The Third Man by Malachi King

THIRD
The Third Man by Malachi King
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Horror, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (12 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When two young men get lost in Alaska’s mountainous wilderness, they slowly begin to die of exposure. As their senses become numb, they become aware of a third man traveling with them at times, and are too disoriented to make contact. When the two young men collapse in exhaustion and give themselves over to death, the mysterious third man appears again. Is he there to help, hinder…or is he even there at all?

Based on a phenomenon experienced in the real world by various adventurers including mountaineers on Everest and by the Shackleton survivors in the Antarctic, The Third Man redefines the modern ghost story.

Tom and Jarvis’ history of taking foolish risks may finally have caught up with them. As these two best friends struggle to stay alive in an unforgiving climate will Tom be able to figure out what’s really happening to them?

Almost everyone makes a few dumb mistakes in their youth but unfortunately Jarvis and Tom’s thirst for adventure has resulted in a life-threatening hike through bitter cold. While their fingers and toes freeze solid and turn black the heroes of this tale struggle to make it home before they succumb to hypothermia. By the time the story begins Tom and Jarvis are so close to death that all they can think about is survival. The unconditional, platonic love they share shines through in simple gestures like building a fire or making sure the other one keeps moving even when he wants to sleep.

We’re given glimpses of how they developed their bond in a few flashbacks but I still finished this story with an unclear understanding of the personality differences between Tom and Jarvis. They’re both impulsive, thrill-seeking and oblivious to danger but it would have been helpful to see more examples of the differences between these characters that aren’t based on race or culture.

At first I thought the ending was a little too ambiguous but given the context in which this story occurs it makes sense to leave room for interpretation. After all, Tom and Jarvis were in no condition to ask coherent or thoughtful questions for several key scenes! This approach also leaves room for a sequel which I would read eagerly if Mr. King ever decides to write it.

How do we know what is real? How does the answer to this question vary from one perspective to another? The Third Man is a thought-provoking exploration of these questions that I recommend to anyone interested in a philosophical approach to horror.

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