The Traveler’s Tale (1984) by Lucius Shepard is a science fiction/horror story set on the fictional island Guanoja Menor off the coast of Honduras. One of several stories Shepard has set in the region, he brings to bear his familiarity with Central America in telling this voodoo-esque tale of alien proportions.
The Traveler’s Tales is told through the eyes of Frank Winship, a retired American who recently bought a piece of land on a remote corner of Guanoja Menor, met a younger woman, and is ready to settle into his twilight years. The locals full of color, Frank spends his days at the area chicken shack, eating meals, and having beer over gossip. A few tourists travel through the area, and Frank strikes up a short friendship with one, a great storyteller named Ray Milliken. Milliken disappears a short time later and Frank thinks nothing more of it until, having chicken one evening, he hears a rumor that Milliken has returned and intends to develop an unused, snake-infested point of land into a town. Visiting the large parcel, a place the locals call the Burying Ground based on old pirate legends, Frank learns firsthand that indeed Milliken intends to develop the overgrown jungle into a community and has brought along a cadre of like-minded young travelers to help. But when the travelers begin straggling out of the jungle at odd hours, knocking on Frank’s door seeking assistance, things take decided a turn for the strange, and Frank begins fearing for his life.
A science fiction story with horror elements, The Traveler’s Tale banks its money on suspense and good storytelling. Shepard drawing out the tension nicely as things become more and more inexplicable, his prose simultaneously keeps the reader invested in the details of island life. The local people in particular come alive—drunks, housewives, shopkeepers, and the like, and all with an eye to the setting they inhabit.
In the end, The Traveler’s Tale is good storytelling from one of the best writers of short fiction the genre has seen yet. The novella not his greatest story, it remains one that engages the reader for tension and does not let them go for detail. Like Shepard’s later Stars Seen through Stone, the story possesses a moral, but is one the reader can ponder upon, the connections covert. Certainly involved, however, are Honduran culture and history, its interaction with American tourism and economic interests, and the imperfect joys of island life in Central America. May not be a story for the ages, but has impact in the moment.