"Nesters" by Siobhan Carroll
This story came out of the anthology "The Best horror of the Year: Volume Nine" edited by the well-known Ellen . The story was written by Siobhan Carroll. The story was originally published in the anthology "Children of Lovecraft" also edited by Ellen and published by Dark Horse Books.
This story had the privilege of being the opening story for both anthologies. Something I found to be quite interesting. I read the story with this thought in the back of my mind. Whatever the story was about was good enough to open up, not one anthology, but two, including the "Best Horror of the Year."
This story did not disappoint. The story hearkened back to a simpler time. A time when people were homesteading and nesting new lands. This time also happened to be one of the disastrous times in U.S history. The great dust . Skies blackened out by dust and dirt. Good, breathable, air was in short supply. People and animals were dying left and right. This was the scenario that played throughout this dark tale.
This story followed Sally Mackay and her family. They are living in a dugout and the only protection they have from the massive dust storms that sweep through their area. Sally's father, Pat, is barely holding on to the family . Money is tight and hard to come by. Sally's brother, Ben, is sick with dust-lung while being stuck in bed with fever and respiratory problems. The family has their problems, and mighty big ones, or they thought. Little did they know things could actually get worse.
One day two men showed up on the Mackay . They were nicely dressed and definitely not locals. Salley confronted them at the edge of the farm. They wanted to speak to her father. Salley was unsure of what to do and started thinking about her family. Government men were usually the only nicely dressed men that came around the farms. That also meant they were there for a malevolent purpose. The worst that Sally could think of was that they were there to take her family away from their farm. After some careful thought she brought the men to the dugout and let her father know.
The men were there to question Pat. They wanted to know about a man, and farmer, Frank . Pat told them he didn't know anything about the disappearance of Frank . Then they wanted to know about a meteor strike that landed on Frank farm. Again, Pat told them he didn't know anything about anything. After some more questioning the two men got to the point of why they were there.
They asked Pat if he could take them to the farm so they could investigate the farm themselves. They weren't from around those parts and needed a guide to show them to and around the farm. When Sally and her mother heard what they wanted Pat to do they went silent and hesitated.
The farm was supposedly cursed. The farm was the only farm around that had greenery regardless of the drought and dust storms. No one knew why things stayed green and alive, but no one would go there in fear of never returning. The two men were asking Pat to go someplace no one else in town would go. They were asking more of him than they realized.
To sweeten the deal, the men offered Pat fifteen dollars to take them to the farm. After some contemplation Pat agreed to take the men and investigate the farm with the condition that they paid ten dollars up front. The men agreed and handed over a ten-dollar bill.
Sally knew they needed that money, but was scared for her father. She had heard stories about that farm and things that supposedly went on there. She didn't want her father to go, but also new that the fifteen dollars would go a long way in buying food and things they needed.
Pat left his family behind and set out with the two government men. The family watched him go hoping no harm would come to their husband, or father. After Pat left a big dust storm blew in and Sally with the rest of her family take shelter in their dugout.
If the government men were hurt, would that mean they would have to give the money back? What would it mean if they lost the little bit of money that could save their lives? Or worse yet, what if something were to happen to Pat. If something were to happen to Pat what would little Sally do, what could a small girl do? These are questions best answered by reading this wonderfully dark story.
This was a great pot-boiler story. The story had many layers and were craftily stacked upon each other to create a rich and vivid world. The language was great and really helped build the story in the imagination and made it come alive.
Each layer of the story added a little bit more tension. The tension grew and before I realized what was happening I was drawn into the story hook line and sinker. The tension was subtle at first, but grew with intensity as the story went along. By the end of the story I couldn't turn the pages fast enough because I couldn't wait to see what would happen next.
I liked how the writer used a real event as the back-drop for the story. The dust bowl was a great event to choose. It helped set the mood for the entire story and gave an eerie feel to the surroundings. Also, a great tension builder on its own.
This was a great opening story to a Year's Best anthology. I can now see why it was chosen to open two different anthologies. It definitely set the mood and the tone for what would be coming ahead and what was waiting for me in future pages. This story has me wanting more and what a better feeling to have going into a new anthology, or any book for that matter.