"The Church on the Island"
Simon Kurt Unsworth
Nominated for the 2008 World Fantasy Award: Short Story
"The Church on the Island" is the first story from the anthology At Ease With the Dead and is a World Fantasy Award nominee this year. Naturally I had to find a way to get my hands on a copy of the story.
Charlotte is on vacation and her hotel room overlooks a lake. Across the lake is a small island on which is a white church of indeterminate size. From the moment Charlotte first sees the church she is obsessed. She must swim across to the church. She rationalizes about how this is a touch of freedom from her boyfriend and that is just for her, but she is unable to stop thinking about the church.
The first several pages of the story are description of the church of how Charlotte swam to the church, and of Charolette's disappointment that even though this is a Greek Orthodox church apparently abandoned on a small island in the middle of a lake, the church interior looks nothing like a Greek Orthodox church. And then, just as she is about to open the door to the church...
a priest opens the door and greets her. The priest is dirty, smelly, unkempt, and says "Come, I will show you around and explain what needs to be done", as if Charlotte was expected.
I'll grant the inherent creepiness of this ill-groomed priest, a priest whom one might expect to do bad things to Charlotte. So, in this description-heavy story there is good potential for something special to come out in the story, some bit of goodness that will cause "The Church on the Island" to rise above and merit the acclaim that comes from a World Fantasy Award nomination. Something that will explain what the nominating panel saw in the story.
Frankly, I don't see it.
Oh, the story is decent enough and there is some genuine horror in the story and the anticipation of horror (because what else is true horror than that which we don't see but fear?), but it never quite delivers.
I'll go into a bit more detail in a category wrap-up post on why I think "The Church on the Island" is one of the weaker nominees for Short Story, but for now, let me just say that this story is a disappointment as the opening story of At Ease with the Dead and also as a World Fantasy Award nominee. It's an interesting choice, but I just cannot see why this story made the short list.
I intend to review each story in At Ease with the Dead, so expect more from this anthology. Hopefully they get better. There is a story from Kealan Patrick Burke in the anthology, so I have high hopes for at least that one story.