“Getting It Wrong” by Ramsey Campbell
From A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
Cemetery Dance/PS Publishing, 2012
This is one of those stories that immediately gets tagged with the Twilight Zone comparison because of the way it takes something ordinary and mundane and gives it a dark little twist. There are stacks of such stories to be found throughout the abundance of horror anthologies that have been published, and yet that sense of familiarity voracious horror readers are bound to feel when encountering one usually doesn’t mean the good ones aren’t still treasured.
“Getting It Wrong” is one of the good ones. Ramsey Campbell introduces us to a man named Eric Edgeworth, a self-professed cinephile with a failed video store in his rearview mirror. These days he supports himself with a job at a local cinema, where he lords his movie knowledge over the crew of much younger and far less interested employees who view him as an annoyance and little else. So, when one of them calls him up, asking that he help her answer a movie trivia question for a game show he’s never heard of, he assumes she (and the pompous sounding guy acting as the show’s host) are simply pulling a prank on him. When he’s warned that he’s only got three chances to answer a question correctly, he gleefully and deliberately gets it wrong. The fallout from his decision turns out to be terrible for his coworker and, eventually, for Eric himself.
Campbell’s story is entertaining, and could serve as an object lesson in how to efficiently set up a premise, flesh out the main characters, and bring the whole thing to a satisfying conclusion. “Getting It Wrong” is exactly as long as it needs to be – no fluff, no filler. It’s not a classic by any means, but it is an enjoyable addition to Book of Horrors.