Recently I was reading Night After Night, by one of my favorite authors, Phil Rickman, who wrote a couple of amazing horror novels back in the day, but who’s now probably best known for the Merrily Watkins series of (somewhat) paranormal mystery novels. This one is not a Merrily Watkins novel, but it is a—wait for it!—paranormal mystery. Of sorts.
The premise of Night After Night is that a reality television producer in search of his next show decides to stage a variation of Big Brother in a putatively haunted old countryside manor where Very Bad Things have most definitely occurred in the past. Instead of a gaggle of shirtless twentysomethings, the
inmates contestants residents consist of skeptics and believers in paranormal activity, and instead of hooking up in hot tubs, they do things like discuss their experiences with ghosts and what forms the basis of their belief system. It’s called Big Other and it sounds like ratings gold, doesn’t it?
Needless to say, things go awry pretty quickly, not only because the residents have their own agendas and don’t really cooperate with the producers, but also because the manor is rather more than putatively haunted, and what’s there is actively hostile.
‘I said I’d talk about this once, Leo, and then never again. Nor am I going back in that room.’
‘So if you’ve nothing else for me, outside the house, I’ll be on my way. Just glad I’m not using my own kit. That camera, by the way’ – she’s half out of the chair – ‘you should get rid of it. And don’t trade it in. I mean get rid.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘When I saw it again, it was suddenly fully formed. And unclothed. Walking through the candlelight, as if the candle was part of it. And it was this… this side of the mirror. My side. With me. In other words, there was no mirror. No wall. And the camera… the camera was utterly freezing. So cold it felt hot, you know what I mean? Like in the dead of winter when you’re trying to prise something out of the ice, and it freezes your fingers. And they go numb. That cold. The camera was that cold.’
‘You were frightened.’
‘Now what do you think, Leo?’
I’ll tell you what I think—I think this sounds like where the camera in the Fatal Frame video game series came from. Maybe instead of getting rid of it, Leo sold it to some poor sap in Japan.
That’s the trailer for Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, the scariest video game ever made. (Don’t take my word for it; ask Ars Technica. Or Kotaku. Or one of the guys who made The Last of Us, no slouch in the scary department, who describes Crimson Butterfly as “the scariest experience in any medium“.)
So is Night After Night as scary as Crimson Butterfly? Uhhhh, no. This is modern Phil Rickman, after all, who specializes more in atmosphere and suggestion and a gradually-ratcheting tension than in the outright horror of his earlier books. Maybe someday he’ll produce another Candlenight but for now, a Merrily Watkins book without Merrily Watkins will do.
Meanwhile, speaking of people who used to write outright horror but don’t anymore, I’m coming down to the final pages in what I’m pretty sure is the final round of editing of Father’s Books. After this it will just be cleaning up typos, I swear.
“You didn’t find them?” Pedro said.
“No, I did. They got shrunk down to bean size. I have them in my pocket.”
The two of them exchanged glances. After a moment, Sandy said: “The weirdest thing about tonight is I can’t tell if you’re serious or not.”
Is the speaker serious? Are they not? You’ll have to read the book to find out!