The Dead Do Not Rest Here

Author: Darcy Coates

Sam is grieving for her mother. She wasn’t paying attention. She missed all the signs. She was focused on her art, her big break at a prestigious gallery, her first show. She was focused and planning. And now, now she is alone.  Her mother is gone, and the show is in a week. She doesn’t have any paintings, any ideas, just a sense of guilt, a distaste for something that once consumed her, and the needling feeling that she should try anyway, that she cannot throw away this once-in-a-lifetime chance.

And so, Sam retreats into the forest, staying at her uncle’s remote cabin by the lake. There are no neighbors, no cell service, no one and nothing to break her concentration. There isn’t even plumbing. Sam is truly remote, and perhaps the beauty of nature will inspire her.

But soon, Sam starts seeing a strange man at the lake. Is he a lost hiker? A stalker? A ghost? Something else? That’s when the paintings start to show up, to morph, to lead her into the heart of a tragic story and the secrets just under the surface of the placid lake.

Anyone who has read Darcy Coates before will find Dead Lake true to form: supernatural, spooky, lyrical, ghostly, with a leading character who is just as brave as she is at times dangerously naïve. The story grabs the reader from the beginning, morphing the beauty of art with the grey-scale palette of grief and regret. It’s a relatable story, this young woman focused on her bright future who missed the loss in front of her face, this woman who knows that she should continue trying, but has lost the desire to do so. We instantly bond with Sam, root for her, and worry about her show, her listless days spent on the lake, her blank easels.

Image by Bruno from Pixabay

But soon our worry morphs. It’s a Darcy Coates story, after all, and something insidious and not entirely natural is sure to happen. At first, it’s a few unsettling moments, perhaps a trick of the eye, perhaps something more, but then the story gains and morphs, shifting from a subtle atmosphere to thriller, survivalist mode, with the twists coming fast and, unfortunately, a bit loose.

The idea is dynamite, but I would have loved this novella to have slowed down, to breathe, to expand on the supernatural element and Sam’s place in this story. As it is, the ending is good, but certainly a bit dues ex machina and under explained. While yes, the supernatural is never explainable, I wanted more time with it before the showdown, more of a glimpse into that spectral world and the whys: why Sam, why now, why this way? There was so much more potential here, the atmosphere was ripe for drawing it out. The villain, of course, is also one who deserved more page space, more shaping. As it is, we have a fast, almost short story like glimpse that is satisfying but not complete, a story that is good but could have been great.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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