K evin Neal leaves his home by the Black mountains to go to a monastary by the Irish sea. He's searching for a friend. Anty Kelly is her name. Both of the children were orphaned during the Irish rebellion. Unfortunatly, a monsterous terrible thing, which has a nasty disposition and a penchant for slicing people into parts, is not far behind.
Read An ExtractU naccompanied, Thomas stepped up onto the stones and gave the top a firm stamp. The short dry-stone boundary wall didn’t shake. “…laid before the damned landlords, I’ll bet” he added with an eager rasp. He stood tall to take the view ahead in.
Aside from this spot, brambles, vines and short bushes over-laid or replaced stones. The rest of the wall was wild-looking like the rest of the property lines. The many boundaries ahead blocking his path to the mountain road were light browns with light and dark greens with intermittent splodges of rust. The fields were tinted with yellow browns, and emerald, lime and dark greens. Amongst such personality and wicked good looks, he noticed the occasional run of vermin. Up on the mountain road, some of the landlord’s riders disappeared behind a cover of trees.
Above the road the dark green forest covered the slopes below the towering cliff face of the mountain. An orange hue lit across the summit.
Scratching his nose, he said, “Yes, but maybe Denny was right.”
The young storyteller wiped his brow, checked behind and then hopped off.
When he got close to the mountain road, a red-orange sunset shone from breaks in the mountain’s smooth line. An angled shadow stretched from the sore across the crag facing him into the thick woods he was trudging towards. He pushed his long, sweaty brown curls back.
“There’s no understanding him,” he ranted again.
A slip on a wet horse’s turd almost caused him to fall. Skipping a step to maintain his balance, was followed with a “Well, how do you like that?”
“Gahd,” he said after noticing the tear in his shoe had ripped some more. “Just until I get home, and that’ll be fine.” He bent down and retied the loose laces. “It’ll be a terror if it doesn’t last, won’t it? Nothing more I can do about that, is there?” He gave the ground his spit.
He checked around before getting up.
“The first Irish sorrow is about the Children of Tuirenn. The children do impossible things…. Loves his stories, doesn’t he? Quoting that one will set him right, won’t it?”
He proudly clenched the lapels of his well-worn tweed coat. When he fingered the coat’s top button, he found it dangling loosely. Afraid it would come off he let it go, pulled on his cap brim, and marched on to the Stua Laighean mountain road. When he got there he checked to his left where the landlord’s men had gone and then to the turn where he was headed. He didn’t see a soul. When he checked the way he came, he recalled the conversation with his brother before leaving.
“So why are you going?” Denny asked.
“There’s got to be a better way. Just because he’s got a thick head doesn’t mean I should give up, does it?”
‘Do you listen to what you say half the time?’ Denny asked.
“He’d go on for so many times,” Thomas said. “…how I hadn’t got the other two right. Telling the old stories I mean.
“‘It’s like this and that,’ he’d say. But he was right–with those stories we got to fix their pots, didn’t we? Good money until the Sheriff’s men stole from us, wasn’t it? I owe him. We owe him. Even when he’s a touch off.”
“You was the one that was always going on that you wished him dead, that he’d leave forever.”
“Can you blame me? There was a real flare-up. He got really out of control, and it looked like he was going to do us serious harm.
“You see, the world was on fire… Captain Kelly trying to save us all and gahd this one hides away. …and all them listening—they’re dead. He didn’t like that a bit. …And when I asked, ‘and what about the orphans?’ – He ordered me not to come back.
“…and he who he is; my gahd—no arguing that. I tore out of there faster than if I sat on a hive of bees.”
“Go on with yeah then. Just make up your mind.”
Thomas ripped a leaf from a bush and flicked it away with his middle finger.
“No Denny, I guess I don’t listen.”
Thomas walked sombrely in the grey gloom until he reached a darker patch in the road. Branches from thick rows of trees on both sides interlocked over the road.
“Maybe we can start again. It’s all about trust, isn’t it? Time enough, isn’t it?”
