(with A Night at Old Webb)
By Kevin Lucia
Cemetery Dance Publications — May 2022
ISBN: 9781587678295 — Paperback — 175 pp.
First released back in 2020, Kevin Lucia’s novella Mystery Road now gets a paperback release paired with his 2015 novella A Night at Old Webb. Both stories feature the first-person point of view of Kevin Ellison, a teenage basketball player whose journey into adulthood becomes shaped by two separate ghostly encounters of discovery in the early 1990s.
Going into these stories with little foreknowledge, I had expected them to be horror. They are not. The ghosts here aren’t malevolent, there is neither anything frightening nor suspenseful going on. In fact, were it not for identification of certain characters as literal ghosts, these novellas could be classified as conventional short fiction rather than fantasy.
Though most of Mystery Road is set in 1990, the story begins twenty years later, when the adult Kevin learns that his father has just passed away. The bad news coincides with Kevin’s observation of a mailbox and a narrow drive cutting into the woods along a major hometown road. A memory is struck to those decades prior, when 15-year old Kevin first noticed this OOPart (out-of-place-artifact) while riding his bike to a best friend’s house.
There shouldn’t be a mailbox here, nor any visible pathway at this spot. Kevin never found it there outside that period in 1990, and then never again until here 20 years later. In the intervening years the eerie incident and the discoveries he made following the path into the woods had left his mind, only a dream-like haze of uncertain reality left behind.
The bulk of the novella then passes in flashback as Kevin recollects that period in 1990 when he first saw this mailbox and investigated the roadway into the woods. There he discovers a cabin and a woman in it, who welcomes him in for a visit. Their conversation slowly reveals that Kevin has somehow transported into a setting from the 1960s. And, this woman speaking to him in her kitchen knows his father, but as the high school boyfriend to her daughter.
In this, and subsequent follow-ups with his father, Kevin discovers parts of his father’s past that he never knew, of his father’s own passage from teenager into adulthood. These reveal secrets that are not illicit or shameful at all, just bits of information lost to time and circumstance. Through these discoveries Kevin becomes closer to his father and learns a bit about his own capacity for maturation.
With the shared name of author and protagonist, Mystery Road imparts that style of memoir verisimilitude. I don’t know for certain, but I get the sense that Lucia also places the setting of the novella in what seems like his own North East US hometown. Clifton Heights of Webb County may not be the names of these actual places in the NE, but the environment of Mystery Road (and the novella that follows) both are like characters of their own in the stories. Details of the foliage, mountains, houses, and names that ring familiar give the stories a strong sense of nostalgia for anyone who grew up in the time period of the late ’80’s into the ’90s.
Mystery Road is a novella that speaks poignantly to themes of friendship, love, and family. It’s about the bittersweet nature of embracing the future and letting the past fade, whether cherished or peppered with regrets.
Though published five years prior, A Night at Old Webb is set approximately two years after the events of Mystery Road in Kevin Ellison’s life. Now entering the end of his time in high school, Kevin joins friends for a warm summer’s night party at the Old Webb, a decrepit, abandoned former grammar school in Clifton Heights. There he meets a girl, Michelle Titchner, and the two form a rapid, soulful connection. They converse amid the party at the school, and continue talking as they walk into the surrounding woods.
There is a simplicity to A Night at the Old Webb exceeding even that of Mystery Road. But that’s not to say it’s any less impactful. What looks from its set up would be a tale of raging teenage hormones instead becomes about deeper connection. Through that, Kevin again learns a bit about growing up, and some insights into the history of his town and its people.
Together, the two novellas tell symbolic stories about Kevin’s genetic and social inheritances, and the possibilities these might impart for a life ahead on his own. The end of Mystery Road brings things chronologically to a close, coming back to older Kevin and reflections on the death of his father. His journey illustrates that ghosts don’t always haunt, sometimes they reveal themselves at the right moment to help guide passages.