A Human Stain by Kelly Robson is a 37-page horror novelette (novella?) with a unique writing style. Helen is a companion recruited by Barchen Lambrecht, a person we can assume to be one of the dissolute hanger-on nobility types. Lambrecht has a castle or at least an almost castle. A few more turrets might fulfill the requirements of the definition. Peter, a child who is Lambrecht’s ward lives in the castle with a nanny and two other servants. But Lambrecht needs something more for young Peter, he needs a governess who can also teach Peter things like reading, writing, and languages. Peter might be six or seven years old; he has yet to learn the order of the alphabet.
Lambrecht is devoted to the life of a playboy and constant party-goer in the countries of Europe. He doesn’t have a reputation as a ladies man as he prefers men and boys but this does not deter Helen from approaching him, developing a friendship, and settling into a comfortable arrangement as a governess for Peter. She needs the work as she has nothing but debt in Paris, no family, no job, no friends but lots of creditors. Lambrecht’s castle will be a good place to escape, live, and earn money. Also, as she found out after arriving at the castle, the governess, Mimi was cute so there might be a possibility for romance.
Helen walks into a situation which has no certainties; there are no answers to the many questions she has. Mimi answers her questions in either monosyllables, with crying, or not at all. Peter answers in the same way. Peter also depends to disappear a lot. He is not easy to find and in searching for him, Helen explores much of the castle. The house servants, a cook and a steward accept her questions and echo them back to her as answers. After only a few days, Barchen disappears to Munich pleading business but says he will be back in a few days. Helen is left essentially on her own; any answers she might get will be as a result of her searches of the castle.
The castle has a family crypt. Inside there are Peter’s mom and dad. Dad was the brother of Barchen Lambert. Helen wants to get into the crypt but there are no keys to be found. She improvises. She gets in but finds that this crypt is like none other she has seen before. Peter has followed her into the crypt and immediately begins to eat some of the material, both vegetable and insect, that cover the interior walls of the crypt. Helen finds that she has urges to eat some of this same material. Initially resisting this impulse, Helen returns to her room to make further plans. During the evening hours as she is looking out on a lake, she determines that previously thought floating inert material has a life. And it (they) is/are watching her.
This is a very well written heavily character dependent short story of a style I would call European. But I won’t call it that because author Kelly Robson is Canadian. She has a fascinating author page on Amazon; it is worth going there to see what else she has written and read about the authors who influence her.
For those developing their writing skills, I recommend looking at the character of Helen. She reveals the elements of this short story in several clever and diverse ways. She doesn’t tell the story. It is not through Helen’s behavior only that story elements come to light, this novella is a delight to read as a display of an accomplished writer’s skills.