Sunday, September 11, 2016
"The Dunsmuir Horror"
Long ago, at a science-fiction convention, I attended a screening of an episode of Star Trek (The Original Series) called The Trouble With Tribbles.
The episode's writer, David Gerrold, sits down next to me. At some point I turn to him and say, "good show!" He says, and I'm pretty sure I have the quotation correct, "thank you." This anecdote is not reported in any of the official histories of what has become a cultural phenomenon, with Trek celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this month.
Gerrold, no doubt encouraged by my comment, continued to write SF and, now in his seventies, is still an active scribe. In fact, the September/October 2016 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (available at newsstands and online) is a special issue devoted to Gerrold. It features two new stories by him, one framed as a 20,000-word letter to his former editor. It's called "The Dunsmuir Horror."
It's a rollicking descent into a bizarre experience the author insists he had, driving through Dunsmuir late at night, surprised by four teenagers who maybe resembled vampires. "I'm not crazy," he insists to his editor, and to his psychiatrist, who will also be reading the letter.
The "letter" is a glorious, hilarious concatenation of jokes ("glittering doc-billed platitudes") and riffs on everything from fast food establishments to why green is alien.
But something sinister is hiding in Dunsmuir. One night, traveling from LA to Portland, Gerrold sees the Dunsmuir off-ramp and, looking for a local burger joint, takes it. "A sense of emptiness pervades everything. It's as if I've slipped out of time and I'm driving through an illusion of a town, a memory of something that used to live here."
Later he tells his friends Jay and Dennis about driving through Dunsmuir. They assure him he couldn't have. "It's not there anymore," gone for sixty years. The "town is cursed." It only appears when the land is … hungry. He is lucky to have escaped with his life (and an off-handed reference to Red Bluff).
Somehow, the blurring of reality and fantasy in the story (and it gets worse by the end) is almost a parable for our own time.