Written by: Josh Black
Preamble: I had already written a review for the final story in this collection when it was set to be released as a separate novella. Things changed and it’s now included in this book. I thought about condensing the original review but figured I’d just throw it in here word for word, because hey, it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.
Through a Mirror, Darkly is Kevin Lucia’s second collection of novellas, following Devourer of Souls and the short story collection Things Slip Through. All three books are set in or around Clifton Heights, Lucia’s fictional Adirondack town wherein strange and deadly things are extraordinarily abundant. The stories in each collection are bookended by a framing story, also about Clifton Heights residents, that ties everything together. The end result is like a living, breathing fictional universe that’s always a pleasure to visit.
Since his first appearance in Things Slip Through, Father Bill Ward has been one of Clifton Heights’ most enigmatic and intriguing characters, and he gets some time in the spotlight in the first story, “Suffer the Children”. Father Ward, a Catholic school teacher, saw and heard something during his time in Afghanistan that shook his faith to its core. Now he’s broken, jumping at shadows, hitting the bottle a little too hard and a little too often. But true evil doesn’t rest, especially in Clifton Heights. In Father Ward’s case, vanquishing a demon of the present just might help lay to rest some demons from the past. A classic good vs. evil horror tale that’s thick with atmosphere, “Suffer the Children” is a strong start to the collection.
The next story, “Yellow Cab”, centers around a taxi driver who finds himself picking up some unusual and uncanny fares, and taking them to a dark place that likely can’t be found on any map. As a tragic past meets a bleak present, the aimless protagonist soon finds his calling in a most unexpected way.
“Admit One” is set partly in a carnival that comes through Clifton Heights once a year. Bobby, the main character, is a young man obsessed with the one that got away. Given a chance to give her the one thing she wishes for most (with a helpful bit of the supernatural), he jumps at the opportunity, and together they go on one last ride.
“And I Watered It, With Tears” is a taut, unrelenting novella that covers a lot of horror ground. What starts out as an apparently simple murder mystery gradually evolves into an acute study of grief and the long, perilous road to redemption.
At the outset it follows Andrew McCormick as he sits in his truck, talking to someone on the phone with an air of finality. It then cuts to a line at a bill payment center in Clifton Heights (a town readers of Lucia’s previous work will no doubt be familiar with). Andrew waits to pay what he can of his electric bill and makes small talk with the man ahead of him. There’s a confrontation between the woman at the front of the line and the receptionist, after which the distressed woman rushes to the restroom. Ten minutes later someone finds the woman drowned, hanging by her head from the sink. The remaining people in the building soon find themselves locked inside, without phone and internet, doors immovable and windows unbreakable, face to face with something that seems to want them dead…
From here on in, Lucia weaves together the horrors of past and present in a dark tapestry that grabs you by the throat, mind, and heart, refusing to let go. The occasional flashback scenes with Andrew in the truck raise all the right questions, and the foreshadowing is as thick as the thunderstorm lashing the building. There’s a palpable disquiet that’s as timeless and existential as it is immediate. You’ll be rooting for everyone to escape intact, wondering at the same time just what the hell is going on with Andrew and what he has to do with everything that’s happening.
“And I Watered It, With Tears” is a boon for fans of quiet horror, its sparse visceral imagery punctuating an almost unbearable feeling of silence and seclusion. It’s intensely claustrophobic, both in the corridors of the building and the pensive depths of Andrew’s mind as his own story unfolds. This, along with the well-placed bits of body horror, the small but well-developed and unique cast of characters, and the methodical pacing, makes for one hell of a horror story.
Aside from the scare factor, one thing I’d be remiss to mention is the sheer emotional weight of the story, especially when all of its puzzle pieces come together. One pivotal late scene is arguably the scariest part of the whole thing, even though you know what’s coming, and there’s nothing bloody or supernatural about it. The candid, natural-sounding dialogue of the “big reveal” is remarkably well-worded. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say there’s some absolutely heart-wrenching stuff in here that bleeds off the page and into your mind.
This is the kind of story that can give you chills in one moment and bring you to tears in the next, and I’m willing to bet that it will. Kevin Lucia has been a rising star on the horror scene for a while now, and his writing just keeps getting better. “And I Watered It, With Tears” is a dark, moody descent into the deepest nightmares of the human heart. If you’re on the hunt for a story that will break you, look no further. Trust me. You want to read this.
The rest of Through a Mirror, Darkly is a damn good read as well, and as a whole I can’t recommend the collection enough.