You know the feeling. The one when it’s late at night and you’re either the only one awake or the only one home, when the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. Someone’s behind you. You look, but the only thing there is the emptiness you expected. It’s a feeling we blame on remnants of evolutionary biology, harkening back to a time when we humans needed preternatural awareness of our surroundings to ensure that we and our loved ones remain safe from attacks by wild animals. A bizarre physiological reaction that reminds us of where we came from as species and nothing more. You turn back, assured that nothing is lurking behind you. Nothing ever was. Right?
Acclaimed horror writer Jeffrey Ford’s latest novella, OUT OF BODY, is the kind of story that takes place within that feeling, but from the other side, from the perspective of that which we cannot see. With a simple prose that bellies that darker themes the work explores, Ford conjures up a terrifying dreamscape that lurks beneath the reality we all share. In this world of the uncanny that which has haunted humanity and plagued our nightmares for millennia exists unfettered by human constraints. A world where that which goes bump in the night, that which causes the hairs on your neck to prick up, might be a neighbor you’ve known for years, or it might be something else.
At a brisk 163 pages, OUT OF BODY manages to capture plenty of scares as it reframes everything from ghosts to vampires, all while suggesting a world much larger than this single, simple narrative allows. It’s an essential work for fans of ghosts and the uncanny, one perhaps best read in a single sitting, in the dark of night, when everyone else is tucked tightly into their beds and you can be all alone.
The novella follows Owen, a small-town librarian who is granted an extraordinary ability following a head injury. A long-time sufferer of night terrors, Owen discovers that he can now leave his body at night and walk as a spirit through his small town. He soon discovers that he’s not the only one with these abilities, and that they’re far more common than one might expect. Soon, however, he discovers that there’s more to the astral plane than harmless wondering. Other creatures walk unseen in the night, other dangers lurk around familiar corners. Before he knows it, he finds himself at odds with a potentially ancient evil, one that is currently being hunted and is ready to fight for its existence.
As an author, Ford has always been adept at taking the familiar tropes and standards of the genre and reimagining them to create something new. At its heart, OUT OF BODY isn’t much beyond a simple ghost story, where ghosts are mostly just the astral projections of normal people out for a late-night stroll. In his mastery, however, Ford manages to inject the premise with heaping helpings of existential dread and explores what it means when we talk about the uncanny.
Being such a quick read, OUT OF BODY has a fairly high ratio of scares and moments of intense creepiness, whether it comes from the idea that at any point anyone could be lurking in your house and watching you unseen or from the prospect of dangerous creatures sniffing out ways into our regular waking world. Even with the utilization of genre standard creatures, Ford packs the novella with frights that occur at such a pace that you can’t help but keep reading until the book is done.
While far from Ford’s best book, OUT OF BODY is still a work of shocking imagination and horrifying delights. Fans of quick-paced ghost stories and shorter works will find a lot to love in this novella. Fans of Ford’s earlier works will no doubt enjoy seeing the author take on the concept of the ghost story in such an original way. It might be one of the author’s more minor works, but that doesn’t make it any less essential for readers of weird and uncanny fiction. At the very least, it might make you think twice before dismissing the feeling of being watched as a leftover remnant of human evolution. After all, we can never really know the dangers of that which we cannot see.
OUT OF BODY will be released on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. You can pre-order here.