Posted in writing

Remember Stephen King’s IT? How about Stephen King’s ‘TIS?

Hey! Here are the first three chapters of my my new novel. It’s Irish (again) it’s kids (again!) and it’s set in the past (agaaaaaain!). I’m very aware that The Boys of Summer gets an enormous amount of “It’s a bit like Stand By Me/The Body” comments, and I’m cool with that. I literally wrote it because I thought The Body (later filmed as Stand By Me) would have been better if it was written in the voice of the main character as a kid, rather than an adult looking back. So, in that way, Bainsíde is my version of Stephen King’s IT. Which I’m told is trending right about now (with the Funk Soul Brother). Anyway, here is a much bigger sample than Amazon will give you. I hope you love it.

A banshee (/ˈbænʃiː/ BAN-shee; Modern Irish bean sí, baintsí, from Old Irish: ben síde, baintsíde, pronounced [bʲen ˈʃiːðʲe, banˈtiːðe], woman of the fairy mound or fairy woman) is a female spirit in Irish mythology who heralds the death of a family member, usually by wailing, shrieking, or keening. Her name is connected to the mythologically important tumuli or mounds that dot the Irish countryside, which are known as síde (singular síd) in Old Irish.

One

“How d’you know about this place anyway?” said Lucy. She was a small girl, for eleven going on twelve, with wavy red hair that used to make her mother angry to brush after her bath, even though Lucy had got it from her. Her father was going bald now, but he had lovely straight brown hair when he was younger; she’d seen the photos of their wedding in one of the albums from under the stairs.

“I read about it,” said Barry. He was new in their group; his family had moved down from Dublin, just before school started. He was just gone twelve, same as Jason and Paul – all three had their birthdays in the summer. He went to their school, St. Munchin’s. Lucy went to St. Mary’s; there were no boys allowed there.

“Read about it where?” said Jason. He knew it wasn’t in their class, because he would have remembered. He’d never heard of anyone reading if it wasn’t for school. Not anyone he’d be friends with, anyway. He didn’t like swots.

“In a book, from the library. One about Irish ghosts,” Barry said; straight away wishing he hadn’t. He liked Jason, but he was a bit of a dunce in school, and dunces always gave you a slagging for being good at stuff.

“Library? What are you, gay?” said Paul, still chewing on the strawberry Hubba Bubba he’d bought hours ago. It was tasteless by now, but he liked chewing gum.

“Shut up, Paul,” said Elaine. She liked Barry, not in a fancying him way, but just because he was nice. Nicer than Paul and Jason, anyway, she thought. But that wouldn’t have been hard. They could be awful fools sometimes. She was the oldest of them all, a month away from thirteen. She could have passed for fifteen, in high heels and a dress, and with her make-up done right. She was the only one of them in Secondary School, although it was her first year there.

“I’m only messing, you spa.” He liked Elaine, most of the time – especially how she looked – but she was always giving out to him, like an old nag. He didn’t really know what gay meant, anyway, although he had some ideas, most of them wrong. It was just something you called someone as a slag. Like a steamer, or a gowl, or a handicap. Or a spa.

“Yeah, well stop,” she said. She didn’t think there was anything wrong with reading books. Her dad had taught her how to when she was very small, before she even went to school. It made her a good bit ahead of the other kids in class, but she was behind most of them in Maths. She hated Maths. She had a calculator, anyway. She’d got it with Madden’s Milk tokens, but she hadn’t told her mother about it, or her teacher.

“How far away is it, anyway?” Paul said. The schoolbag on his back was digging into his shoulder. He could have made it easier by using both straps, but only girls used both straps, and he didn’t want the lads to laugh at him for being a pussy. It would only be Jason laughing, really. But it still wouldn’t be worth it.

“Not that far,” Barry said, looking at the map he’d drawn in biro on some tracing paper, from a book about Limerick, in the library. He had to tear the paper from the roll in the kitchen when his mother wasn’t around, because he didn’t want her asking him what he was up to. She probably wouldn’t have, but he didn’t like lying to her face, so it was easier to just grab it when she was gone into town to get the shopping.

“How long?” Jason said. It was cold out, as well as dark. He had a warm jacket on, like all of them did, but his hands and face were getting chilly, and he could see his own breath, like it was fog.

“Not long,” Barry said, but he didn’t really know. He’d never been to the place before, and he couldn’t tell just by looking at his map.

“What if it rains?” Lucy had brought a blanket in her bag, and a cushion to use as a pillow, but the coat she had on didn’t have a hood. It had been a dry day, especially for late October, but you could never tell what the weather was going to be like in Limerick. Sometimes it poured down in the middle of July. Sometimes it was scorching in November.

