A small-town librarian, a senseless killing and a centuries-old horror have been preying on a community for over a hundred years. These are the building blocks used by Jeffrey Ford as a foundation for his chilling horror novella Out of Body.
On his way to work as the librarian at his community’s small library, Owen stops off at the Busy Bee, a local deli, for his breakfast. As he is making his purchase, a man rushes into the store with a gun. He threatens the cashier as he demands the cash from the register and then swings around and strikes Owen in the head with the butt of the gun. Owen is rendered unconscious. When he awakes, he is being tended to by paramedics. Both the cashier, whom Owen has known since she was a child, and the thief are dead. The police believe that Owen attempted to thwart the robbery, resulting in his being struck, but Owen knows this isn’t true. While he struggles to set the story straight, and assuage his feelings of survivor’s guilt, he begins to have “out of body” experiences during sleep. He finds that he can wander through his community, walk through walls, and observe his neighbors and how they spend their nights. He also realizes that all of his community’s secrets are revealed to him, if he chooses to look. And, when he does, he discovers that, living in their midst for well over a hundred years, is a horror that can scarcely be imagined.
In Out of Body, Jeffrey Ford puts a mesmerizing twist on small town life. The world he creates is recognizable, but through a prism of twilight with special abilities that can only be experienced while away from one’s physical body. The idea that a near death experience could bring on the ability to leave one’s body is intriguing, and Ford executes it wonderfully. Owen and most of the other characters in the story are immediately recognizable because they are, in every sense, normal. Owen is a middle-aged civic servant who has lived in a small town his entire life (and has few, if any, aspirations to do more). His neighbors and the individuals that he “meets” during his “out of body” journeys are the same. They are likable, regular people. This makes them both instantly relatable, but also increases the creepy factor when the reader realizes that there is nothing special about the people wandering the nighttime landscape discovering the town’s secrets. The one exception to this is the evil that Owen discovers. What he finds is an interesting amalgam of several well-known types of “monster,” but Ford executes them extremely well and places them in the most unexpected of places. Part of why they are so terrifying is because they seem so innocuous during the day.
Jeffrey Ford has written a novella full of wonder and dread.