This is Horror and is written by Nathan Ballingrud. The author's collection North American Lake Monsters was one I was very impressed with so I had great expectations for this novella, expectations which I'm very pleased to report have have been met and, indeed, exceeded.
The story's protagonist is Will who works in Rosie's Bar in uptown New Orleans, a less than salubrious 24-hour establishment, a description of which begins the novella, complete with scuttling cockroaches, subtly setting the scene for what is to come.
The arrival of a group of students brings with it a violent brawl in which one of the bar's regulars, Eric, is wounded, glassed in the face with a broken bottle. Upon the group's departure, Will discovers that one of them has left behind a cell phone which he takes home with him. When he starts receiving text messages on the phone, the true horror begins...
The texts taunt Will but also guide him towards some images - and a video - that are stored on the phone. There are suggestions that the images, via the phone, exert some malign influence over Will, making him open the files but in reality, his decision to do so is probably down to the impulse within us all to look at that which we know will be horrible; the impulse that makes us slow down and crane our necks as we drive past a traffic accident; the impulse that makes us click on the play button of videos showing violent death, beheadings...
Of course, what's revealed in the files is utterly horrible and the author's prose here is perfect, brilliantly conveying the awfulness of what Will sees, transferring the sense of unease and disgust he feels straight into the reader's head. I was put very much in mind of the cursed video from Hideo Nakata's Ringu when reading these scenes, in particular the feeling of unease and dread that the "cursed" video in that film created in me.
There's plenty of disturbing imagery created in The Visible Filth - and the skill with which this is done is one of the story's strengths - much of it will linger in your memory long after reading. As well as this though, the novella presents another masterclass in the depiction of a relationship under strain - something that was also a feature of North American Lake Monsters. Will's relationship with girlfriend Carrie is going through a rough patch and the emotional nuances and dialogue between the two are pitched perfectly.
The Visible Filth is a grim read, one which will make demands of the reader. Bleak and nihilistic, it takes no prisoners and you'll be shaken and disturbed come the last page. Which is about as glowing a recommendation I can make for any horror story.
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