“Yeah, is there a roof, like?” Jason said.

“Course there is,” said Elaine, rolling her eyes. “It’s a house.”

“Yeah, but it’s an old house, the roof mighta rotted off. Barry?” Paul said. He was thinking about having one of the cigarettes he’d stolen earlier from his dad’s box in the sitting room. None of the rest of them smoked. Neither did he, but he did, sometimes. He was going to smoke all the time when he got older and he could afford it, because his brother Jack did, and his brother was cool. Jack got all the girls, and you definitely had to smoke if you wanted to get girls.

“Course it has a roof, for God’s sake,” said Barry, but he had no idea if it did or not. He’d only seen a photo in a book, and that was taken in the olden days, when people still lived there.

“Grand, so,” Lucy said, wondering if it would be warm there. If it wasn’t, they could probably make a fire. There would be a fireplace there, even if there wasn’t a roof. Maybe a few fireplaces, if it was a mansion, like Barry had told them all it was.

*****

They walked up through Kileely on their way out of Thomondgate, and it was still early enough, because the smaller kids were going around doing Anything for Halloween? in both the estates. They were all too old to go around collecting anymore, and even though they all missed the free sweets and lollies and bars, none of them would admit that in front of the other ones, or they’d get an awful slagging.

Elaine loved Hallowe’en. She was sad she didn’t have any younger brothers or sisters, because she was too old now for her mam to set up all the games of bobbing for apples, or cutting the flour with the grape on top, or the one where the apple was swinging on a string in the doorway, and it always nearly knocked out your front teeth. She loved the colours of it all – the oranges, reds, greens, and blacks. The drawings of skeletons and pumpkins and witches and ghosts. It made her feel little again; the same way she felt when Christmas came near, and there were lit-up trees in all the windows on the way home from school. She loved the way the air smelled and tasted; she didn’t know why. Her dad told her it was the changing of the season that made it that way, all crisp and clean. The nights were getting colder too, so the smoke from everyone’s chimneys was mixed in there, too.

As they went up through the avenues, some kids going between the houses stopped them to try and beg for something.

“Anything for Halloween?” a tiny boy with a Frankenstein’s Monster mask on said, to Jason. The rest of his costume was just a black bin bag with holes for the arms. Nearly everyone did that in Limerick. It wasn’t like America, in the movies, where the children would have a full suit on of Batman or a skeleton, and no one in Ireland said, “Trick or treat?”. You still might get egged by someone, but that was usually older kids doing that. Kids their own age, and other kids who were getting too old to still be called kids. Like Paul’s brother Jack.

“I don’t, no,” Jason said to him, laughing. There were five of them together. The Frankenstein one, a Dracula, a little witch with a green face, a Stormtrooper, and a Mummy.

“Ah go on, pleeeeeese?” said the witch. She didn’t have a proper hat, just one that was part of the mask. The plastic type with the elastic band around the back that was always too tight, and cut into your ears, and usually broke before the end of the night. She had an old mop, with the handle cut down to about half the normal size, instead of a broomstick.

“No, go ‘way, I’ve nothing. Shoo!” said Jason, trying to push past them. Everyone else had stopped behind him, waiting to get through, but the small ones were blocking the whole path.

“Pleeeeeeese”, all of them said, together this time.

“Okay, okay. Fine!” said Jason, reaching into his pocket. He was probably going to give them a few coppers, Elaine thought. Sometimes when you went to a house where they had no sweets, they’d feel sorry for you and give you a few 2p or 5p coins. 10p ones if you were lucky. It was usually old men who did that. Old women would always have a bowl of sweets in the house, because they were someone’s Nana, and a Nana always had sweets, even if it wasn’t Halloween.

“Aw, sound!” said Dracula, nearly hopping on the spot with the anticipation. Jason took his hand out, balled in a fist.

“Here ye go, shur,” he said, but there was no money. He just did the thing where he pretended he was reeling a fishing rod, until his middle finger came up, to tell them to piss off. The rest of them burst out laughing, except for Elaine.

“Don’t be lousy, you,” she said, pushing him in the back, but not enough to move him off his feet.

“Pffffft, you give ‘em something then, if you’re so worried,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. The kids probably all looked devastated, but no one could tell, because of the masks.

“I don’t have anything. Really sorry, lads, like,” said Elaine, leaning down to look into the green witch’s face, or what she could see of it through the mask. She was probably only five or six, from the height of her; Elaine didn’t want to make her cry. She wished she’d brought some change, but she only had a one-pound note.

