Stolen Tongues by Felix Blackwell

Felix Blackwell managed to craft a captivating and unsettling narrative that digs its way under the reader’s skin. Like many of the best horror stories, Stolen Tongues envelops the reader in an atmosphere that conveys a sense of both helplessness and fear. As the characters and their plight become more three-dimensional and fleshed out, the threatening force looming in the shadows becomes more unreal and difficult to comprehend. That alien and unfamiliar threat mingling with the all-too-real lives of the protagonists it imperils propels this story beyond the realm of casual, easily dismissed horror literature.
When Felix and his fiance, Faye, begin their romantic getaway at her parents’ cabin in the Colorado Rockies, there’s no way they could have anticipated the disquieting experience that would greet them. If they’d only known the sinister history of Pale Peak, the cabin that rested there in the dark forests, and the way that past resonated within Faye’s dreams and psychology, they certainly would not have stayed.
What unfolds from there is a feverish and unreal sequence of events that follows the couple from waking life into their dreams, influencing their relationships, and impacting everyone who seeks to help. And as the terror escalates, the reader can’t help but wonder if anyone will walk away without being led into the darkness by the creature speaking with stolen tongues.
Growing up in and near the Black Hills of South Dakota and having spent a good deal of my life in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho, I feel like Blackwell captured the beauty and isolation of the environment. Just as importantly, he captured the way these mountain forests can play tricks on people unaccustomed to such places.
As someone who has spent most of his life straddling the outskirts of Indigenous cultures, I appreciated Blackwell’s attempt to avoid exhausted and exhausting tropes while incorporating elements of those cultures in his story. My former step-mother and half-sister are Lakota, my ex-wife, multiple ex-girlfriends, numerous friends, and my teenage daughter as well. This book doesn’t treat the Indigenous characters as overly romanticized token characters, but it does treat them with respect and obvious appreciation for the history of North America before the arrival of European colonizers.

Dreams, and the Places They Take Us

Have all of you dreamt of specific locations, or a singular location, so many times that you occasionally recall that place in your waking life as somewhere you momentarily believe you can return to? As if it’s somewhere you’ve actually been before?

You only finally stop thinking that way once you’ve reminded yourself that the location exists only in your dreams, though you feel like you’ve been there so many times before.

There are two locations like this for me, both of them situated in outdoor environments that bear a strong resemblance to regions of the Black Hills…or at least they feel like they’re situated somewhere in the hills.

One is a large cave system on private land that I’m able to enter by maneuvering my way along a cliff-side that others apparently don’t know about. It doesn’t keep me from trespassing, but it keeps me from being caught while doing so, as it provides me with an otherwise unknown entrance via a large grotto coming off the cliff wall. Descending from this hidden grotto is a sort of primitive staircase, something that could have been carved into the stone by an earlier culture. I’ve never followed the stairs down any further than the fissure that leads me into the cave system, but the stairs descend much deeper into darkness. The interior of the cavern is so familiar to me as to feel like I’ve been there dozens of times. In my dreams, I’ve taken other people there to experience the place in addition to making numerous trips on my own. The smells and taste of the air are so vividly recalled, as is the way sound reverberates from the walls. The chill of the water in a slow-moving underground stream that pools in a certain location where I’ve always had to strip down to traverse is as real to me as any memory.

Another location is similarly to be found along a cliff wall, this one rising up from an otherwise normal hiking trail that leads off into a narrow, mountain valley. By scrabbling along what would only be liberally described as a path up the early part of the cliffside, one can reach a small tunnel that pushes through to a sheltered cliffside on the opposite edge of what is actually a thin dagger of rock rather than a solid stretch of mountain like what is to be found in either direction to the side. From this sheltered cliff, one can see a whole different valley spreading out, far below. I’ve spent countless hours sitting there, enjoying the view, or so my memory tricks me into believing.

What’s particularly funny to me is that I rarely recall my dreams at all. And yet, when I find myself thinking of either of these two locations, sudden recollections of numerous visits come to mind from dreams I don’t even remember having.

That’s all, just a little bit of absent musing for the day.

What sort of locations do your dreams paint so vividly that you recall them in waking life as real places?