By William Peter Blatty (Cemetery Dance; 1999/2008)
A newly published genre novella by William Peter Blatty, of THE EXORCIST and LEGION. ELSEWHERE first saw print in the Al Sarrantonio edited 1999 anthology 999; the ‘99 copyright date is essential, as it helps excuse a last-act twist that would never pass muster were the story written today.
For the most part ELSEWHERE is a charming, low-key haunted house tale that’s more interesting than scary. It certainly contains its share of quintessentially Blatty-esque wisecracks (let’s not forget the man started out as a comedy writer).
Blatty also offers many intriguing speculations about the spirit world. He posits that ghosts don’t believe in ghosts, which is a major reason why they’re ghosts, and that the spirit of a dead man won’t know any more than he did when he was alive–for that matter, he might not even realize he’s dead.
We meet Joan Freeboard, a NYC realtor trying to sell an allegedly haunted house. There’s also Anna Trawley, a psychic, and Dr. Gabriel Case, a world renowned authority on the paranormal. Freeboard arranges for the three of them to spend a few nights in the haunted house, along with Terry Dare, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer who will pen an article about their stay for a glossy magazine. Freeboard’s presumption is that nothing out of the ordinary will occur, and Dare’s article will reflect that, thus lifting the haunted house onus.
Yet upon settling in the four realize that something is clearly going on within the place. Noteworthy happenings include Freeboard’s frequent spells of Déjà vu, much noisy pounding and strange voices, and a (seemingly) ghostly priest who has a tendency to abruptly appear and then vanish. Throughout it all Case makes the others suspicious, as he has a strange air about him, almost as if he’s withholding some pertinent knowledge…
Clearly this is all leading up to something. The problem is the third act twist so integral to the story is far from unique. It would have been back 1999 (which explains the back cover blurb hailing this book as “the first truly original haunted house story in decades”), but since then at least two popular movies have utilized variants on ELSEWHERE’S surprise ending.
This blunts the impact considerably, and makes it far easier to spot the twist coming in advance. A pertinent passage occurs early on, when following a discussion about paranormal matters Trawley hears a voice speaking in Latin. The translation is quite, ah, revealing–and for me gave away the “secret” then and there.