“Your mudder’s a slut and your fahder’s a whoremaster,” said the tiny witch, in her tiny voice, and everyone laughed again, except for Elaine.

“Come on, this way up here, I’ve to pop into The Friendly Store and get a bottle of Coke,” said Barry, after the little brats had gone away. It was a bit of a detour from the way they had planned, but no one complained, because everyone liked Coke.

*****

They didn’t have to go through Ballynanty, and they were all glad about that. Balla was much rougher than Thomondgate, although not as rough as Moyross. Paul was from Balla, his family had moved to Sexton Street when he was a baby, then Thomondgate, so he didn’t remember it. Jason was from Glenagross, which was part of Moyross, but he didn’t remember much about it either; he was four when they came to live in Canon Breen, which was where Elaine had lived all her life. Canon Breen Park was across the road from the New Houses, which was where Paul, Lucy, and Barry all lived. The address was “Crossroads, Thomondgate”, but it was only built in 1985, so everyone still called them the New Houses.

They passed Thomond Park, where the Munster rugby matches were, and the big field in front of it, where all the boys from Balla played soccer. Just messing around soccer, not in gear and boots. The Ballynanty Rovers team had their own soccer pitch, back behind the houses, in Kelly’s Field. Jack had played for them for a bit, before he got more interested in smoking and drinking and girls, and gave it up, because he didn’t want to go to training all the time. They went down past the church and the clinic, and Freda’s. The smell of burger grease and vinegar hit them as they went past, making everyone hungry. Elaine thought about the money in her pocket, and how nice a bag of chips would be, but she knew the rest of them would end up robbing half of them, so she kept on walking. Her stomach did a little rumble, as if it was cross at her for it.

They carried on past Watch House Cross, down toward the Long Pavement. The City Dump was out that way, somewhere, and the Metal Bridge. They’d all been to those places, on summer days, when there was nothing to do at home, so you’d go for big walks, and get so sunburnt that your mother would kill you when you got home. All of them except Barry, who had only lived in Limerick a couple of months, but he was the one with the map, and they were following him. When they got to the train tracks and the level crossing, he stopped dead.

“Where’s the torch?” He was squinting at the map, because the orange street light was making his ballpoint pen scribbles hard to see on the greaseproof paper. Paul handed him a red plastic flashlight, and in a second the whole map was lit up bright yellow.

“Okay, sound. Right, this way.” He pointed along the tracks.

“Ah, here! Are you mad, are you?” said Elaine.

“What’s wrong?” Barry put his hand out because he thought he’d felt rain on his head, but there wasn’t any. It must have been a drip that fell off one of the trees hanging over them.

“We can’t walk along the train tracks, like,” she said, pouting and folding her arms.

“Why not?” Barry said. He turned off the flashlight, and everything seemed to get dramatically darker in an instant. He blinked, and bits of purple floated in front of his eyes. He realised then that the orange streetlamp above them had gone out, while he had been reading the map.

“Because we’ll get knocked down by a train!” She pushed her fringe out of her eyes and tried to make out his face in the poor light. It hadn’t been so dark a few minutes ago, she was sure of it.

“No we won’t. Shur, we’ve walked along that track loads of times before. You were there, like,” Jason said. Paul nodded, beside him.

“Yeah, in the daytime…” Lucy said. Paul nodded that time too, because he agreed with both of them. The light above his head came on, and it was only then that he noticed that it had been off at all.

“We’ll be fine. Look, even if trains do go along this track still-”

“They do!” Elaine said. The rest of the original gang nodded or made noises of agreement. They’d all seen one, at least once, usually going over the Metal Bridge. And this   was the one that went there.

“Okay. Okay, even if- I mean, even though, trains do come along this track, it’s actually safer in the night time, than in the day time,” said Barry, looking around at them all. No one nodded this time.

“How in God’s name d’you make that out?” Lucy said. They all looked at him for the answer. The streetlight made a fizzling sound, flickered for a bit, then went back to normal. All of them looked up at it for a second, but none of them said anything about it. Faulty streetlights weren’t that unusual, and they were almost out the country, where they would be even more common.

“Two reasons. One, it’ll have the lights on the front, so we’ll see it in the dark from miiiiiiles away, yeah? Am I right? And two, it’s dead quiet out here at night. And the farther we go along that way, the quieter it’ll get. Away from all the cars and the noise, yeah? We’ll probably hear it even before we see it.” He smiled, knowing none of them could argue with that. One by one they shrugged their shoulders, or muttered okays, and walked across the road to the other barrier.

