For human history, story has been a way for consciousness to explore worlds, to connect people to places they have never been and things they’ve never seen, to give the reader’s imagination access to the author’s. But with “The Night Wire,” H.E. Arnold uses story to tell us about how consciousness can now be connected to vast new worlds using technology, telling us of a fateful night in the lives of two telegraph operators receiving news reports from the strange town Xebico under attack by a mysterious fog and unidentifiable beings, directly linking our consciousness to a strange, weird world that we can observe in quiet, chilling terror but are unable to visit.
As this newsroom is the entire frame of reference for “The Night Wire” and we don’t know anything of the world that lies beyond its walls, the data line is the only connection to the outside. To understand the story, it’s important to properly understand how electronics radically redefined human perception- as the operator John transcribes the comms wire, he becomes its conduit, connecting directly to Xebico. As his colleague Jim notes, John “had opened up the other wire and was using both typewriters. I thought it was a little unusual, as there was nothing very ‘hot’ coming in” (155).
What starts as panic as Xebico search parties are sent to investigate local disappearances builds to sightings of phantoms within the fog, and at no point are the Xebico residents or Jim fully aware of the situation. This is an existential threat that defies all logic, and so, in logic’s absence, it makes sense that the residents take refuge in the church, seeking protection from the unknown against the unknown. Jim’s curiosity turns to cold, paralyzed dread as the full scope of the revelations come to him. As the fog has descended on the town, terror has begun to consume Jim as well, and he seems unable to turn away from the reports, becoming witness to the events relayed.
The true horror of the fog is that it has no corporeal form to reason with, it is an enemy whose motivations cannot be negotiated with. Xebico’s final report provides a better understanding of what is happening within the fog, even while providing no solutions. “The fog is not simply vapor – it lives! By the side of each moaning and weeping human is a companion figure, an aura of strange and vari-colored hues” it signals before adding that those captured within it “are being consumed – piecemeal” (157). The broadcast goes dead as the last reporter is surrounded by the fog, and we can only assume that all of Xebico has fallen. Jim, and the reader through him, is left without answers, and that is what makes the tragic story of this small town so interesting. The reader is left with many questions: Do those consumed by the fog just become another drop in the mist, swirling together in an unconscious miasma? Will the fog come here? Maybe it already has, as these lingering questions leave us suffocated in hazy terror.
Our exploration of the weird makes us question reality and our place within it, and it’s here that “The Night Wire” blows our mind. John manned the night wire like a transcription machine, documenting the Xebico tragedy by using two typewriters at once. Electronics send impulses to components like switches to make them act, just like our own central nervous system sends signals telling our muscles to move. In that way, a machine becomes an extension of the user, replacing their nerves with wires and their brain with a processor, and so John was able to expand his consciousness to the far end. But when communication with Xebico was cut, Jim discovered that his colleague was long since dead. John, and the reader through the story, had channeled directly into another world that didn’t exist on any map and his consciousness was burned out by the transmission until he was nothing but an empty husk. But by receiving the transmission “The Night Wire” is sending, we were able to clear out the fog and discover its rightful place alongside cosmic horror classics, and see that whole other realms of reality exist in weird fiction if we open our mind to the signals.
Arnold, H. The Night Wire. The Weird: A Compendium of Strange And Dark Stories. Ed. Ann & Jeff Vandermeer. First ed. New York: Corvus, 2012. 154-158. Print.