Thomas with closed fists walked on. Eerie web-like shadows felt like they were closing in.
“…and he told me not to come back. He heard a light sound of branches stretching and grabbing. Thomas grabbed his lapels and focused back on the road.
“…and if he asks, why am I here? Well, I’ve had my chores, I’ll tell him. …and as my brother tells me, I sometimes forget.
“And if he doesn’t like that, I’ll say I’m here because it’s Denny’s fault. ‘Two farts in the wind,’ he calls us.”
Thomas followed the turnoff from the main road. It was bound by a hedged line of trees on the left side and thick bushes behind. There were still open pastures behind a line of trees on the right. He felt he was being followed but didn’t see anything behind him. Scratching the back of his neck didn’t help.
He followed a fork to the left that would lead him deep into the forest.
“If I say I’m sorry, is that going to be enough?” Thomas muttered. A snap came from the forest. Nothing moved on his left. Frozen, he clenched his fists again.
Got to get this over with, before the light goes. He picked up his pace to a light trot. He stumbled over a thick branch hidden in the shadows. When he tried to get up, he noticed that his shoe was in a bad state. The rip stretched from the side to the front showing a bare toe. “That’s the last thing I need right now.” He heaved the branch into the brush and walked on.
He arrived at an open spot where he usually met Mr. Keane. Thomas called out his name a few times, but no-one called back, which was odd because Mr. Keane had unusually good hearing.
Although the light was weak, a swathe of changing shadows encircled him. The figures on the evergreens shifted like tall giants hovering over prey. Flailing motions scared him back to the path he had come from. The trees towered around him. In the break between two bushes directly in front, he faced the darkest of the dark.
He refused to give up his position but kept scratching an upper arm incessantly. Ten minutes of relative quiet passed. Thomas debated whether to go back or start walking uphill. He waited some more and then called again.
If he wanted to talk to me, it wouldn’t be difficult to find me, would it? Nothing gets by him.
Scuttering sounds came from somewhere ahead but deep inside the forest.
“Wolves,” said Thomas. Giant wolves. ‘No way,’ says Da. Killed off a long time ago. But all those terrible piercing eyes and all that ripping apart business.
Whatever was in the forest stopped. There was only the light sound of wind shaking the tops of trees.
“Just a field mouse. That’s what it was. Heaven’s name–field mice is what it is. Well maybe a small fox.
“Mister Keane must be here somewhere. He’s just busy.” He scratched the stubble on his cheek. His stomach growled.
“With all this trouble and this late hour it would be appreciated if he could give us something to eat. Well, either that or I’m going home.” He slapped his leg and rubbed his hands together, and took another deep breath.
With another “Lord forgive me,” he marched right on through the bushes and into the opening in the forest.
Something scraped at the tear on his boot. “Not again,” he said and froze. It was quiet, but hairs rose on the back of his neck. He couldn’t see anything, but he was convinced something was in there and that it was bigger than a mouse.
“My,” he muttered, and slowly, hobbled back out.
In the clearing, he heard only the wind. “In the name of the Almighty, what am I going to do?”
Something rushed deep in the forest. It slowed, and then it seemed to meander as it rushed downhill. It sounded heavy, swift and powerful.
“Heavens,” he moaned. “What’s happened to Mr. Keane? This isn’t right.”
Thomas continued moving backwards on the path that led to the roadway out. He stopped to listen.
Whatever was in the forest stopped.
He removed his cap and clenched it in his fist. Fear that started in the pit of his stomach was rising. Thomas didn’t care about trying to figure out what it was; he had heard enough. He pivoted on his foot and raised the other to turn. Three toes protruded from the end of the torn boot.
Thomas knew, that if it wanted him, it would get him. Seeing the open road he lunged forward for a powerful run. Dim twilight lit the way. The young man leapt over rocks and shadows desperate not to slip on fresh horseshit. Ignoring the racing steps behind, he ran faster, faster than he thought possible. Thomas didn’t care that he was about to lose the sole of his boot. Breathing so hard he didn’t hear it come alongside. Before responding to the musky breath at the back of his neck, he overheard the most frightening thing he had ever heard in the whole of his life—his own voice screaming as his body was ripped apart.
