Schemers is the latest genre-crossing anthology of new short fiction from Stone Skin Press. From the classic myths to the pages of the Bible, from Shakespeare’s stage to the yellowed pulps of yesteryear, literature runs red with tales of plotting and betrayal.
Jesse Bullington whisks us back to the intersection point where classical themes begin to build the foundations of modern genre with “The Devil’s Tontine,” an adroitly conjured gothic pastiche. It scrapes away our post hoc assumptions about that tradition to reveal the surprisingly light touch that characterized its initial wave.
In the autumn of 1818, Helena di Bruno returned, for the first time since childhood, to the sprawling lawns, smiling gardens, and Gothic excesses of Strawberry Hill, in Twickenham. The oaks lining the road from London were as enflamed with color as the eighteen year old woman’s brilliant tresses, and, it must be said, her typically pearlescent cheeks, for her female companion in the coach had just issued a pronouncement of such base humor that Helena was genuinely shaken. Her mother had warned her that the Lady Anne Seymour had, in her dotage, become quite free with her tongue, but this degree of coarseness could hardly be presaged. Helena, having been raised in Sicily following an unexpected Continental inheritance, was, if not accustomed to such bawdy talk, sufficiently inured to it that it was much more the character of the one who voiced it than the statement itself which struck her. The outrageously ribald commentary concerned Strawberry Hill’s much-celebrated shell bench overlooking the Thames, and in particular what the seat reminded Lady Anne of. The supposed similarity was not to any bivalve.
As a girl, when Helena spent the odd summer at Strawberry Hill under the guardianship of her mother’s friend Lady Anne, she had always thought of her host as reserved; almost overly-so, if such is possible for a woman. Yet now the graying sculptor, who had been widowed for nearly twice the sum of Helena’s years, actively vibrated with unfettered exuberance, going so far as to plant herself beside Helena on her side of the coach and take the younger woman’s smooth hands in her own strong, work-worn fingers as she enthused over the coming weekend, her most recent project, and her delight at once more having the daughter of such a dear, dear friend back in her company.
“Or I suppose, in my clutches, as Horace would have had it,” said Lady Anne, a twinkle in her eye. “It is Strawberry Hill after all, my young heroine.”
For the rest, get Schemers from Stone Skin Press.
Jesse Bullington is the critically acclaimed author of the novels The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, The Enterprise of Death, and most recently, The Folly of the World. His short fiction and articles have appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and websites, and he is editing the forthcoming anthology Letters to Lovecraft. He can be found physically in Colorado, and more ephemerally at www.jessebullington.com.