Brooding and Compelling, Two Gripping and Joyfully Dark Gothic Tales of Melancholic Inevitability

A mini-heatwave rests upon the garden with all the welcoming grace of a hefty stranger resting in your lap on the tube. Blinding light and raucous neighbours force me to scuttle into the dark to find a cool, lonely place. A dingy corner in which to brood over haunting tales of demons and unwanted knowledge.

I am reading The Automaton by David Wheldon and Paymon’s Trio by Colette de Curzon, two upcoming releases from Nightjar Press, an independent publisher specialising in limited edition single short-story chapbooks by individual authors.

Nightjar Press takes its name from the Devil-Bird of Sylvia Plath’s Goatsucker. The corpse fowl, as it’s often known, is a nocturnal creature with a ghostly reputation and this sets the tone for the eerie publications released annually in pairs by Nightjar.

The first of the two for 2017 is The Automaton from the award-winning novelist and poet, David Weldon.

With a sense of foreboding that sets in from the very first line, Wheldon expertly builds the atmosphere of this piece over several pages. We meet our narrator William Bradney, an intelligent boy whose parents run a dilapidated theatre on the brink of ruin, both physically and financially. Throughout the story there is a sense of lost potential. The fiercely intelligent Housekeeper, Mrs Lisle, who has taught herself the temperament to serve, the beautiful and kind Miss Persey, who walks with a limp due an illness, most likely polio, and then there is England itself, just nine years from the outbreak of World War I. 

It isn’t until almost the half-way point that the stage is set and we are able to meet the eponymous Automaton. Reminiscent of the Mechanical Turk, the automaton, or ‘Madame’ as she is referred to, is a chess playing machine touring the world earning money for her master from those willing to gamble on the outcome of her matches. But her prowess is her downfall and the more inevitable her victory, the less money her master will make.

But there is far more to the machine than mere novelty, and the reader is led to believe that perhaps she has been constructed a little too well. Unbeatable at chess, there are hints that, like Laplace’s Demon, her ability to predict her opponent’s next move has provided her with the ability to predict so much more.

Echoed by an earlier conversation our protagonist has with the housekeeper, Mrs Lisle, the reader is left to wonder if this gift of foresight or intelligence is, in fact, a terrible burden.  

Intriguing and complex, David Wheldon’s brooding tale is one that forces us to consider those circumstances in which wisdom can be a curse. 

a deliciously composed penny dreadful exploring humanity’s insatiable curiosity, even in the face of inevitably unfavourable consequencesThe second tale in the batch is Paymon’s Trio.

Hidden in a drawer for nearly seventy years, there is a beautifully melancholic mirroring to the tale of Colette De Curzon’s own manuscript of this short story and the music discovered, hidden in a grimoire, by her protagonist, Greville. Composing Paymon’s Trio at age twenty-two, De Curzon is now ninety and lives in a rambling Victorian house, but it is only this year that her unsettling piece is finally being shared with the wider public.

Opening with a classically reluctant narrator, with echoes of the Victorian Gothic drawing room tales of the fantastic, De Curzon lays out a deliciously malevolent mystery. Beginning with a stark warning of the ‘evil’ encountered within the forthcoming narrative, the reader is compelled to follow Greville’s recounting of the accidental purchase of a mysterious volume, and the subsequent discovery of an eighty-four-year-old piece of music, one raw November’s evening.

The friendly prose trips along with humour, and hints of Lord Peter Whimsey, as our eager hero sets about uncovering the mystery and attempting to play the “wonderful, but extraordinarily unpleasant” music. 

What follows is darkly inevitable to both the reader and the characters themselves, yet Greville is forced to investigate the music “as though a cunning little devil had got inside my fingers and compelled me to play against my will.”

Gripping and joyfully dark, Paymon’s Trio is a deliciously composed penny dreadful exploring humanity’s insatiable curiosity, even in the face of inevitably unfavourable consequences. 

Gothic mysteries and delectable horrors, these latest offerings from Nightjar Press are dark and well-told tales that will unsettle, unnerve, and delight.

The Automaton by David Wheldon and Paymon’s Trio by Colette de Curzon are both published by Nightjar Press in a limited edition run of two-hundred signed and numbered copies. Both are available soon.

More about the author

About the author

As well as contributing to Disclaimer, Holly has published several comic short stories with Black Coffey, and has been known to write and perform stand-up comedy at festivals and charity gigs. Her first play for the radio is in production with Frequency Theatre, and she is currently working on a full-length play for the stage.

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