Dead Five's Pass
by Colin F. Barnes
I've never really understood the appeal of mountain climbing. It's a mountain. It's steep. I get it. Maybe if there was something up there I wanted I might be enticed into trudging my butt up some snow-capped peak, but all the cool shit is down here among civilization. Climbing a mountain is like hitting a high score on that old Galaga game at the arcade: sure, you did it, but the only people who care are the others playing the game.
Take the poor saps in Dead Five's Pass for instance. A young couple are the first to run afoul of some strange menace near the top of the mountain. It's the kind of terrible fate that seems more fitting for Wall Street executives, not thrill-seeking coeds looking for some neat little geographical anomaly. And that anomaly is attracting quite a few climbers and they're all in trouble if two skilled, albeit psychologically wrecked, rescue workers can't get up there to save them.
Carise and Marcel used to be a dream team in the rescuing department, but that was before Carise suffered a miscarriage, deep depression, alcoholism, and terrible guilt over a stranded boy's death. Now they hardly speak, haven't teamed in years, and Marcel's new lady love, Janis, is incensed with the idea they must team up again to save the young men who have traversed the mountain pass in search of the new cave found via satellite photos. The story of Carise and Marcel might feel a little soap opera at first glance, but it doesn't take long for Barnes to squeeze the humanity out of their circumstances. And this story needed a healthy dose of humanity, because what's up in that mountain is the furthest thing from human.
The style of horror feels akin to The Thing and Phantoms and some of those other horror stories involving terrible monstrosities lurking just beneath the surface of civility. In this instance, the Lovecraftian vibe is clear. Heck, I was surprised there wasn't a direct reference to it. With as many tentacles and mind-warping visages lurking in the shadoes, it's a wonder Barnes managed to dodge the obvious. By the end, it doesn't feel like a Lovecraft story, but a Barnes story. And lemme tell ya, that's not too shabby.
I could have used a little more polish on the Marcel/Janis relationship, as it felt a bit perfunctory and left in the lurch once the rescue efforts started getting extra gruesome. Aside from that though, Colin F. Barnes offers one bone-chilling climb up a mountain of madness.