Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, October 2019
Reviewed by Tara Grímravn
Just in time for Halloween, Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores published a short story on October 31, 2019, by Adam Stemple. “Still Life” tells the tale of a man who makes money as a living statue—an artist covered in body paint who stands motionless in imitation of one famous sculpture or another.
It’s the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland and our narrator is at work, mimicking various statues for the crowds. Each day, he poses as a different work of art and, as the festival-goers wander home and the shadows grow long, a mysterious stranger steps forward from the departing crowd. In his pose, he cannot see the speaker, but there’s a familiarity to the voice that reminds him of one he often heard as a child that would tell him to stay still. On the last day of the Fringe, the stranger asks him to meet behind the cathedral after the moon has set. He agrees, uncertain of what he’ll find when he arrives.
One doesn’t find gargoyles in the starring role of fiction works very often and it really is a shame. Though many of us are familiar with their use in Gothic architecture beginning in the early 13th century as roof drainage and protection from evil spirits, they have a long and fascinating history that stretches far back into antiquity, all the way to Ancient Egypt. It is a legacy of which Stemple has made good use.
This is a story about a man becoming what he’s always been meant to be, even if he didn’t know what that was until the end. While I would classify it as belonging to the horror genre, or perhaps dark fantasy, this isn’t necessarily a terrifying tale. Readers won’t find hair-raising terror or fast-paced action here. This is an eerie, quiet narrative that creeps slowly and steadily forward, promising the kind of beauty and transformation that can only be found in darkness.
All said and done, I truly enjoyed Stemple’s work. It’s a fitting note on which to say goodbye to a month that’s synonymous with spirits and other dark creatures. I highly recommend adding this story to your reading list.