My favorite two stories in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2012 (ed. Paula Guran) both involve what I think of as uncanny landscapes: places where time doesn’t work, and where something wants to suck you in and make you stay forever.
In “Objects in Dreams May Be Closer Than They Appear” by Lisa Tuttle, a long-divorced couple reconnect via Google Street View:
This whole terrible thing began with a link [Michael] sent me by email with the comment, “Can you believe how much the old homestead has changed?”
Taken to a Google Earth map of the house they’d once owned together in the small English village of Tavistock, the nameless narrator remembers how draining the house-buying process had been, how they settled on a house that didn’t fit either of their needs (and ultimately contributed to the dissolution of their marriage). But she also recollects the house that got away:
And then one day, traveling between the viewing of one imperfect property to look at another which would doubtless be equally unsatisfactory in its own unique way…we came to an abrupt halt. Michael stopped the car at the top of a hill….
I saw immediately what he was looking at through a gap in the hedge: a distant view of an old-fashioned, white-washed, thatched-roofed cottage…. It was a pretty sight, like a Victorian painting you might get on a box of old-fashioned chocolates….
But try as they might, the couple can’t seem to find their way to the cottage. Michael becomes obsessed, buying map after map, completely unable to locate the cottage or the road that would take them there. Eventually they ask an elderly estate agent in a nearby village who immediately tries to shut down their inquiry: the house was not for sale, it didn’t exist, it was bad luck to try and talk to the owners.
Fast-forward twenty years: the narrator and her ex-husband are invited to an anniversary party for their friends back in Tavistock, who they haven’t seen for many years. After the party, the divorced couple decides to try and find the Victorian cottage again using the wizardry of GPS.
And of course, they find it. As our narrator winds up the path, she feels a creeping sense of dread:
I knew it was impossible, yet I remembered this visit… I’d peeked through that window on the right, and saw something that made me run away in terror.
I’m really drawn in by stories with a strong sense of place — doubly so if the place is weird, whimsical, or (even better) hell-bent on destroying whoever might wander in. What I love about this story is that there’s no clear villain. Tuttle tells just enough about the house and the landscape but stops short of explaining what’s really going on. She plays on that universal desire to belong someplace — and then suggests maybe that desire isn’t quite as wholesome as we think. –Christine
Next: “Near Zennor” by Elizabeth Hand