“Fine. But I dunno how I’m getting over that thing in this skirt, mind,” said Elaine.

“I’ll give you a legger,” Paul said, clasping his hands together so she could put a foot on them and get a boost up and over.

“Okay, sound. And, Paul?”

“Yeah?”

“If your hand accidentally slips and goes anywhere near my fanny, it’ll be the last accident you ever have, kay?” She was blonde and she was naturally very pretty, but she was tall and tough, too. All the boys were at least a bit scared of her. Paul’s face felt hot and he knew he’d gone red as a tomato.

“I was… I was only trying to help, like,” he said, in a voice that was more sad than cross.

“Awww, the poor babba. I know you were, I was only messing, shur. Poor leanbh altogether!” She kissed him on the crown of his head, then put her trainer into his palms and was over on the first try. Lucy got a legger too, from Jason. When they were all over safely, Paul started to sprint ahead of them along the side of the track.

“Last one to the haunted house is a gowlawalla!” he shouted back, and they all gave chase, even Barry, who normally hated running, but he wasn’t going to be left behind. They weren’t quite out of earshot when the light back at the crossing exploded in a shower of sparks and orange glass, but their own shouts and laughs had drowned out the sound, anyway. A hundred yards back down the road, someone else had heard the bang and seen the flash. And, more importantly to them, had seen which way they went.

Two

“Jesus, I thought you said it weren’t much longer, Bar,” Paul said, a while later, when they were farther along the tracks, but with no sign of the house yet.

“Yeah, I know.” Barry had put the map away for the time being, as they could only go straight along here, with no chance of accidentally making a wrong turn. He was wondering himself when they would get there, but he knew they were headed the right way, so he wasn’t worried.

“And?”

“And we’ll be there soon,” he said, sounding slightly annoyed.

“When is soon, like?” Paul was getting cold, and the strap of the bag was still hurting, even though he’d switched shoulders a while back.

“Shush, will you? We’ll get there when we get there. Hold on, look at this,” said Jason, stopping for a second.

“Look at what?” Paul said, glancing around, but seeing nothing except tracks, grass, hedges and trees.

“Up there.” Jason pointed at the sky above him, and the other two boys looked in the direction of his finger.

“Janey Mack…” said Paul. Barry saw it too and let out a little gasp. Above them, the sky was cloudless, and filled with thousands of stars that seemed to be far bigger and brighter than on any normal night.

“Mad, isn’t it?” Jason said.

“Yeah, it’s cos we’re out the country,” Barry said, as if that was explanation enough.

“What’s that mean, like?” said Paul.

“Well, when you’re in the city, there’s all those streetlights and stuff, and that makes the stars, well, makes them not look so bright. It’s like… I dunno, it just happens. But, out the country, there’s hardly any lights, so you can see them better.”

“Jaysus,” said Jason, still looking up. The girls were behind them a bit, chatting away about something.

“Yeah, when I was living in Dublin like, you’d hardly see any stars, cos there’s way too many lights. But when I used to go to Kildare, to my Nana’s, they’d be massive.”

“As big as these ones?”

“Bigger, even.”

“Ah, shur everything’s bigger in Dublin, isn’t it? Bigger and better, sham,” Jason said, messing. They didn’t know Barry that long, but they were always making fun of him being from Dublin, because that was what you did.

“Kildare isn’t in Dublin,” said Barry, making a face at him. It was dark, but they had been in it long enough to get used to it, so they could still see each other well enough.

“Ah, it’s all the same,” said Jason, even though he wouldn’t have been able to find Kildare on a map, if you’d asked him to. Or Dublin, probably. He hated Geography.

“If you say so. Anyway, come on. The stars will still be there when we get to the house,” said Barry. It was the sort of thing his dad might have said. Everyone said they were very alike. His brother Tony took after their mother more, especially in looks.

*****

“Have you heard Open Your Heart?” said Elaine, to Lucy. They were straggling behind the boys, but not so much that they lost sight of them.

“I think so,” Lucy said. She didn’t think she had, but she didn’t want to look stupid in front of Elaine, because Elaine was the older one; the cooler one.

“Yeah, it’s not out yet, on single. It says in Smash Hits that it’s gonna be the next one though, out next month, I think. Before Christmas, definitely. It’s rapid altogether, like. All the whole record is. The tape, I mean.” She bought cassettes these days instead of LPs, because she had a tape player in her room, and a Walkman as well. It wasn’t a real Sony Walkman, just a Memorex one, but it was bright yellow with a pink stripe, and the earphones had sponges the same pink colour. She loved the way it looked; she didn’t care who made it.

