by Shelly Campbell
Published by Silver Shamrock Publishing
Available in paperback
Every year, David Rawlingson and his family spend their summer holidays at a rental cottage at Honey Bear Hollow Resort. This year is no different, but as the 17 year old discovers, something has definitely changed at the cottage they like to call their summer home and not for the better…
After being notified that the owner of the cottage has built an extension to the property, David, his brothers James, twins Jess and Jordan, and their parents David Sr and Madeline are keen to see what the extra space contains. However, with no windows or doors on the outside of the extension and the room sealed off thanks to a locked door inside the property, their curiosity is left unsatisfied. That is until one night when David discovers what’s lurking behind the locked door; a discovery that leads him into more trouble than he could have ever imagined that will not only threaten his life and his family’s but could destroy the very world he knows.
What starts off as a story about a teenager recounting the time he was forgotten about and left at a Gulf gas station at only six years old, soon takes on a more chilling tone in Shelly Campbell’s sci-fi thriller, GULF. Spending his last summer at the cottage before turning 18, youngest sibling David once again finds himself up against the unknown alone, with no one to share the burden, as secrets from another dimension try to break through into his.
Embracing a variety of themes, including sci-fi, horror, time travel and alternate dimensions, with a side helping of family drama, Campbell has created a fascinating blend of genres for her story that grabs you by the collar and pulls you firmly into its nightmare.
Like many stories that deal with time travel, GULF has an element to it that can be interpreted as a repeated scenario. Through crating anchor points and variables, Campbell avoids it becoming a tedious affair and manages to keep the reader’s attention throughout these recurring instances, leaving you eager to see what changes and truths lie ahead for our protagonist David as he faces the unknown.
The opening introduction of David’s trauma will no doubt conjure up images of Kevin McCallister being forgotten about, twice, in the two successful Home Alone movies by his parents who are too busy juggling the abundance of kids and family members in their entourage to notice they’ve missed one. With David being one of seven children, you could say it’s an easy mistake to make but as we get deeper into the story we learn that youngest child David has often bore the brunt of being ignored and forgotten about, though being left at the petrol station appears to be the one that really made its mark. His relationship with his siblings and parents is strained to say the least, though there’s at least two family members who do appear to care, but how long before he’s just a forgotten memory of theirs too?
Throughout the book, we get to understand David’s state of mind and explore his worries, doubts and yearnings, all the whilst struggling to face down otherworldly existence and quietly keep a handle on it all. As protagonists go, he’s not the most exciting to be around, leading a mainly solitary life, but the conviction of his character means it’s hard not to empathise with the guy and you desperately want things to turn around for the better.
Author Shelly Campbell effortlessly breathes life into the worlds she has created, whether it’s the picturesque natural beauty of Honey Bear Hollow or the cramped, suffocating interior of the Rawlingson’s holiday cottage. Through Campbell’s descriptions, it’s so easy to visualise the environments which the characters pass through, pulling the reader ever more into the story and perhaps giving David the only company he’s ever truly had.
An unnerving, tense experience, with elements that wouldn’t feel amiss in a Lovecraft or Stephen King novel, this 211 page novella often feels like it has so much more to give and that GULF is merely a taster to get us hooked and left wanting more. Shelly Campbell has created another world out there, untapped by the reader, ready for us to explore. The ending of the book is by no means cut and dry so I’d love to revisit and see how the story would continue should Campbell decide to explore further in a sequel.