Lynda E. Rucker — ‘The Dying Season’
A couple in trouble, trying to overcome what might be a fundamental fracture in their relationship, take a short break in a vast, British, seaside caravan park, but out-of-season. The caravans are identical, and form in countless rows and sections.
A tense and bickery atmosphere between Sylvia and John, seems additionally irritated by the strange atmosphere of regimented abandonment that surrounds them. In the spirit of the great writer of strange tales, Robert Aickman, to which the story is a tribute, things can only get weirder from there. Sylvia's discomfort, sensitivity and unease is further ignited by the intrusion of an odd couple, who occupy a nearby unit. "But you know what I kept thinking? About those horror movies, you know, like the home invasion ones? ... The ones where they go in and kill all the people and then act like they're the ones who live in the house? I kept thinking the girl reminded me of one of those people?"
Social awkwardness, paranoia, and a deepening wariness ensure as Sylvia tries to fit into the new group, and her own position in her own relationship, while simple phrases, actions and situations trigger an escalation of her disaffection from her partner and the strange intruders. Unwelcome erotic and voyeuristic overtones converge on Sylvia, but are kept tantalising, whilst the story manages to subtly suggest terrible processes and consequences if she remains in the tense, brittle, but unpredictable atmosphere created by the two strangers.
The story is an example of how horror can be quiet and intensely psychological, and can isolate and examine a character as the victim, while constantly dancing around deferred revelation. It may just be an odd situation, involving odd people, or it may be a dangerous entrapment into some kind of sexual assault arising from a manipulation that Sylvia can barely identify.
Indirection is a special skill and it's one that Lynda E. Rucker uses frequently to emphasize those near indefinable moments of social alienation and paranoia, that you just want to get up and run far, far away from. Despite the absence of a monster or climactic fireworks, I found this uncomfortable and gripping.
Recommendation: You'll Know When you Get There (Swan River Press), and Aickman's Heirs for this story and others in Aickman's spirit (Undertow)