Friday, February 14, 2014

"The Dust-Cloud"

"The Dust-Cloud"
by E.F. Benson

Our narrator's host at a house party tells a story of a ghostly automobile, back in the time when cars were still unfamiliar to most.

My Reaction:
It's alright, but rather wordy in spots-- much more so than what I've seen so far in this author's other short stories.  It was also very predictable and therefore anticlimactic.  The story seems to be as much about the excitingly new "motor-car" as it is about ghosts!  I'm sure it would have seemed less predictable-- or at least more unique in approach-- when it was originally published. 

Random Bits (with SPOILERS):
--  The first bit, with all the talk of a car having moods and "an independent life of its own" reminded me of King's Christine-- or at least, reminded me of what I've heard of it, having neither read the book (or is it a short story?) nor seen the movie.

--  My copy of this story contains what must be a typo.  Someone says there's an "old" story about a car crash-- but the car crash didn't happen that long ago (in the story), so surely it was meant to be an "odd" story.

--  "'Ghosts?' I asked.  'Yes, the ghost of his motor-car.  Seems almost too up-to-date, doesn't it?'"  Well, now that you mention it... Yes.  Ok, it's possible to write a very creepy ghost story involving motor vehicles, but this one's lacking in shivers.  Too much focus on the "novelty" of a ghostly car!  Novelty alone is not enough to make a ghost story a success.

--  The part about different people being receptive to different types of ghostly phenomena-- sight, sound, etc.  Interesting idea, but rather too clinical/faux scientific in presentation, imho.

--  The creepiest parts came early in the story, with the recounting of what people have heard or seen -- especially the children having seen a little girl who wouldn't speak to them.  ~shiver~  Also, the intimation that the driver had been so prone to road rage (long, long before "road rage" was a term) that he ran down his own dog rather than hit the brakes or veer away.

-- Oh, and I'd forgotten the cheerful description of "the weather-eaten, sandy cliffs of the Suffolk shore"-- "the ancient town of Dunwich".  "...Of its seven great churches, nothing remains but one, and that ruinous and already half destroyed by the falling cliff and the encroachments of the sea.  Foot by foot, it too is disappearing, and of the graveyard which surrounded it more than half is gone, so that from the face of the sandy cliff on which it stands there stick out like straws in glass, as Dante says, the bones of those who were once committed there to the kindly and stable earth."  So eerie.

--  "I kept my mind, in fact, talking to itself, so that it should not hear what other voices were saying."  Yes, but physically moving and talking aloud may work better at drowning them out.  (Dogs are good listeners in these situations.  They'll happily listen to a play-by-play of whatever mundane task you choose.)

--  Hey, remember the "monstrous goat" from "The Man Who Went Too Far"?  The one who skipped through the forest with "hellish glee"?  Well, there's more hellish glee in this story!  "...Most terrible question of all-- had he, after making murder, rushed on to what proved to be his own death, filled with some hellish glee at what he had done?"  (A very early case of hit-and-run.)

--  "I was quite satisfied to leave my curiosity unsatisfied."  I know the feeling.

--  Apparently either tires were of pathetic quality when this was written, or the roads were in dreadful condition-- or both.  The car suffers four punctures in one day!  Also, there's reference to "boots", which I assumed were tires-- but then there's something about "socks", too.  What's a sock, then?  An inner-tube? 

--  This car has two different noise-makers-- a hooter and a syren.  I wish I could find an example of exactly how each sounded.  Evidently they were operated independently of one another.  The hooter was lower-pitched and was used as a sort of warning to people or animals near the road-- "Hey, heads up!  Coming through!"-- and the syren was higher-pitched, almost screaming and was reserved for more drastic measures-- "Aahhhh!  Move out of the way-- right now!!!"

--  It's funny to me that the narrator goes to such lengths to make sure we know that he's totally forgotten all about the ghost car.  Nothing could be further from his mind.  (Even though the story kept him up all night!) So it's not like this has been on his mind and he's some sort of nerved-up, ghost-obsessed, contaminated witness or something.  Nope, not at all.  And yet he explains that his friend mentions the ghost before they start the drive home!  "As I have already said, no notion of Bircham was in my mind, and I mention this as evidence that, even if it had been, Harry's remark would have implied that we were not going through Bircham."  Okay, okay, we get it.  You were an impartial observer and had no idea you were headed straight into the heart of Ghost Territory.  *eyeroll*

--  For the narrator, the ghost takes on the form of a cloud of dust.  ... :o/  (That's my ambivalent face, by the way.)  Now, don't get me wrong, if it happened to me, I'd be creeped out, but... a cloud of dust?  Hm.  (Maybe it's the way its presented...) There's also a shriek-- which could be a ghostly syren or a ghostly scream.  Either one would be scary, but it's touched on so lightly that it fails to chill my blood.

--  And then we get this:  "Then we went on again.  Soon we came to scattered lights in houses by the wayside.  'What's this place?' I asked Jack.  'Bircham, sir,' said he."  *dun dun DUN!!!*  ...So that's the climax?  Everyone reading this knows it's Bircham, and frankly, the narrator must be a bit thick if he didn't.

--  I sound grumpy and persnickety in these snippets, I know.  But I just enjoy nit-picking my reading.  I take genuine pleasure in it.  That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the reading-- not at all.  It only means... I don't know, that I'm weird, I guess.  ;o)