“Sixth Sense” combines many features which will crop up again and again in Coney’s short fiction and novels in the years to come: a southern English coastal location, a young femme fatal, an ageing vamp, a lonely older man, and a bar-cum-hotel.
Jack Garner, who narrates the tale, runs a small guest-house on the coast. He’s a loner who hates the city and fled to the countryside ten years earlier. As the story opens, he’s distracted and impatient as he waits for a new arrival. He thinks back to an incident, three years before…
Then, two couples arrived for a short holiday, Hera and ‘Piggy’ Piggot – Hera ageing (but still attractive, in her own eyes at least) and ‘Piggy’, overweight and downtrodden. With them are the Blantyres, the mousy Joyce and husband Jim whom Jack characterises as a gigolo-type – he assumes that Hera and Jim are having an affair. With the Piggots is their precocious fourteen year-old daughter, Mandy. What follows over the next few days, as the sultry, stormy weather clamps down on the coast, is the playing out of Jack’s suspicions. Driven from the hotel by her mother’s infidelity and her father’s passive acceptance, Mandy climbs the dangerous Gull Crag cliff and gets into difficulties, only to be saved by Jack.
And how is this science fiction?
Well, in this future the human race is telepathic, and speech a thing of the past. Coney excels at portraying societies in which just one thing has changed, with massive implications, and “Sixth Sense” is a prime example of this. Jack Garner, our narrator, is a freak, a throwback… (but to reveal quite why he is would spoil the denouement) and it is this which allows him to save Mandy’s life.
The story closes on a typically Coneyesque, sentimental note, and a neat last line.
“Sixth Sense” was reprinted in World’s Best SF 1970, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr, published by Ace Books.