I love short stories. Anyone who’s read this blog has likely heard me say that before. I read a great deal of anthologies. For me, even better is the single author collection. It gives me the voice and style of one author, but typically will get multiple settings and characters to enjoy.
For several years, it has been rare to find a single author collection of stories, as many publishers weren’t accepting them in submissions. Thankfully, that is changing.
Case in point, is Crystal Lake Publishing. They’ve recently released a single author horror collection titled, Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast by Jonathan Winn. Turns out this is the collection that keeps on giving. Eidolon Avenue is where a decrepit apartment building stands. Within those mired walls there are stories. Twenty-five to be exact. Five floors, five rooms per floor. The First Feast tells the first five tales.
From the cover, you’d never know this was a collection of five stories by the same author. Perhaps that is by design, as some readers of horror may not be on my wavelength of loving the short form of horror. In truth, these are five short novellas put together in one. The characters in each story are unrelated; the only thing connecting them is that they all live in that rundown, seen better days apartment building on Eidolon, which holds its own secret evil.
When Crystal Lake asked if I would review this collection, the publisher was careful to tell me as a female reviewer that one of the stories contained descriptions of sexual assault and would I skip it if it made me feel more comfortable. I appreciated the notification of the trigger warning and I did indeed skip one of the stories. However, I was reading this on an eReader, so I couldn’t help but see a few words here and there as I forwarded through the document. From those words, the trigger warning is well founded.
As with many anthologies and collections, the best stories in Eidolon are the bookends—the first and the last. I’ll comment on both of them.
“1A: Lucky” is an incredibly strong story to begin this book. It is an epic tale in and of itself, excluding the rest of the book. Rich in emotion, cultural mores, and soaked in Eastern magic and ghost stories. I loved this story. Lucky, a young girl, is anything but. She lives in squalor, cleaning and scrubbing for Madame. Each servant girl who shoes her any kindness mysteriously disappears after being called to a meeting with Madame.
Soon, it is Lucky’s turn to be called. During a ritual, Lucky chooses to accept a shadowy being into her soul. Surely, being strong and invincible is what a girl who has been a servant all her life would want, isn’t it? And she gets it, with disastrous results. Lucky soon grows into the most feared assassin around. But the shadowy power is growing too, and it wants payment for its services.
The final story “1E: Umbra” is also powerful and poignant. I have a hard time choosing which story is my favorite. Our protagonist is a young orphaned girl sent to live with her Grandmother, a hard-smoking shell of a woman whose only words are chosen to scathe and cut.
Umbra is left to fend for herself, existing on cheese sandwiches as most of the money the Grandmother keeps for her own purposes. In her room, she finds a small brown spot on the wall and she befriends it: talking to it daily, sharing her hurts, her pains, and her hopes.
The spot grows larger, and grows sentient as Umbra’s only confidante. But what is the brown spot? And how does it help Umbra with her problematic Grandmother or is it all her own doing? I loved the final reveal of this story. It was somehow horrific and satisfying as an ending to a visceral, visual collection. This was beautiful horror: an outcast and a creature story in one.
Maybe as a woman, the two female protagonists spoke to me more, but I agreed with whoever decided to place these stories and bookends. This collection is worth it for these two tales alone. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for the remainder of Winn’s collection of stories from Eidolon Avenue.