This debut collection features nautical horror stories along the Pacific Northwest coast.
The first four of these short stories were previously published between 1993 and ’97 in various issues of 48° North—The Northwest Sailing Magazine. In “The Figurehead,” a trader of maritime goods finds the perfect object waiting for him on a Puget Sound beach—a well-preserved bust, broken from a ship’s prow. “The Face in the Water” details a lone sailor’s descent into madness while heading for Hawaii. “Nightmare in a Bottle” is about sailors stranded on an island, remembered through the nightmares of the man responsible. In “From Over the Dead Horizon,” a widower vanishes from his newly purchased yacht at sea, much like his deceased wife. The next three tales—including “The Deep Fall” (in which a professional diver enlists Russian expats to help retrieve a sunken safe) and Taboo Island (a novella about whether or not Sasquatch exists)—are longer thrillers on how the sea can turn greed and hubris against those who ply its waves. Writing with a reliably chilling smoothness, debut author Morris sometimes wears a love of Poe quite boldly (e.g., the “tap tap tap” of a bottle). As the stories progress, however, he more masterfully tinges them with hints of unreality, as when an octopus nibbles a corpse’s head as its “many tentacled arms wave continuously, sinuously, seductively, seem positively to beckon.” Morris also uses legends (Davy Jones’s locker) and anthropological insight (the body boats of Indian tribes) to shade his dark blue realms. And each story delivers a satisfying psychological impact, either up front or as a suitable denouement. A drowning man, for instance, is sure there’s “some intervening phenomenological stage between inundation and annihilation.” The ambitious final tale about Sasquatch is the outlier, though it also proves the author’s restless intellect knows no bounds.
Crafty and classically subtle horror tales for all ages.