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Birth to the Still Dead

Birth to the Stilldead by [Johnsen, Eric]5 StarsEric Johnsen offers a striking, mind-bending novella in Birth to the Stilldead. If the title and cover aren’t clear enough, this is a horror novel with disturbing imagery, and may not be suitable for all readers. It certainly delivers on the promise of supernatural horrors lurking just beyond the veil of life and death.

Doctor Tel Hunniset is tired. He works in the pediatric unit of a hospital, treating children with cancer. It’s grueling, emotional work. His boss, Doctor Klemens, knows from experience that Tel is both exhausted and uninspired by his job, and questions his motivations for becoming a doctor in the first place. After the children in his ward become infected with a pathogen that causes convulsions and death, Tel races to save lives, but narrowly misses disaster. When a hospital volunteer offers his assistance—a decidedly non-medical cure—the children begin to stabilize just as the “volunteer” is discovered to be an imposter and escapes.

The mysterious man introduces himself as Aarne Soars, and with his help, Dr. Hunniset can save the lives of the remaining patients. In the aftermath of the outbreak, Tel is called a hero but the stress he’s under is also affecting his wife, Millary. Someone has vandalized her graveyard-like memorial garden, her mother has cancer, and her husband is either asleep or at work. They both experience events that could only be described as supernatural, accompanied by eerie visions of a bloody-wraith-like woman, lead him back to Aarne. What he learns from the mysterious man forces him to rethink everything, even the nature of reality.

Birth to the Stilldead had me hooked early. Working with children suffering from cancer and other serious medical issues can be heartbreaking. It’s a high-stress place, not only for the kids and their families but also the staff who care for them. Johnsen showed this through the eyes of Tel Hunniset as he watches his colleagues work in the chaos around him while he internalizes his fears. The pediatric ward is beset by worried parents and lawyers. Dr. Klemens seems to be intent on criticizing Dr. Hunniset at every opportunity. It’s easy to keep turning pages because even the moments of normalcy are tinged with building tension.

Aarne is both mysterious and perplexing. He listens to the dead, knows what they want and need; knows their secrets. For the living, there’s a price to pay for taking a life, but what happens in the world of spirits when you save one? Aarne is one of the rare few who can bridge the gap between the living and the dead. His pockets are full of tricks, but without them, Tel wouldn’t have been able to save the lives of so many.

The last few chapters of the book kept me riveted. It’s a fast-paced read, and since it’s a novella, there’s no point in putting it down. I recommend this for fans of supernatural horror. The secrets that Aarne reveals are thought-provoking. They may follow you around for a while, tugging at your subconscious, asking you to listen.

Pages: 58 | ASIN: B01HFS9YJ2

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