Originally presented in Salon Fantastique, and available in other collections, “The Night Whiskey,” by Jeffrey Ford steadily draws you in. The narrator, Ernest, begins with practicing how to poke dummies out of trees with a stick. If he misses or they fall badly, his mentor, old man Witzer spits and says:
“That there’s a cracked melon,” or “Get me a wet-vac.”
Beautifully written and filled with details, the story leisurely unfolds the peculiar institutions of Gatchfield, “one of those places you pass but never stop in while on vacation.” Soon Ernest will be participating in the Drunk Harvest, getting sleeping people out of the trees. By the time you find out how they get up there, you’ve met the cast, and discovered how they cross the boundaries between this world and the next.
Here, the One Impossible Thing is contained within shiny black berries. The story shows wonderful elaborations of the customs the people build around it and how it affects their lives. Once the rules are established, Bad Things Happen. It all builds to a sense of terrible revelation, and then…well, let’s just say you get a sophisticated version of “The end?”
An unsettling story that leaves you draped over the branches caught between dream and death.