Sunday, June 24, 2012

H.F. Arnold, “The Night Wire,” 1926

"Sometimes, though, queer things happen. One did the other night, and I haven't got over it yet. I wish I could."
                   -- H.F. Arnold, "The Night Wire"

I loved this story. On the surface, as purely a reading experience, it effectively combines all those elements that conceptualise the inner workings of the weird tale. It has a certain elegance that, while not the refined and obscured prose of Kafka or Borges, is beautiful specifically because it is straight up about what it presents. I thought of it myself as a more elegant version of Stephen King's "The Mist."

The bulk of the story is revealed via news wires of events as they happen. One point of obfuscation is the matter of where events are unfolding. According to the news reports, it is in a place called Xebico. As the narrator finds out eventually, such a place does not exist... or does it?

In many of the stories I have read so far in The Weird, language, and the information it is able to transfer, is called into question. "Xebico" in fact, may be anywhere. Contextually, it does not exist, but neither does reality in the way we perceive it. "The Night Wire" hints that the seemingly supernatural events of the narrative may be moving towards the town in which the narrator lives; perhaps it had been there all the time.

Arnold's story approaches seemingly extraordinary events through a mirror that seeks to reflect fact. "The Night Wire" makes it clear that this is a flawed approach. Facts are sometimes of such a nature that they seem entirely impossible. Perhaps there hides in the narrative a warning against complacency, the repetitive work of the night wire transmitters an eerie vehicle for the fantastic to slip into our reality.

Reviewed from The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, Eds. Anne and Jeff Vandermeer

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