Terminal by Michaelbrent Collings
Publisher: Written Insomnia Press | Release Date: April 24, 2019 | Pages: 323 pages
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A mysterious fog enshrouds a bus terminal, trapping nearly a dozen people inside as travel plans are abruptly canceled and transformed into a game of life or death. The electronics go haywire, a mysterious message appearing on everyone’s cell phone outlining the rules of the game. The people in the terminal must choose one individual from their company to survive, and the rest will die. Anyone who leaves the terminal before the final vote dies. And the final vote must be unanimous.
Michaelbrent Collings delivers up a unique twist on foggy horror, creating a character-driven work in the vein of The Mist, served up Ten Little Indians style and with a healthy, and much welcomed, dose of The Twilight Zone for good measure.
What I dug most about Terminal was the puzzling nature of it all. There’s a nifty bit of psychological suspense baked into the premise right from the get-go, but Collings takes this a step further as he slowly begins to unravel each characters’ backgrounds. There’s a washed-up cop, a ticket teller who escaped the ghetto, a Mary Kay saleswoman, a newlywed couple, and more. Each of them have secrets, as well as hidden depths and reserves that call into question who and how the final survivor will be chosen…or who will simply claim victory by any means necessary. Equally mysterious is the nature of the threat awaiting them outside the terminal, the odd fog and the…things…lurking within it.
Collings keeps you guessing for nearly the entire page count, adding and subtracting complications as he goes, giving you plenty of new wrinkles to iron out as he maneuvers his way through his large cast. And although this is a pretty large cast, it’s never unwieldily, which is no small feat. Every character gets their chance to shine, and we get to know each of them and their backgrounds sufficiently well, which only makes it harder to suss out who the game’s final winner will be.
Terminal is a nifty little puzzler of a book, and Collings moves the players and plot around less like a chess master and more like a grand champion solver of Rubik’s cubes. The characters, their interactions, motivations, and situations all revolve around one another, clicking and interlocking, until the final piece of the puzzle tumbles into place. The final reveal of Terminal is masterclass-level stuff, and legitimately surprised me. Even after I thought I knew for sure how this was going to end, Collings had one more trick up his sleeve. But that’s the real secret here — Terminal isn’t so much a puzzle after all. It’s a magic trick, and a damn good one, at that.