First published back in April of 2015, British author Nathan Robinson’s novella ‘Midway’ was released through Severed Press in both paperback and ebook format.

The story was originally written as a short story for the ‘Dead Bait 2’ (2011) anthology.  However, Robinson missed the submission deadline and the story was instead relegated to the depths of the author’s hard drive.  Luckily, sometime later Robinson brought the story out from hiding, gave it a new zest of life (whilst trebling the word count), and the story finally saw publication.

DLS Synopsis:
They were just over the halfway point of their Atlantic crossing.  Twenty-one year old Sam Berlitz was one of the five Brits in Team GB swimming the warm equatorial waters of the briny Atlantic.  The swimmers were taking it in turns to swim the colossal distance.  Their support boat – The Lord Burringham – edging through the choppy waters alongside them.  

Ahead of them a sizeable underwater earthquake had shaken the seabed up, but the organisers saw no reason why this would impede the swimmers’ progress.  In fact, Team GB was doing well, with them now in third place out of the ten countries competing.  Sam was feeling confident about his swim and the overall performance of his team mates.  

He’d been swimming hard for a while now, slicing through the water in his Fast Skin wetsuit, hopefully gaining some ground on the Americans ahead of them.  He’d heard a faint scream a little while back but it had barely registered with him.  Although now he could feel his arms and legs being to tire.  He’d lost track of time.  Had he done more than his designated hour?  If so, then why hadn’t anyone called to replace him?

Turning his head to the side he realised couldn’t see the Lord Burringham.  Rotating further in the water, he found he literally couldn’t see the support boat anywhere.  All around him just the vast open expanse of the Atlantic.  Not even a dot on the horizon to signify where his fellow teammates could be.

He was completely alone.  Stranded halfway across the great Atlantic Ocean with no food or water or any means to stay afloat.  The Shark Shield securely zipped-up in a pocket on the back of his Fast Skin was still emitting its pulses to deter any large predators – however he knew the battery life wouldn’t last more than a handful of hours without being recharged.

He had no idea what to do next.  Should he wait where he was?  A mere speck treading water in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean.  Or should he try heading back in the hope of crossing paths with one of the other teams?

Of course it’s then that the cramp down his leg starts to come back.  He dips his head into the water to kneed the back of his cramping leg.  And that’s when he sees it.  Beneath him, a brief glimpse before the gloom swallows the vision up entirely.  Something moving.  A shapeless, malformed silhouette spread out like an oil spill, its size undeterminable with no fixed points to focus on.

Sam Berlitz was wrong.  He wasn’t alone…

DLS Review:
This particular deep sea horror novella came to my attention when (horror author) J.R. Park mentioned it in passing over a beer one evening.  Park threw down a brief outline of the story, and just like that, I was instantly drawn in.

The idea of suddenly realising that you’re completely alone is (let’s be honest) absolutely terrifying.  We’ve all experienced that stomach-churning feeling as a child, when you’re wondering along in a world of your own, daydreaming about all that weird and wonderful stuff that kids do, when all of a sudden you realise your parents are no longer beside you.  In that second, you absolutely shit your pants.  Panic floods your senses.  Your heart jumps up into your mouth, your eyes fill with tears.  You spin on the spot – desperately trying to catch a glimpse of the parents you realise are your whole world.

Yeah, you’re an adult now, and so the sudden loss of a guardian by your side doesn’t have the same impact.  Nevertheless, that very same gut-wrenching fear of snapping out of a mindless daze and suddenly realising you’re lost and completely alone is still inherently there.  Amplify that by a frigging thousand fold (because of the environment of the vast ocean), and you’ve got yourself one of those instantly chilling premises that sends strange chilling sensations all down your body, just from the mere thought of it.  Well – the premise for ‘Midway’ did that for me anyway.

The story starts off with a similar backdrop and feel to that of Chris Kentis’ film ‘Open Water’ (2003).  Robinson spends a handful of pages laying down the characters, and setting the overall ‘Atlantic Swim’ scene.  Most of us will know little to nothing about the intricacies involved with such a goliath swim.  Putting the physical and mental ordeal involved aside – it’s those finer details that make the premise instantly believable.  Like the Fast Skin.  The logistics of the task and the involvement of a support boat.  The advertising and funding.  The Shark Shields!

I love this sort of stuff.  You feel like you’re learning shit as you’re reading.  But more importantly, it helps you to immerse yourself into the story.  To become convinced by what you’re being told.  To actually believe in what’s transpiring.

For me one of the absolute key moments in the tale is when our protagonist suddenly realises that he’s completely alone.  This is an absolute make or break moment.  Handled well, and there’s absolutely no way I’d be putting the book down until it’s finished.  Handled poorly, and the remaining storyline’s more than likely going to sink away in an ocean of disappointment.

But fuck me if Robinson hasn’t just absolutely nail it!  My god, when that moment arrives, you absolutely feel like you’re there – that it’s you who’s suddenly stranded and alone.  You’ll subconsciously start treading water, adrenaline pumping like a junkie’s motherlode bursting through their veins.

That one scene sets all the pins up for the rest of the tale.  From then on it’s tense and compelling and utterly heart-wrenching.  The sheer desperation of the swimmer as he tries to keep going.  The stark vividness of the unending expanse of ocean that stretches out before him.  And that’s all before the sun sets and he’s plunged into the pitch black of night.

I’ve literally got goosebumps as I’m writing this.  That’s how intense Robinson’s writing in ‘Midway’ is.  You experience every second of Sam’s pain.  The emotions that flood his senses.  The terrifyingly claustrophobic sensations of being knocked around by unseen waves in a pitch back void.  It’s more than unnerving – it’s the core stuff of nightmares.

Of course, once Sam’s left stranded, all dialogue in the novel quickly dries up.  To counteract this, Robinson tell the vast majority of the tale via the character’s internal monologue; with his thoughts and emotions narrating the ordeal he’s going through.  Once again, hats off to the author for executing this so darn well.  Robinson quickly establishes a voice for the character – his dry wit adding a desperately needed sense of human relief during the horrific ordeal.

That for me - all of that stuff up there - was what made ‘Midway’ for me.  The remaining third or so is still damn, damn fine horror.  Sharks circling and something vast lurking below the waterline.  Something that’s not been seen before.  It’s truly terrifying.  Oh yes, it’s all good stuff, and I was absolutely gripped to the very last page (yep – it demanded that one-sitting in the end).  But it’s that first two-thirds of the tale that still keep me up at night.

There’s a hell of a lot to love in this novella.  How Robinson’s crammed it all into just 127 pages I’ll never understand (this review alone is probably rivalling the novella’s wordcount).  There’s that whole ‘Open Water’ (2003) setting intermingled with a touch of ‘Jaws’ (1974). However it’s the other elements that really make the novella so much richer.  They’ll surprise you and scare the living shit out of you.  There’s hints of Algernon Blackwood’s haunting story ‘The Willows’ (1907) that have somehow crept in. And then, when you think you’ve finally come to terms with it all, when you’ve accepted the inevitable, Robinson throws in the big reveal and the whole tale takes one gigantic mother fucker of a shift into a whole different style of horror.  But I won’t ruin it for you!

Just buy this book.  Buy it, read it, and then never put a foot anywhere near the ocean again.

The novella runs for a total of 127 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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