Nightjar Press review: lurking internal horror

Four Nightjar Press short stories

Will Eaves: ‘Styx’, Jim Gibson: ‘A Symbol of a Memory’, Jean Sprackland: ‘Death Cookies’, Cynan Jones: ‘Stock’
Nightjar Press
£3.75 each (with UK P&P)

Having reviewed a previous clutch (or should I say ‘flock’?) of Nightjars with universal themes, these excellent four stories show a change in direction with a focus on the intense interior worlds of their protagonists, capturing a lurking internal horror waiting to trip us up.

‘Styx’ by Will Eaves

…the things we know and can point to about ourselves…strip them away, strip all of them away and still you’ll find a presence, that person that you feel you are behind the things.

Mr M—’s panache, humour, and most of all lurid and defiant imagination, carry you along as he details his own demise and bottling by a ‘posse of Keegans’, all alike in their dour sporty efficiency. A failed experiment in trying to capture his essence paradoxically results in a personality-defining set of impressions and philosophical thoughts about life and death. Well worth several readings.

‘A Symbol of a Memory’ by Jim Gibson

I never wanted to do this. To be a symbol of a memory.

In this compelling story, a central image repeats itself down the years with a horrible inevitability. The memory that haunts the narrator from childhood is the one he can’t understand. When he first watches a man setting himself alight through the frame of a window, as if looking at a picture, adults attempt to shield him. But it’s too late: what he’s seen has become a burning memory he can’t solve, and therefore a part of him. The second time it happens, he escapes the frame and rushes out to help. The memory only sears in deeper.

His final act is set in the excruciating present tense, with flashes back to things missing from the past. It’s only then we feel his acute disconnection from life. Driven by a compulsion to complete the sequence he’s now part of, he feels he’s touched perfection. But he’s also been made to swear, against his will, it’s the only truth he’s ever known, as if there were always alternatives he couldn’t access, as if purity might not, in the end, be the truth. The haunting ending is a statement of his final entrapment: the mystery remains unresolved.

‘Death Cookies’ by Jean Sprackland

How capable he looked, towering above her in a striped kitchen apron, frowning analytically at her mountainous belly. Surely a man could be forgiven almost anything if he could do this and get it right.

Pitch-perfect prose, with every vivid detail adding to the mounting tension, I found myself gripped and grimacing along with the characters. The subtexts of a relationship are woven into the unfolding story, forced to the surface as the characters face the horror of what they must inescapably attempt.

The title refers to snow that has thawed and refrozen, creating ‘weird chunks’ that are hazardous to skiers and cars. They are an apt metaphor for the curveballs life throws at us: we are forced to deal with what is in front of us, regardless of any plans we might have had otherwise.

‘Stock’ by Cynan Jones

No. You do this. It must be done. People need to see. That if things don’t stop everything will just be gone, will go. And we will not get it back.

Already alienated from his wife and child, a man descends further into a peculiarly male form of violence when he can’t adjust to the mounting change in his rural world. Visceral details add to the unnervingly mundane settings for the horror as he spirals downwards, seeing the world with eyes of collapse and decay. Haunted and traumatised by an earlier event, despite periodic doubts, he is now set on repeating it. His doomed and twisted attempts to rectify things through acts of tainted kindness only add to the rising brutality. Unable to resist his compulsions and salvage his empathy, what should appal him only drives him on to a last desperate act.