from Cold Hand in Mine
by Robert Aickman
A strange tale of a German (I guess? or is he Austrian?) nobleman and the ominous patch of "No Man's Water" in the lake near his home.
My Reaction (with SPOILERS):
I don't know what to make of this story. It's amorphous, with a plot that drifts along like the shifting thread of a dream. At various points, I thought maybe it was about to start making sense, but no. It never truly did. I have to say, I'm not particularly impressed. Maybe I'm missing something that would elevate it to greatness, but if it's that subtle, it may not be for me. Call me lazy, but I don't want to work that hard for my "pleasure reading".
That said, there were some interesting passages and frightening nightmare-moments. The sensation of the depth and darkness of the water... The sudden loss of the oars... That horrific image of the woman...
I'm taking a break from this short story collection. Maybe if I come back to it later, I'll enjoy it more.
Tidbits (with SPOILERS):
-- I am entirely befuddled by Elmo's relationship with Viktor. "...In Viktor for the first time he had found a friend who actually enhanced (instead of slightly spoiling and diminishing) the experience of boating on the lake, more often than not at night. Viktor, who was olive-skinned and black-haired, sometimes dressed as a girl for this purpose, and it was as if Elmo had mysteriously, albeit but momentarily, acquired the sister he had so much lacked." ...Um, what? I'll admit that I'm conventional in this respect (in that I like men to look like men), but why was Viktor dressing as a girl?
-- "...The hand that the relaxed Victor was gently trailing through the water was, with all quiet around, suddenly bitten half away." ... "One of the doctors with whom Elmo spoke expressed the medical view that the entity which had inflicted the terrible injury had also infected the entire physiology of the victim with some bacillus, perhaps unknown, which had in a measure unbalanced his judgement."
-- "...the imminence of spring, the worst quarter of the year for the sensitive, the period of most suicides, the season of greatest sadness..." Is that true? It sounds vaguely familiar... Ok, I looked it up, and it is supported by research-- but of course no-one's sure what's behind the phenomenon. I enjoy spring itself, but not as much as autumn, because I know it will soon be summer (my least favorite season)-- but I was under the impression that most people enjoy and look forward to summer nearly as much-- if not more-- than spring. Of course, if you're suicidal, you're not experiencing things the way "most people" are, anyway...
-- "'We are most of us two people, your Highness. ... And the two people within us seldom communicate. Even when both are present together in consciousness, there is little communication. Neither can confront the other without discomfort. ... Life, as we know it, could hardly continue if men did not soon slay the dreamer inside them. There are the children to think of; the mothers who breed them and thus enable our race to endure; the economy; the ordered life of society. ... If any man examines his inner truth with both eyes wide open, and his inner eye wide open also, he will be overcome with terror at what he finds.'" ...and... "'Women have no inner life that is decisively apart. With women the inner life merges ever with the totality. That is why women seem to men either deceitful and elusive, or moralistic and uninteresting. Women have no problem comparable with the problem of merely being a man.'" *snort* Yeah. Whatever.
-- So, out there on the lake, in No Man's Water, men are supposed to "encounter the image within them", right? So... Elmo's image within himself is a lady with "large eyes and a large mouth", which is "open, showing white and pointed teeth, as many teeth as a strange fish"-- not smiling. ...What in the heck am I supposed to make of that? Was it Elmo's "inner image" that bit off part of Viktor's hand? Why did he see the inner image that night/morning when he was about to kill himself? What does it have to do with Elvira?
-- "The few remains were far beyond identification. The body had been gnashed and gnawed and ripped, so that even the bones were mostly sliced away and splintered. And, of course, there was no proper head. All had in truth to be guesswork. 'There's nothing in that coffin,' men mouthed to each other when, in a few days' time, the hour came for the noble ceremony." ...So did Elmo's "inner image" somehow gnaw his body, splinter his bones, and eat/destroy his head?
Meh, I give up. It doesn't make sense to me-- not even the bizarre sort of "sense" that strange/horror stories generally do.