“Beach 2” from Trysts: A Triskaidecollection of Queer and Weird Stories by Steve Berman (Lethe Press 2001).

This is the first story by Steve Berman that I read. He piqued my curiosity by posting a bold statement to a Facebook thread I was following (a common occurrence, as it turns out, but I did not know it then). I set out to find out more about him, and the best way I know to get acquainted with a person is to read what they write. Naturally, I looked for his work online.

By that point I was actively trying to get up to speed on the art of the short story, so when I saw he had this collection, that’s what I chose. It seems funny to consider now, having read and enjoyed many collections he’s written or edited, but if I’d understood that by “weird” in the subtitle “Queer and Weird Stories” what he meant was speculative fiction, I probably would have skipped this and gone right to his novel, Vintage, because at that point I still thought spec fiction meant science fiction and that meant little green men from Mars.

If I’d had any idea that a story about four people in a beach house gathered around a Ouija board rated as speculative fiction I would have started buying a whole lot more of it a whole lot earlier. Or, more correctly, I never would have stopped. You see, back in the late seventies to early eighties I devoured a young adult series from Tor that hinged on various occult elements. One book was about Ouija boards; another dealt with the Tarot; in a third a rock band sold their souls to a Russian demon, and so on. I had the whole series, and they enjoyed pride of place on my bookshelves for a long while. I still have them, of course, in a box in the eaves. I called them “Horror”. Come to think of it, I think Tor called them that, too. In the years since I found too many titles bearing that label were, to my tastes, too heavy on gore and lacking in emotion and suspense. So with a few exceptions, I stopped reading horror.

“Beach 2” is like those Tor stories I loved only all grown up and turned subtle and sophisticated. Daniel and his girlfriend Hilary are spending the weekend at a beach house owned by the parents of a friend of theirs, Susan. Like most everything else, the friend Susan brought along for the weekend, Seth, rubs Hilary the wrong way. Daniel, however, is intrigued by him.

Is it mutual, or is he just imagining that? And is his assessment of the relationship between Seth and Susan correct? Is there really no chemistry between them? Moreover, is he right in thinking that neither of them believes there’s any?

They’re all a little tipsy from the wine they began drinking at dinner when Seth decides to trot out his Ouija board. Naturally, Hilary bristles (it’s her default state), but the others are game. Soon they have cryptic messages to ponder. One in particular gets caught in the turbulent thoughts already plaguing Daniel’s mind, and later keeps him from sleep.

I loved this story, which was offered as the digital sample for the e-book version. Based on its strength, I purchased the title and dove right into the next tale.