The Eyes of Water
by Alison Littlewood
Spectral Press (2012)
Each time I read a chapbook from Spectral Press, I'm delighted by how effectively the atmosphere of the British Isles is captured. This time, however, marks what I believe is the first time a story has featured a different locale. Mexico, no less.
Alex, a young traveler is to meet up with his long-time friend, Rick in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Rick, always the more adventurous of the two, has gotten into swimming the cenotes in Mexico, underwater caves that seem full of equal parts wonder and danger. When Alex gets a call one day while exploring a site along the coastline, it's from a childhood friend, Kath. She tells him they've found a body in the water and that it's Rick. Alex heads into the town and finds the body in the morgue, but it's nearly impossible to identify the body given the battered condition of the skull. It's only by a childhood scar on the knee that Alex can identify his friend.
Apparently, Rick dove into a cenote that fed into a whirlpool just off the coast. But only Rick's face suffered any punishment from the jagged rock walls of those underwater caverns. It doesn't make sense to Alex, who feels compelled to explore those same cenotes and find out what really happened to his friend.
The characters come through crystal clear, but Alison Littlewood's ability to bring the Mexican scenery and underwater enclosures to life was mesmerizing. There are a couple of moments that feel genuinely claustrophobic, but I was one of those little kids growing up that was afraid to dunk his head underwater until I was like ten. So water can still manage to frighten me once in a while, even though I love it. I thought the ending was a little hard to grasp, but the imagery and terror is very real and the ending feels just right.
If you have an interest in reading some horror that ventures beyond the borders of America and Britain, I'd wager this story would be a good spot to visit. You might be a little more wary of what lurks under the water after you read it.