“The Woods Colt” by Earl Hamner Jr.
From The Devil’s Coattails edited by Jason Brock and William F. Nolan
Cycatrix Press, 2011
Earl Hamner Jr. created two well-known television shows from the 1970s, Falcon Crest and The Waltons. This might make his appearance in an anthology of dark fiction a bit surprising, but it’s less of a surprise when you realize that his other writing credits include eight episodes of The Twilight Zone.
Subject matter notwithstanding, Hamner’s story “The Woods Colt” has more of a Waltons vibe than a Twilight Zone vibe. It feels a bit old-fashioned in pace and execution; this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a bit jarring when held against some of the edgier content found in The Devil’s Coattails up to this point.
The story centers around a man named Fletcher who has returned to the family home for one last look around before it’s out of his life for good. His mother has died, and with his father and sister also gone, Fletcher is left alone at last to get ride of this bastion of bad experiences and memories. Unfortunately for him, his presence stirs up some otherworldly presences, and Fletcher finds that there are still family secrets to be told – and blame to be assigned.
It’s not a bad story, but it lacks a little something needed to make it more memorable. To me, haunted house stories require a ton of atmosphere to work, and the house in question needs to feel like a character in and of itself. That doesn’t happen in “The Woods Colt,” leaving it a pleasant but largely forgettable read.