What happens when someone encounters something anomalous? In real life this is often described as a religious event. In fiction that sometimes happens as well, as in Christopher Coleman’s The Sighting. Set on a beach somewhere along the Atlantic, the story is about a woman who encountered a sea monster and decided it was a god. Gods, of course, require sacrifice, and thus the tale turns on her effort to placate the beast in its current appearance cycle. Such sacrifice doesn’t come willingly, and this introduces a murderous main plot. Unlike the gods of lore, however, this one literally eats, tipping the reader off that its divinity is somewhat of an illusion. The hungry beast becomes the divine only to its blind follower.
I’ve not read any of Coleman’s fiction before, and this self-published novel appears to be a good introduction to his story-crafting. His monster, like a god, comes with no explanation. It simply is. Since religion isn’t really susceptible to being examined under a microscope, the truth of not being able to locate an origin for gods seems natural enough. Still, people are curious about monstrous origins. Mary Shelley tells us the genesis of Frankenstein’s monster, but Bram Stoker leaves Dracula’s ultimate origins somewhat misty. In the present day, with its ubiquitous cell phones and information, we do wonder if monsters can’t simply be explained. Even if that simple explanation is complex. Coleman’s title page tells us this is book one, so further elucidation perhaps comes later in the series.
The sea, in classical thought, gives rise to monsters. Coleman’s creature comes from the Atlantic. All the world’s oceans are organically connected, and their surface area is so massive that we really haven’t figured out all of what’s under there. Stories still appear in newspapers announcing this or that unidentified creature that has washed out of the sea. Its depth and relative impenetrability make it a natural birthplace for monsters. By the end of The Sighting the reader is really still only given a glimpse of what this god might be, or why, indeed, it is considered a god at all. Origin stories make monsters less scary sometimes—Shelley’s genius was to take it in the opposite direction. Often in horror stories, the humans are more frightening than the monsters. So it is here. What makes this story so disturbing is the unquestioning human acceptance of belief, for it is often here that gods can become monsters.