In this existential thriller, a college student’s disconcerting history class may force her to face troubling memories.
Partying with friends and fighting with boyfriend Patrick are all that Amanda Greene remembers about last night. Her first day of college, however, is rife with fuzzy recollections. Her dorm roommate is unrecognizable, the greenery outside is replaced with autumn colors, and she’s scheduled for History 101 but is positive she didn’t register for it. History, as it turns out, is a little unsettling. The professor continues a lesson already begun, lecturing, it seems, only to Amanda and not the other students, “all facing front, like robots.” Escape for the increasingly uncomfortable Amanda doesn’t seem feasible: gloved fists are pounding at the door, along with something sporting thick, purplish skin. Answers to what’s going on may be tied to Amanda’s strangely familiar classmate, Nick Fortune. He doesn’t exactly clarify anything, but he acts as a guide: “You have to trust me,” he tells her. “Finish the lecture.” The professor discusses historical figures such as Joan of Arc and Lucrezia Borgia, but scenes from their lives are soon coupled with Amanda’s. She thinks back to years ago, at home with abhorrent stepbrother Wayne, and begins recalling disturbing details from the night before. Plot specifics in the novella are initially scarce, because the big reveal isn’t until the final pages. But the story thrives on atmosphere, with Amanda’s dizzying confusion giving the landscape an otherworldly aura. Some of the tale’s details are straight out of a horror novel, including Amanda’s distinct feeling of being watched and students on campus suddenly disappearing. But the prose is often subtle, slowly building up tension even if readers aren’t sure what’s so terrifying. Cash (Brood X, 2015, etc.) intermingles beauty and violence, like Amanda’s view from her dorm room window: “The leaves withering, curling, setting the branches on fire with vivid oranges, yellows, and reds.” Readers may guess the ending, but that won’t diminish its impact. It’s smartly ambiguous and open to interpretation, and some may delight in a second (or third) read.
The threat’s intangible,
but the imagery in this imposing tale is discernibly moody and uncanny.