‘The Hospice’ by Robert Aickman

My first time reading Aickman, on another writer’s recommendation, I was baffled—left with an overwhelming sense of not getting it. I assumed the problem lay with me, since the author who sung his praises was one I admired, and on a repeated attempt I did feel I sort of started to “get it,” or at least get that Aickman’s “strange stories” lend themselves to many interpretations but do not slot perfectly into any one. Instead they build to an overwhelming mood of off-ness, of horrors seen only briefly out of the corner of one’s eye that nevertheless leave one forever altered. This story to me is the prime example of how to build overwhelming dread out of troubling glimpses, Lynchian well before Lynch was a thing. It’s one of the scariest I’ve ever read—and also very funny. Lucas Maybury is lost while driving home from a business meeting, gets out of his car to wander a desolate neighborhood, and is bitten by something that might be a cat or might not. It only gets worse from there. When he seeks sanctuary at an inn, the feeling of being trapped in a very bad dream mounts over the course of the night to an unbearable pitch. 

Collected in Cold Hand in Mine, Glooancz/Scribners, 1975; in a new edition from Faber, 2014

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