly assume that she was asleep in the back of the car without checking then get caught on the far side of a sudden lockdown might seem less than utterly realistic. Yet, it is no more unfeasible than the broken carriage axle on a stormy night of a classic ghost tale, and creates a sense of being targeted by the universe that echoes the teen mindset well, so fans of supernatural chills or young adult fiction are unlikely to find it damages their suspension of disbelief.
As one might expect of young adult fiction, a pleasantly favoured person of Portia’s age and preferred gender lives nearby. However, while there is some “does he like me like me or just like me?” tension, this subplot comes nowhere near a consuming angst; thus even readers who who have previously contemplated just locking young lovers in a room until they just talk to each other are likely to find this characterful rather than an annoying distraction.
Portia is a well-crafted young adult protagonist. Ironically, Elizabeth’s skill at creating a realistic teenager might create the greatest obstacle to reader engagement: while Portia does display her better qualities later, during the initial section of being forced to visit her grandmother and then abandoned, she is somewhat whiny and self-absorbed; thus, some readers might not develop enough interest in seeing her succeed to reach the ghost story. As befits a normal US teen, Portia has no useful experience for dealing with the supernatural; however, she does shift from plausibly scared to trying to act without extended paralysis, making her a much more widely sympathetic protagonist once the supernatural starts.
The supporting cast fit the young adult focus well. Even when in a scene, the adults display a lower level of complexity or breadth of interest, making them—while not flat—more distant than even Portia’s briefly mentioned sister.
Overall, I enjoyed this short story. I recommend it to readers seeking an engaging perspective on how a classic ghost trope might play out in the modern world.
I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.