Book Review: Transfer

A drawing of a VHS tape promoting Terry M. West's book Transfer

Sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. 

It’s age-old wisdom. Curiosity killed the cat. But was the cat’s fate sealed when curiosity got the best of him? Would he have changed his fate if he left well enough alone? Is there any way to tell? Once we make a choice, we can never know where a different choice might have lead. In a way, our fate is sealed, at least until our next choice.

Terry M. West’s “Transfer” explores that spark of innocent curiosity in the way only a horror writer can. 

In “Transfer,” Howie is the night manager at Big Carl’s Video Transfer and Media Service when a mysterious video file appears on the shared drive. He and his coworker, Nick, play the clip and see a few seconds of a green-lit room “strewn with rotting garbage” before it glitches out. Corrupted, they figure, and trash the file before going back to work. 

The problem is the file refuses to stay trashed, and each time they play it, more of the room is revealed. The next night, the video shows two emaciated figures digging through the rotting mess on the floor. The night after that, a hideous fleshy monster screams and flails through the scene. Is this someone’s art project? An independent horror film? It seems plausible, but when they try to replay the clips, all they see is static. Very strange.

While they know they should probably leave well enough alone, the men can’t help but return to the nightly mystery. After all, maybe the next clip will give them some sort of explanation.

But, of course, this is a horror story, and we know that once you dive in, there are no easy outs.

From the conversational dialogue to the eerie descriptions, Terry M. West’s “Transfer” was a delight. This is a writer who shows off his considerable talent by delivering a tight, well-written tale without unnecessary frills. Every scene is important, and West drives his characters toward the horrors that await them with gleeful speed. 

But that’s not to say the story never changes pace. Throughout the tale, West takes time to ground his characters, placing his two leads in a room and letting us watch the drama unfold organically. Howie is a divorced Baby Boomer, happily living out his autumn years as a night shift supervisor. Nick, a newly minted adult at just twenty-one, acts as the perfect foil to the older man using terms like “Gucci” and “clap back.” 

Despite their differences, they like each other, and that mutual respect acts as a perfect catalyst for the duo’s eventual descent into terror. A mystery that either might have ignored on their own becomes irresistible when they explore it together.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’m a sucker for a well balanced script, and West delivers on that front as well. Every major story beat is set up perfectly to give the payoffs maximum effect. A twenty-pound weight Nick uses for curls reappears at an opportune time. A bottle of birthday liquor that starts as a cheerful gift becomes something sinister. Even the way the skeletal figures in the video peer at the camera holds a terrifying secret.

But for all that careful planning on West’s part, his story never loses its sense of unease. Most of my favorite horror stories trade in the dread of the inevitable, and in “Transfer” doom covers every scene in a dingy haze that will chill you even as it draws you in. No matter what West’s heroes do, no matter the choices they make, their ending is already written, and with an expert hand.  

“Transfer” is available now on Amazon.

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