Epeolatry Book Review: Twenty-Four-Hour Shift: Dark Tales from on and off the Clock by Cecilia Kennedy
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Title: Twenty-Four-Hour Shift: Dark Tales from on and off the Clock
Author: Cecilia Kennedy
Genre: Supernatural Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Supernatural Mysteries
Publisher: Dark Winter Press
Release Date: 27th September, 2023
Synopsis:Punch in your time card to begin the shift. The twenty-four dark tales of short fiction in this collection explore the unsettling things that might linger on and off the clock. Here, you’ll find short stories of work-related haunts and happenings, from the truly sinister (a human-vending machine restaurant), to horror-comedy (a photo shoot with possessed bunnies). But in the hours in between, it can’t be forgotten that the roles played as parents, co-workers, and friends are no ordinary side hustle. That work never ends. And the work shift? Well, that’s the thing that makes you peek over your shoulder and ask, “What just moved?” But you have to clock in to find out.
Unlike actual work, perhaps, I couldn’t wait to clock in and start reading these fifteen-minute-break tales by Cecilia Kennedy. I’ll start by saying it is a very cleverly designed collection. From the darkly humorous cover art to the creepily cute section headings, I didn’t mind showing up early and working (or reading) late!
The first tale “Guarding the Koi Pond” was definitely the bonus I’d been expecting when I received the book. As a former customer service employee, I loved the idea of a beleaguered pool lifeguard who had to spend long hours dealing with bratty kids—and even brattier parents.
From that jumping-off point, the following tales were oozing with Kennedy’s viscous prose. She immersed me into terrifying sights and sounds that put my own horrifying work experiences (and interactions with nightmarish coworkers) to shame.
As if Kennedy hasn’t already known how to tap into my worst fears, as curated from recent experiences I’ve had, she continues to deliver spine-chilling literary reminders as she moves from the workplace to scenes of domestic un-bliss. She has a gift for weaving seemingly obscure, subtle threads of horror throughout stories that have been fictionalized (or are they?). Her unique spin on the horrors of apartment hunting make the real-life terror of Santa Fe’s exorbitant rental costs seem not so bad, and I’m reminded, also, not to count my eggs before they hatch…
But just when I feel like I’m getting into horror that’s a little too much like real life, Kennedy makes a deft transition to the next section. Those stories are more surreal and atmospheric in their delivery.
I absolutely adored the Gothic-infused, romantically decadent tale “The Rustling” which brought an empowered, and updated, twist evocative of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist classic “The Yellow Wallpaper”.
That eerie indoor-space claustrophobia is further explored in “Thick Skin” and “Night Walks During Quarantine”. I’m reminded of when I was a kid and I couldn’t stand to be indoors, or to have doors and windows stuffily closed against the elements. Nor how I felt like I was being suffocated and like I couldn’t escape.
When I read her collection the first time, it was more of a surface read, and I remember thinking that some of the stories seemed to end too soon—too abruptly. My second read-through during daylight hours, however, revealed elements hidden beneath the surface, like in the “Sound Monster”.
I mean, there are teeny bits that are seemingly simple but so evocative to my childhood where everything was heightened in sensory terms—perhaps from being an extraordinarily imaginative, creative sort. The lines from “Backyard View” completely set the scene and brought back memories from when I was a baby and couldn’t even walk, but I would use the carpet to pull myself across to a patch of amber sunlight as it passed through the 70s rippled brown glass panel next to the door: “Still, the silence looms. And there’s this slant of sunlight that falls on the stairs at 3:46 p.m. It fills me with sadness…”
Again, such a subtle spookiness makes a commentary about the unnerving static stillness of indoor spaces but is also soothing. Kennedy creates fear by lulling us into that suffocating static stillness, and we forget to resist. To be alive and energized and awakened, instead of sleepwalking through a rote existence.
But my favourite part of the collection is the maritime/oceanic settings within a few of her stories. As I am sorely missing the ocean still, I appreciated the atmospheric descriptions of a mystically spooky coastal environment.
And, lastly, the final section of the book made me laugh in a delightfully depraved way. It was a perfect finish to the collection. Especially as I felt very burned out with all the changes and effort it took to escape my former situation, me still feeling unsettled and in transition and longing for a vacation for probably the first time ever in my workaholic existence.
Stories like Kennedy’s “Wine Time Cellars” just might be the cure for my ailments when I start daydreaming of a warm beach with a book and a cocktail!
Speaking of warm beaches and tropical environments, I grew up in Florida, the retiree-slash-snowbird state, so I both winced and giggled my way through “Garden Party”, set in a social environment I am all too familiar with. The story had a fun surprise ending I loved that was preferable to those deadly dull socialite events I was forced into attending as a kid.
Seriously, I don’t know how this author did it, but it feels, again, that she not only was reading my mind but my psyche as well, and she sits in the corner cackling as she brings out the be-careful-what-you-wish-for horror spin. Everything from my current desert environment (“Passing Lanes”) to my wishful-thinking cozy comfort warmth I create to lull me to sleep (“Wishing Chair”) to the imagined solace of a perfect cabin (“When Bedbugs Bite”) and even the hilarious take on cute fuzzy bunnies—I’ve had rabbits as pets and they are evil incarnate, I know!— in “Photo Shoot with Possessed Bunnies”. That last story seems equally as fitting, since I’m currently pursuing a childhood dream via a master’s in wildlife conservation and advocacy.
Discover the depravity (and the charming ruination of all your cherished illusions and childhood memories!) for yourself here: Amazon.
- About the Author
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“Cat Whisperer” Kirsten Lee Barger has written articles on everything from cats to a piece about the “Di Wae Powa: They Came Back” homecoming event (Special thanks to Executive Director Karl Duncan and the Poeh Cultural Center: https://poehcenter.org/diwaepowa/.). In addition to befriending not only feral cats (as well as skunks and the occasional chipmunk or squirrel), she strives to support authors with everything from editing services to book coaching, and more. Find her on LinkedIn, here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirsten-lee-barger-4a984a49/ or visit her at her website: https://kirsten-lee-barger.mailchimpsites.com/.