I don't read as much horror fiction as I used to, but I haven't lost my love for it, and every now and then, I'll get the urge to plunge into something I hope will leave me feeling chilled. When I heard that Michael David Wilson, founder of the great podcast This Is Horror, had written a novella, my interest was piqued, and I decided to pick his book up.
The Girl in the Video did not disappoint.
Freddie and Rachel are two Brits who live in Japan and work there as teachers. They have a strong and stable relationship. One morning after breakfast, Freddie goes through his "periodic ritual of cycling through social media apps". His description of the sort of compulsion that drives him to do this is funny, and something that nearly everyone, I think, can relate to:
"Rachel said I had a strange relationship with social media. That I should delete it if it brought me so much anxiety and despair. But it's swings and roundabouts. How else was I supposed to know that Louis from middle school had mown his lawn or that Carys, who I hadn't seen in fifteen years, was holidaying in Malaga. And without Facebook I certainly wouldn't have seen a picture of Thornby's breakfast - Cheerios every day for the past two weeks. That's not even an exaggeration, the guy posted a bowl of Cheerios daily, even giving them a rating out of ten, no half marks, integers only."
Among all the usual virtual junk, Freddie notices a new Instagram direct message to him that has a Hello Kitty display picture. The message is friendly, and Freddie, without thinking much about it, clicks the Bitly link below it.
That's all it takes. What he sees is a video from a youngish woman whose face is obscured by a Hello Kitty mask, and the video is both weird and somehow, without being pornographic, sexually arousing. Of course, Freddie keeps this video and his reaction to it a secret from his wife, and what began with an innocuous click of a link from a stranger turns, with time, into an utter bad dream for Freddie. The Girl in the Video is indeed, as billed, a horror story for the smart-phone age, the digital era, and brings home the unease and terror you can let into your life so easily these days.
Wilson's novella moves fast and develops tension expertly. He also knows how to blend humor into the darkness. Freddie and Rachel are both believable and well-rounded, ordinary people pulled into something they in no way deserve. Or wait: does Freddie, as his video stalker keeps saying, have a secret he needs to hide? When Rachel tells Freddie that she is pregnant, that the baby they've been wanting is finally on the way, the stakes go up for both of them, and Freddie has to make a final decision on how to deal with his tormentor.
This is a strong first book by Wilson, and it's ideal as a one-sitting read.
You can get The Girl in the Video, which is published by Perpetual Motion Machine, here.