Friday, January 21, 2011

The Dark Level

Short Story by John F.D. Taff

A very effective horror story about man's search for a parking space. And once he gets there, his search for the elevator. A parking garage is one of the few remaining dark and creepy places we encounter in everyday modern life, and it is nice to have a story set in one. I had a few problems with this story in retrospect, but I want to emphasize how effective it was. This was one of the more scary and suspenseful PseudoPods and it kept me up listening to it late at night when I was fully expecting to fall asleep and listen again in the morning. And it actually had me nervous and jumpy while listening to it.

On a second listen, however, it loses some of this. The scream Jim doesn't hear, but we are informed of by narration when he first sees the garage is right out of an 80's campy horror film, gives away that it is bad a bit too early (we know we're reading a horror story, but I like to not be so sure about it), but it also just seems like we get some vital hint the character doesn't. It was kind of obnoxious and the whole story would be better to just cut that line.

Once Jim is in a garage, he hears noises which creeped me out on first listen, but remain unexplained, and now that I know what the horror was, don't make any damn sense. I like some element of the unexplained in my horror, rather than explaining everything away, but when you have a very clear definition by the end of what was going on in the parking garage, I would like the completely unexplained non-sensical but scary noises to get some explanation. Because the one we have not only doesn't account for them, but seems to preclude my default assumption.

Third, the metaphors chosen to describe things spell it all out a little too well, a little too early. Dark, creepy metaphors are good, but not ones that give away the whole story by choice of idioms. That said, the central concept is good, if not totally unique, and the ending is just great. This one has style and atmosphere, but I'd advise against thinking too hard about it, or you might find the story crumbling away like a partially digested business suit.

2.5 unsafe parking spaces out of 5.

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