Nightjar Press is an independent publisher of limited edition individual short story chapbooks. It’s delightful to see single short stories published with such care. Each of the four stories I was sent have rather ace cover illustrations and cost £3.
It’s difficult to review short stories without being spoilerific, but I’ll give it a go:
Lexicon by Christopher Burns
My knowledge of Greek mythology is minimal and it is with a smidge of shame that I admit I wasn’t familiar with Asterius before reading this tale. I searched Wikipedia afterwards and it seems that Burns may be riffing off Jorge Luis Borges 1947 short story “The House of Asterion.” Whilst knowledge of that may enhance the reading pleasure I don’t feel it marred my own enjoyment.
The narrator is an amusing man, a self-important academic who has invited a woman to dinner. He speaks enthusiastically about the Greeks, keen to “illuminate” her on the subject. He knowingly tells the reader “I like to begin my social evenings with a little minor irritation.” Passages on Asterius are interspersed with Harry and Heather’s evening in this neat story with a dark heart.
Field by Tom Fletcher
This is a horror story in which you can almost hear a film score ratcheting up the tension as the protagonist, Tom, a forestry Commission warden, sets off to deal with a group of youths camping illegally at the edge of the lake. Irritated by his junior colleague, Sarah, yet perfectly at ease with the idea of confronting the youngsters, they set off in his Land Rover. They find the tents and sleeping bags, but where are the people?
Sullom Hill by Christopher Kenworthy
The first line immediately had me wanting to know more: “When Neil Kingsley came around, I’d hide under the window-sill and pretend not to be in.”
Three young lads, one with special needs and a mental age much younger than his years, form a type of friendship; one of those uneasy alliances that schoolboys find themselves in sometimes. Tony is a bully who loses friends with worrying regularity. Neil is a young man with difficulties who thinks of the narrator as his pal. I read with wariness, worrying about what would happen. It’s a story full of evocative descriptions, of the boys, the hill, the weather, and it ends in a particularly unsettling way.
Remains by Ga Pickin
There is an immediate and effective sense of place and I could almost feel the cold, shivery weather.
“A head wind was getting up, and it sighed against his ears like Chinese whispers. Disdaining his choice of warm clothing, its chilled breath slid down his collar and up his sleeve, between buttons and past his T-shirt, touching his bare skin.”
This is a marvelously atmospheric and creepy story. The narrator, an experienced walker, has set out to meet friends in a holiday cottage. The light is fading and the batteries of his torch stop working. It’s beautifully written, the landscape becoming eerier as the story progresses. I raced to the end, anxious to know what would happen.
I can genuinely say that each of the stories is of a high quality and I really love what Nicholas Royle is doing for the short story here. Bravo.