“The Eyes of Water” is the 6th chapbook in the ongoing series from Spectral Press. The quality has been consistently high, and kudos to Simon Marshall-Jones for carefully selecting the authors. These polished single stories often have a quintessentially British feel, and all the requisite elegance and chills one would expect from the best. Alison Littlewood’s tale is no exception, but this time transports us to Mexico and the cenotés: a system of flooded caverns in the Yucatan peninsula. It begins with Alex, our likeable narrator, meeting his old friend Rick for an adventure into these beautiful yet dangerous caves. But later in the trip, a faceless corpse is discovered in the water, and it appears that Rick has fallen to the eyes of the water: a local term to describe the effect of fresh water merging with the seawater of the ocean. The official word is that Rick was trapped and battered by a whirlpool that empties through the complex systems and into the sea, but Alex isn’t quite convinced.
Along with Rick’s sister Kath, he decides to visit the place of his friend’s death: a network of deep, submerged caves with a terrible history of Mayan sacrifice. Certainly not the sort of place you venture alone. Or in the middle of the night.
I wasn’t hugely familiar with this author, but I loved her 1st person voice. The prose is literate but unintrusive, with wonderful attention to detail, and there isn’t a word of overexplanation. This kind of writing makes me very happy, and the perfect editing scores extra points.
What also struck me was her power of evocation. The sense of place is incredible, and there are pictures in my head from this story that are crystal clear as footage. This is also used to great effect to create some breathlessly claustrophobic and frightening moments that balance the quieter moments of atmospheric brooding.
But this certainly isn’t content to be a mood piece. The main three characters are equally real, delivering plenty of empathy and pathos, understandable motives, and their subtle relationships add yet more depth. The story tackles bitterness, redemption, fear and the human need for resolution, and reflects upon life itself with a very satisfying finale. Combine this with a great concept and some spooky, spine-tingling adventure, and you’ve got a winner.
Sadly “The Eyes of Water” is sold out, but click here to visit Spectral Press for information on future publications and chapbook subscription details. You won’t regret it.