Wednesday, August 1, 2012

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #86: A review of "Night Moves" by Tim Powers

A one-eyed bum named Cyclops. A man who fantasizes about how things used to be in the good ol’ days. A homeless old woman who wishes she looked like she did when she still had money and was young. A man who was abandoned by his parents at a young age, living with a fat woman with mental problems. A well-off elderly couple who long for the days of fancy parties and good booze. What do all of these people have in common?

In what seems at first to be a series of vignettes, Powers weaves an amazing web of storytelling with this little tale. When the Santa Ana winds blow through late night LA, things get weird. Cyclops seems to be the only one who notices just how weird. That’s when the Great Gray-Legged Scissors Men come out to roam the night, searching for dreamers with big wishes.

As you can tell from the first paragraph here, they find their share. Prime among them is Roger, who is suddenly visited by a recurring dream he’d had when he was a kid but no longer has. This reminds him of Evelyn, his imaginary friend when he was a kid. This leads him to memories of moving around a lot in his youth, and for some reason, it seems that his parents are deathly afraid of his imaginary friend, even though she never does anything spooks usually do. This leads them to eventually give him some money to go into a drug store to get something. When he comes out, they’re long gone. Now, he finds himself home in LA, seeking out his parents with the help of a PI, and fucking a fat girl with a lot of mental issues.

One night, when he sees Cyclops down on the street, shouting, he’s surprised to see he’s actually shouting at people who are really there, as he usually raves at invisible people. They strike him as odd, dressed in gray leotards as they hop and scatter about the street. He thinks they might be a drunken group of drama students until one of them jumps a full three stories. And then he hears a voice whisper in his head about how he can have whatever he wishes. He wants to see his parents again. He is then beckoned to follow on the streets.

Everyone gets their wishes. The homeless lady? She’s young again, dressed in the outfit she debuted in so long ago. The elderly couple, suddenly thinner with darker hair, dressed in their finest, are at a party at the Hotel Splendide. And now Roger, dressed in his finest suit out of nowhere, trailed by his well-dressed lady friend, have joined the party, which is hosted by a woman who calls herself Evelyn . . . .

SPOILER ALERT: You may have surmised that the elderly couple is really Roger’s mom and dad. He surmises this very thing as he settles down to the party, drinking and having fun. But Cyclops is also there, young and dressed well with a patch over his bad eye, and he seems to be the only one who knows what’s going on. The Santa Ana wind has warped reality, and they’re all trapped in this bubble. If they linger too long, they will be destroyed when this miniature world implodes on itself. He begs Roger to leave with him, but this is a chance of a lifetime for Roger. Now he can finally confront his parents about what really happened.

He does, and they seem genuinely sorry for what they’ve done. Keeping in mind what Cyclops told him, he decides to get out of here with his parents so they can have a real discussion without the folderol of this dream world. Unfortunately, they’ve lingered too long. Even as they flee from the Hotel Splendide, they find themselves turned back toward it. Evelyn is intent on not letting them go.

Through a series of revelations, Roger figures out just exactly who she is. Before he was born, when his parents hadn’t married yet, they’d gotten pregnant. In order to hide this from the world, they went and got a back-alley abortion. His older sister. Evelyn. Armed with this knowledge, he’s able to think his way out of her trap. But now that she knows that he knows, it’s no longer really a trap. She lets them go, finally at peace. END OF SPOILERS.

Powers really does weave an intricate, complicated plot out of this one. The only complaint, really, is that he wastes time with characters that don’t turn out to be important in the long run. He could have realistically axed two of them, and the story wouldn’t have suffered. Still, this is a trifling matter. Do not miss this story.

[This story first appeared in a chapbook called NIGHT MOVES and cannot be read online at this time.]

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