Epeolatry Book Review: Below by Laurel Hightower
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Editor: Laurel Hightower
Publisher: Ghoulish Books
Release Date: 29th March, 2022
Synopsis: While driving through the mountains of West Virginia during a late-night snowstorm, a recently divorced woman experiences bizarre electrical problems, leaving her with little choice but to place her trust with a charismatic truck driver. But when an unexplainable creature with haunting red eyes gets between them, she is forced to make one of the toughest decisions of her life. Will she abandon the stranger who kept her safe—or will she climb down below, where reality has shapeshifted into a living nightmare?
“It came out of nowhere.” That’s the opening line of Laurel Hightower’s latest novella, Below. This lean, mean tale starts with our protagonist, Addy, sitting in a roadside truck stop still reeling from a near collision with a menacing man in a blue van.
Recently divorced, Addy is on a solo, 552-mile road trip to meet some friends at a horror con. Driving such a long way by herself is a terrifying notion for Addy, which is exactly why she’s doing it—to face her fears and to prove to herself that she can. Unfortunately for Addy, her route takes her through a remote stretch of West Virginia that’s home to the fabled Mothman—and her night is about to get much more horrifying.
If you want more plot points than that, you’ll have to look elsewhere because this is a story that deserves to be spoiler-free. Addy’s frenetic journey into Mothman-fueled madness is full of as many shadowy twists and dark turns as a backcountry mountain road after midnight.
Hightower is a skilled storyteller. She keeps this tale moving at a pulse-pounding pace that will keep you turning the pages. In fact, don’t be surprised if you devour this lean book in one sitting. The plot has several what-the-fuck moments that make it nearly impossible to guess what will happen next. Don’t bother trying to figure out where the story is going. Just buckle up and enjoy the ride.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is the incorporation of Mothman. For those that don’t know, the Mothman is perhaps America’s most bizarre cryptid. Multiple witnesses saw this winged humanoid creature in the Point Pleasant, WV area in the mid-60s. It had glowing red eyes and a ten-foot wingspan. That’s strange enough, but Mothman’s history is also infused with premonitions, government cover-ups, UFO sightings, mysterious men in black, and even the catastrophic collapse of the Silver Bridge that once stretched across the Ohio River connecting Point Pleasant with Gallipolis, Ohio.
If you’re a fan of Mothman, you’ll love how Hightower weaves the cryptid into the story. If you’re not familiar with Mothman, fear not. You don’t need to know anything about this strange case before reading Below. Hightower perfectly captures the utter bizarreness of the Mothman legend but also crafts her own unique take on the subject matter. The result is a story that is completely her own but feels every bit as strange and unsettling as the iconic Mothman lore.
Beyond the cryptids and thrills, Below has solid characterization and genuine emotional weight. Not unlike Hightower’s earlier novella Crossroads, released in 2020 by Off Limits Press, the heart of Below is its protagonist’s inner plight—in this case, Addy’s struggle with her own internal voice telling her that she can’t. That she shouldn’t. That she isn’t good enough or smart enough.
We haven’t all been terrorized by giant winged cryptids, but surely most of us can resonate with that inner self-doubt. That’s part of why this novella is so powerful—because all of us hope—but often doubt—that we have the strength to face the terrors that lurk deep down Below.
- About the Author
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Rob E. Boley likes to make blank pages darker. He lives with his wife and his daughter in Dayton, Ohio. By day, he manages and analyzes big data. Yet each morning before sunrise, he rises to strike terror into the hearts of the unfortunate characters dwelling in his novels, stories, and poems. His fiction has been seen lurking in places such as A cappella Zoo, Pseudopod, Clackamas Literary Review, and Best New Werewolf Tales. His poetry has been known to prowl in publications such as Wild Goose Poetry Review, California Quarterly, Horror Writers’ Association Poetry Showcase, and Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghosts and Ghouls. He co-founded Howling Unicorn Press with his wife, author Megan Hart, to conjure tales that thrill, chill, and fulfill. You can learn more about this weird figure of the dark by visiting his website at www.robboley.com.