Imagine a short story complete with its own front cover and back page blurb. Nightjar Press make this happen, publishing limited edition chapbooks each containing an individual story signed by the author.
When a young couple move into a new flat, the excitement and trepidation of property investment is soon overshadowed by an uninvited guest. This is the premise of TOWER BLOCK GHOST STORY by TSJ Harling.
‘When I glanced outside the window there was no one there.’
The reader is invited in to share the flat with Sade, her boyfriend and their resident ghost. A clanging commences at the same time each day, its source a mystery asking to be solved. Familiar rituals become tinged with dread as the spiritual and the mundane collide.
A foggy sense of unreality pervades as an exhausted Sade finds even the effort of descending the stairs to peer out of the window overwhelming. But when her attention is drawn beyond the daily clatter of city living, the discovery of a child’s diary prompts her tentative return to the world.
Tower Block Ghost Story is a refreshing take on the traditional haunted house theme, celebrating the resilience of the human spirit as Sade accepts a reminder from the dead that life is for living.
‘Then I saw the balloon, floating away across the river to the sky.’
A haunting of a different kind is depicted in THE KEEPER by David Rudkin. The dazed protagonist wanders spiralling corridors in a state of dreamlike unreality, his mind a blank canvass. The reader is equally disorientated, held captive in the suffocating isolation.
‘With night and the storm come the rage and weeping.’
Slowly, a picture forms, as imprints of memories emerge on the page. We’re in a former lighthouse, its history almost erased. Even the sea view is obscured by painted-over windows. Yet its old sense of purpose clings to the present, like the ceiling wheel still visible above the grand chandelier.
This is a tale of fragility and decay. The keeper exists on the edge of reality, cast adrift in a fog of regret and struggling to avoid becoming lost at sea. But there is hope beyond the mournful sense of time moving on. Progress may attempt to gloss over the past but memories linger.
‘I have been a darkness.’
On the night before Halloween, a woman catches a taxi home as fireworks light up the night sky. Thus opens COCKY WATCHMAN by Ailsa Cox. It’s Mischief Night when ancient traditions are brought back to life, harmless pranks like throwing flour and eggs replaced with hurling bricks at trains.
‘I’d see him in the window, striking a match, a hideous grin on his face.’
The woman is surrounded by the ghosts of previous generations in her gentrified former working class home that was built to last. One of them was a Cocky Watchman, whose job it was to guard the parks. Now developers have taken over the land, replacing green spaces with empty flats. What remains is left to the elements, but some traditions won’t rest easy.
‘You do what you have to do. You don’t give it a second thought.’
‘You retreat into the far corner of the confined space, extending the distance between you and your assailant.’
Through the elevator door, we catch a glimpse of a gloved hand on the handrail. A bag is dropped, its contents spilling on the floor ‘like erstwhile props on a movie set.’ A silver cigarette case, a pair of scissors and a single silk stocking. Clutching at these clues to our identity, we become a private detective in our damp trench coat, uncovering secrets that perhaps ought to remain buried.
‘A fear-fuelled adrenaline rush robs you of regular breath.’
These four tiny tales are as thought-provoking as they are unsettling; pint-sized melancholy masterpieces whose short, sharp shocks promise to shake up our reading habits as the dark winter months close in.