“Must See To Appreciate” by Scott Nicholson

This story from #2 marks the only occasion American writer Scott Nicholson has  appeared in Black Static, and it’s timely to discuss it now as I review a novella of his in the issue that’s about to mail out to subscribers. Like the novella, “Transparent Lovers”, this story deals with death and ghosts, and I guess I’d classify it as horror-light, certainly when compared to what I’ve seen of Nicholson’s earlier work, such as the much grittier novel The Red Church. It’s also a story where the plot twist is everything, one that stands or falls on the basis of the idea behind it, and so while there are spoilers involved in most of these story discussions, in this case that’s more pertinent than ever.

Estate agent Reynolds is showing a client round a property, and David seems to be impressed. But something is not quite right, Reynolds’ obsequious manner masking a very real fear. The house is haunted and the focus of that is the basement, so of course David asks to see the basement and won’t take no for an answer despite all Reynolds’ attempts to dissuade him.

And here Nicholson pulls the rug out from under our feet, with a revelation of what’s really going on – ‘”I know there’s a breather here,” said David’.

It’s the haunted house story told from the viewpoint of the ghost, with the dead estate agent trying to persuade the dead client to move into a house with people in it, breathers. The irony is, for the breather, who regards herself as something of a spirit medium, the presence of a ghost is definitely a selling point, whereas for the spirit client a resident breather is a non-starter. Different strokes, even in the afterlife.

The story strongly reminded me of Tim Burton’s film Beetlejuice, with what amounts to an almost mirror image replay of the scene in which ghostly couple Baldwin and Davis try to scare off the incoming family and their estate agent.

“Must See to Appreciate” is not one of the most memorable stories Black Static has published, but it’s a fun read, with plenty of nice touches along the way to unveiling its surprises and deftly inserted clues for the reader to pick up on. And there’s a central character in the sleazy protagonist who we can all enjoy seeing get his comeuppance, with the suggestion that Reynolds is up shit creek without the proverbial paddle because he’s learned nothing from the circumstances of his own untimely death.

And of course, like any good horror genre monster the estate agent comes back at the end.

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