Thursday, April 26, 2012
THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #9: "The Coach" by Violet Hunt
Here we have a mighty unusual story, unusual to the point where one has to wonder why it’s in this book. The only thing that hints this tale might be horror is that there is a supernatural influence, but that alone does not make for a horror story.
In order to qualify for such an august genre, one must actually make an attempt to scare a reader, or to make a reader question reality or human nature. Hunt starts out pretty well, depicting a very lonely scene with a very dark environment. In fact, like Blackwood, she doesn’t quite know when to stop; she just goes over the top trying to invoke the proper environment.
A man is waiting in the middle of nowhere, and then a coach stops and picks him up. There is a motley crew inside, and they start conversing. Before very long, it is revealed that these people are all dead—ghosts—and they start relating the stories of how they died.
It’s an interesting idea, possibly the first story to be told from a ghost’s perspective. However, it’s the way Hunt treats her material. The undead are pretty blasé about their deaths, almost to the point of comedy. Even when they ride by a coach full of the living, and that coach gets in a horrible accident because the driver saw the ghosts (and people most certainly died as a result), Hunt shows that the ghosts are kind of amused by the prospect of running into these newly dead very soon.
And in one scene, where we learn that one of the characters had killed another of the characters (and that she’d recognized him), what could have been chilling just comes off as ho-hum. At the conclusion of this incident, we learn that the coach driver doesn’t have a head. Instead of being creepy, it seems like a Monty Python sketch.
Ultimately, this story doesn’t belong in this book. Perhaps it would be at home in a humor treasury, but not among these other horror greats.
[This story originally appeared in the March '09 issue of THE ENGLISH REVIEW and cannot be found online at this time.]