Written by Alison Littlewood
Published by Spectral Press
Part of the ongoing chapbook series by British small press outfit Spectral Press, Alison Littlewood’s short tale The Eyes of Water takes us on a startlingly realised journey into claustrophobia, natural beauty, and ancient horror.
Told from the first-person viewpoint of adventure-seeking protagonist Alex, The Eyes of Water sees our narrator and his friend, Rick, involved in diving expeditions into the Mexican cenotés – underground caves/sinkholes found off the Yucatan peninsula forming mind-bending natural phenomena where the freshwater feeds out to the sea. During one expedition Rick disappears – his body found strangely mutilated in the facial area, something that is explained by the authorities as a result of being repeatedly dashed against rocks when being flushed out of the cenoté.
Alex, however, isn’t convinced and, joined by Rick’s sister, sets out to the place where Rick disappeared in order to find answers with the help of experienced locals. Goaded on by repeated spooky, apparitional visitations from his late friend, Alex descends into the mystical Eyes of Water where he will come to realise the ancient, esoteric terror lurking behind the natural beauty – a place also utilised by the Mayan civilization for ritual sacrifice…
This this short tale, coming in at 19 pages in length, Littlewood manages to squeeze in just enough character development to bring her subjects to life. Alex’s internal narration flows elegantly, enveloping the reader in a mindset of natural curiosity and apprehension, while Rick’s sister and the various locals fall more firmly into more basic territory. It’s a natural limitation of such a short format but more easily excused by the assured nature of the running narrative cementing this as very much a personal experience.
Most remarkable about the work is Littlewood’s sense of place. Her words construct a staggeringly vivid realisation of the mysterious surroundings, filled with an intense, threatening beauty that floods from the page to envelop you in the setting. Such vivid realisation makes for a deft manipulation of the reader during one particularly claustrophobic sequence.
With very little in the way of historical explanation Littlewood, through Alex’s direct experience, lends a feeling of truly primeval malevolence to just what happens down in the cenotés. The sense of threat garnered from what is ultimately an extremely brief encounter is testament to the writer’s skills, flexing a distinctly Lovecraftian muscle before finishing on a hauntingly placid note promising both redemption and further horrors to come.
The Eyes of Water is a quick, chilling read that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it – in no small part due to the almost photographic images that Littlewood paints in your mind. Unfortunately, it’s currently sold out on the present chapbook run, but if this is indicative of the quality of Spectral Press’ specifically chosen authors, this series is one to look out for.
4 out of 5