The dark of the dark floats on the infinite. An existence oozes into ether from a determining virtual still point warding off forgetfulness. A drowning numbness succumbing with an inevitability of fading dreams. Yet a bubble nurtured within. The phrase, “Isn’t there something you’re forgetting?” took form.
Alone and almost without projection or sense, an existence referred to as Kevin Neal accepted the question.
“Only bad memories,” came an answer.
From blackness came a glimmer of story. Within that light smouldered.
Kevin realized that at the end of times he was older because there was a life before. Slipping into darkness, he waited in disbelief for the next memory.
The word “find” was within.
“What?” was his answer.
“Remember when you were young?”
“Remember?” He was hesitant to define that word. It meant direction but where he was–there wasn’t.
“Remember,” he repeated.
“I remember grabbing the stick.” In his mind, he closed his hand into a fist.
“Find,” repeated the voice.
The beast, added Kevin, as his body kept sinking in the water’s deathly embrace.
The twenty-one-year-old, most would agree, is in a tight spot.
From within a mist-like smouldering flicker, there’s a vision of the first of his many troubles. The Neal boy was seven, which was five years before Thomas was killed.
To reach him you follow the mountain road for a mile after Kiltealy village to his neighbours the Kellys. Their small cottage is turned away from the road. It’s rolling fields stretch away from the trees at the base of County Wexford’s tallest mountain to an openness that extends towards a misty horizon.
On the path to the cottage, a pair of women and two teen-aged girls rush back and forth in half circles around a motionless little boy, like a flock of birds at the end of the season. The women are sorting out who was going to take flight first. The motionless one next to the dropped coat, of course, is Kevin Neal.
Kevin’s sister, as she paced towards the Kelly’s cottage yelled, “I am going.” She wiped sweat from her brow with her sleeve. “Heaven help us. No, you’re not, Kathleen,” replied Mrs. Neal. “I’ve got to bring Seamus home. I don’t have time…”
Kathleen picked up her ankle length dark brown dress revealing matching socks and brogues. Without looking back, she ran to the road. “But Mam,” said little Kevin as his mother passed him by.
On the other side of Kevin, Mary Kelly said, “Don’t you dare.”
“I’ve got to go,” said Mrs. Margaret Kelly as she paced nervously to and from the cottage. “and you’re not to see that Stephens boy, do hear me? No, you’re not …and you’ll watch over Anty. Do you hear?”
“Do you hear?” Mrs. Kelly repeated again. “That’s the last of it. Don’t start on me. Your sister’s inside—by herself.”
Mrs. Kelly stopped and gave Mary a terrible mad glare.
“I hope they run away from you,” Mary said as she rushed towards the cottage.
“That’s awful. You don’t really...” Her mother let go of her skirt to swat locks from her face. “Anyway, we’ll talk about this when I get home. I’ve got to go.” She turned and saw Mrs. Neal running after her daughter who already was well ahead of them on the mountain road. She noticed that Kevin was staring at her. “Mr. Murtagh will be fine,” Mrs. Kelly said. She pulled her kerchief up over her hair, and wiped her hands on her apron. “Kevin, Anty’s inside. Sorry, but it’s really important. I have to go.” She picked up her skirt and ran after the other two.
As Kevin stared at Mrs. Kelly, his mother, and his sister leaving the property, there was the sound behind him of Mary Kelly slamming the cottage door. The noise of minutes ago was replaced with an unnerving quiet.
The boy wore a linen long-sleeved shirt, coarse woollen knee-breeches, and bare feet. His hair was cut short like his father’s. He dragged his toes across in front to make a mark in the dirt.
Mary Kelly came rushing back out of the cottage and told him, “Kevin, you can’t stay there. You’ve got to go inside.” Unmoving, he stared at the line in the dirt.
“Anty’s inside. I’ve got to go. She’ll stay with you until I get back,” she told him.
