The Dunfield Terror
As I’ve said before, I think that as an author, Mr Meikle’s greatest strengths lie in his ability to write incredibly tense, atmospheric and perfectly-paced pieces of fiction that have very strong horror elements. While I greatly enjoy Mr Meikle’s other types of fiction, such as his Carnacki, Sherlock Holmes or Professor Challenger stories (the latter two soon to come in this #MeikleMarch month of reviews) and his more pulp-style action-adventure or ‘creature-feature’ publications like The Valley and The Invasion, or Crustaceans, I find that the stories written by Mr Meikle that I enjoy the most, and which stay with me for the longest period of time, are the pieces that take place in small, isolated areas and feature a small cast of characters that are facing some kind of supernatural creature or force. A perfect example of this is Ramskull, the novella which kicked off #MeikleMarch, and which is set on a small, isolated Scottish island where the few remaining islanders are hunted by the eponymous Ramskull, an unstoppable paranormal killer. Another example is The Dunfield Terror, one of Mr Meikle’s novellas that was originally published by the now-defunct DarkFuse Press and which has just been rereleased by Crossroad Press, who are also the publishers of Ramskull.
I had actually intended buying The Dunfield Terror late last year because I had come across the great piece of cover art used for the novella, but was unable to because of DarkFuse going out of business and their catalogue of titles (including a number of Mr Meikle’s books) becoming unavailable. So I was pleasantly surprised a few days ago, when I saw on social media the announcement that Crossroad Press had pulled off another achievement by republishing it; I immediately snapped it up and got reading, putting it at the very top of my reading pile. As I mentioned, the cover art is particularly evocative, all green mist and softly-glowing light as a backdrop for a lonely figure, and the stylised fonts for the title and author name are also a nice touch that tie into the general otherworldliness of the book as a whole. The plot of the book itself is relatively simple – a small community in Newfoundland, Canada are about to be isolated by a particularly bad snowstorm, which will essentially cut off all contact with the outside world for quite some time. Unfortunately not only do the town’s inhabitants have to deal with natural perils, they also have to face the decidedly unnatural mist that suddenly reappears in the area; rather like thick fog, it burns and dissolves anything that it envelopes or even touches, including wood, metal, concrete and human flesh. Seen from the point of view of the leader of a small group of snowplough drivers, as the tale unfolds we see how the men desperately try and keep their town – and its inhabitants – safe from both the snow and the mist itself; the present-day chapters are also interleaved with diary entries written by a British scientist in the 1950s which charts the origins of the mist and how it came to be.
I think it was a fantastic idea to have the protagonist be a snowplough worker, because not only does it give him a natural excuse to travel all around the town and thereby encounter the mist, it’s also nice to see service personnel be at the centre of a narrative; it’s so often the case in horror and action-adventure titles that utility workers and other labourers are usually only seen for a brief moment, usually as early victims of whatever monster or creature is set as the antagonist. Here we actually see them working and putting their formidable skill set to use trying to fight off the mist, including some particularly hair-raising scenes where the mist comes into contact with both of the town’s snowploughs. The fact that the mist is almost impossible to see someone has been lucky enough to have the snowstorm die down adds a huge amount of tension to every page, even more so when some of the townspeople decide to try and flee the area and come to a particularly grisly end. In fact, there are several rather gruesome scenes throughout the novella, and after one particular scene I don’t think I’ll quite look at a fridge in exactly the same way ever again.
The chapters set in the past are also an interesting addition, as not only do they serve to break up the main plotline, they also help to lay out some of the background to the mist. The motivations behind its creation seem all too possible, especially in the dire strategic circumstances Great Britain found itself in the aftermath of the Second World War. There’s also a nice twist at the very end of the story that hints that, whatever happened in the 1950s to ‘activate’ the mist, the area itself has always been alien in nature. In addition, as I’ve found in a number of Mr Meikle’s stories, there’s always a hidden or second nature to whatever supernatural creature or predator is featured; and the notion that the mist is not just an aimless, killer fog but might instead be acting as a ‘guardian’ and attempting to self-correct certain problems with the area is quite frankly fascinating. Much in line with the notion of the Outer Realms/Lovecraftian Reality being portrayed as the intense, all-consuming ‘dance’ that one can easily become lost in – which again features in The Dunfield Terror – the concept of the mist being an entity that is actually policing the town and its outskirts is another way that Mr Meikle deftly introduces some subtlety and nuance into his portrayal of the ‘real’ universe, rather than the standard depiction found in Mythos literature of a hellish, mind-destroying reality.
A taut, fast-paced and at times uncomfortably claustrophobic piece of writing that easily crosses through the Horror and Cthulhu Mythos genres, The Dunfield Terror is another masterpiece from Mr Meikle – one that should grace the bookshelf (electronic or otherwise) of any fan of those genres, or simply those who appreciate fine writing. It is also a credit to Crossroad Press, who should be thanked for rescuing this fine piece of fiction from publishing oblivion.