It sounds like ropey sci fi – and came from a McSweeney’s Quarterly themed around ‘an investigation of the world to come’ – but this story by Wells Tower is the best kind of down-to-earth unpleasantness. A married couple – Rodney and Cora Booth – travel out to a holiday caravan on the edge of a “do-it-yourself ocean”, a manmade sea that has turned red thanks to a bunch of one-celled organisms that thrive in the salt. It’s supposedly harmless, but weird stuff starts happening to them and Rodney begins regressing to a primal state.
Even in the new hours of the day, the water was hot and alarmingly solid, like paddling through Crisco. It seared his pores and mucous parts, but his body had a thrilling buoyancy in the thick water. A single kick of the legs sent him gliding like a hockey puck.
Needless to say, things get very creepy, though you never quite know if the lustful, elemental transformation overtaking Rodney is caused by the water or something else about this place on the edge of things. Tower is an arch-stylist and this is one of my favourites of his simply because it’s so hard to find, compared to his extraordinary collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. We’re well overdue a follow up, so hopefully he’s completing the final edits on the periphery of some remote, hostile expanse right now.
Published in McSweeney’s 32, 2009