“Kevin Neal, look at me.”
When Kevin raised his eyes, young Mary repeated,” I want you to go in with her ‘til I’m back, do you hear me?”
Kevin nodded. He watched her climb over the short boundary wall and hurry away.
“...should go in,” he said as he looked back at the cottage. Putting his finger to his lip, he considered trying to get Anty to give him some food from the kitchen. Her name was common in the Wexford mountains. It was short for Anastasia.
“Bossy,” he said.
He wiped his snotty nose.
A strong, chilling wind made Kevin pick up his coat. As he tried to put it on, he noticed that sheep and lambs were trying to escape through the open gate.
“No, no, you bad sheep,” he yelled.
As he tried to pull on the other sleeve, he ran to stop them from getting out. He reflexively hopped back after his bare foot almost stepped on a soggy turd. While stopped, he pulled his sleeve up again. In front of him, another sheep sauntered out through the gate. The young lad hurried over, shooed the others away, and started to close the gate. He saw animals loose on the other side, so he stopped and slipped through instead. Kevin picked up a stick that was leaning against the fence. His brother Seamus had shown him how to use it to loop the rope over the post. He reached to touch the rope but a lamb sneaked out by running around his feet. “Hey,” Kevin warned.
Facing the escapees on the other side of the road, he said, “Bad sheep. You have to come home. I count o n e, two, three, f o u r, five...”
He pointed to the last one but didn’t know the number. “I see you,” he warned. He shook a finger but looked wistfully up, at a trail that led up to Cloroge More hill.
“Kevin, you can’t do that. Get back here.”
He turned and saw nine-year-old Anty running towards him. She’s a girl. She’s going to squeal, he thought. I’ll get in trouble. He looked back at the path that led up the hill.
Anty opened the gate and closed it behind her. Her hair was tied back in a bun like her mother. She wore a one-piece knee-length woollen dress, long stockings, and shoes.
“Kevin Neal! You’re not supposed to be here. What are you doing?” she asked.
“Sheep got out.”
“But you’re supposed to be on the other side,” she said as she put her hands on her hips. She took a deep breath and looked at the loose sheep and said, “Never mind. Let’s get them in.”
When Anty brought the last lamb towards him, he opened the gate again and told her, “You always say you want to climb the mountain…” She looked up and then back at the open gate.
“They did leave it open, didn’t they? We do have an excuse,” she said.
“…an adventure,” he said. He remembered that Seamus repeated that to his older brother Aiden. Besides, Anty had told him that less than a week ago.
Anty stared at the trail and said, “Maybe we could go a little way.”
“Will we see my dad?” asked Kevin.
“Coming?” she replied, as she passed him.
Kevin took the stick leaning against the fence, ran after and passed her.
“Hey,” she yelled. She raced past him towards the stream. When Anty got there, she ran across the stones and jumped to the other side. Kevin hopped from one stepping stone, one clochán to another. Before hopping to the fourth one, he crouched and smashed the surface of the water a couple of times with his stick.
“Are you coming?” Anty yelled.
Kevin tried to get up but wavered when he was almost up. He dropped his stick and screamed, “Yeaaagh!” He stepped back but missed the stone and landed in the stream. The water reached his knee. He was about to fall sideways but spun and landed on the other foot which got wet just above the ankle. He managed to twirl and flopped onto the beach.
“Wow, that’s cold,” he hollered.
“Well look at you.” She put her hands on her hips. “…and you threw away your stick. What if we get attacked by monsters? Well, I’m going. Catch up, if you can.”
As his stick floated away downstream, he watched Anty disappear into a line of trees. He got up, and as he brushed the dirt off, he sensed a presence, on the other side of the creek, beyond the trees. He didn’t see anything. Other than the steady gurgling from the stream, it was quiet. He stared back at where Anty had gone. It’s there because she’s not here, he thought.
Tree branches on the other side ruffled. For an instant, Kevin froze. They started shaking again. Without further hesitation, he raced to the place where Anty disappeared.