“You’ve the new album, do you?” Lucy said. She never bought albums. Sometimes she would get a single, if she really liked a song. But she usually couldn’t afford it, and you could tape it off the Top 40 on the radio anyway, if you didn’t mind the DJ talking at the start or at the end of it.

“Course. I’ve all her albums, like, don’t I?” Elaine said. She didn’t have any more money than Lucy did, but her father was great for getting her presents, and he never said no when she asked for things. Her mother was kind too, but usually in other ways than just handing over cash to her.

“I know, yeah. You’re her biggest fan, like,” Lucy said, laughing. She didn’t mind Madonna, but she preferred Cyndi Lauper. She was into The Bangles now, too. She loved all their songs. She tore out the lyrics for them from Smash Hits, and kept them in her scrapbook, up in her room.

“Well, I mean, look at me, shur,” Elaine said, pointing at herself.

“True, ye could be twins,” Lucy said. Elaine was gorgeous, no matter what she wore or how she did her hair. She would have been jealous of her, but Elaine was too nice to be jealous of. She was sound out, Lucy thought. She couldn’t wait until next year, when they would be in the same school together again. She missed that.

“Ah here, shut up, I’m not!” Elaine said, but she was delighted at the compliment. She had the same hairstyle as Madonna had in her video for True Blue. She wanted the Papa Don’t Preach style when that video came out earlier in the year, but her mother said no, because it was too short, and it would take ages to grow back, and they mightn’t let her into her new school if she turned up in September with such a dramatic looking cut. She protested, of course, but it was no use. Her father agreed with her mother, and that was that. It wasn’t just the hairstyles, either. She loved all the clothes Madonna wore, and tried to copy them the best she could, even if it was almost impossible to get anything like that in Limerick. When it was her Debs in Sixth Year, she was going to get a pink silk dress and gloves like the ones in the video for Material Girl, and she made her mum promise to buy them for her, when the time came. Her mother pointed out that the Debs was years away, and she mightn’t even like Madonna by then, but she knew nothing, Elaine thought. She was going to love Madonna forever. She was 100% sure of that. They were almost catching the boys now; she’d seen them all stop a minute ago, looking up at something. She wondered how long it would be before they got to the place, because her feet were starting to hurt, even though she’d worn comfy trainers especially.

*****

“What, so, like… the stars are there, but they’re not really there? They’re gone?” Paul was finding it hard to get his head around what Barry had told them.

“Well, yeah, and no.”

“Yeah and no?” Jason said. He’d been listening, but not properly. He kicked an empty Lilt can off the railway sleeper, and it made a clang that was much louder than he’d expected it to.

“Well, the stars are dead, they exploded. And that was hundreds of years ago…”

“Hundreds?” Paul said. None of it sounded believable to him. He was looking at the stars right now. They weren’t gone, and they didn’t look like they had exploded either.

“Yeah, I think so. But we didn’t see them exploding, like.”

“Cos we weren’t alive hundreds of years ago?” said Jason. He was also finding it all hard to follow. It felt too much like school to him. Barry knew lots of stuff, but most of it was useless, he thought. He knew things about books and science, but he didn’t know anything about fishing, or how to put a chain back on a BMX, or how to make a forksling. Jason knew how to do all those things. He didn’t need to know about stars, or about how tadpoles turned into frogs. But sometimes it was cool to hear about them anyway. Sometimes.

“Exactly,” Barry said. It felt like they had been walking for hours. Lucy had a watch; he would ask her the time in a minute.

“So how can we see them now, like?” Paul said. He had put the two straps of the bag on his shoulders. He didn’t care about getting a slagging anymore, he was too tired. No one had noticed yet, in any case.

“Well, cos light takes a long time to travel to us, and the stars are- the stars were millions of miles away.”

“Millions? How far away is the Sun, then?” Paul said. He stood on something squishy, and he looked down to check his shoes to see if it was dog shit. He couldn’t really tell in the dark, though, so he carried on.

“I don’t- I don’t know, exactly. But I mean, the light from that takes a few seconds to get to us. Cos it’s not that far away. Not as far away as the stars, anyway. And it’s still there, too. It hasn’t exploded yet.”

“Yet?” Jason said, suddenly feeling a bit panicked, as if the sun exploding was something everyone else knew about except him, and he’d just missed that bit in school, or he’d been off sick that day.

“Well, yeah, but, anyway. What I mean is…” He tried to think of a way to explain the whole thing in a simple way, simple enough for the other two to understand. But he wasn’t even sure he understood it himself. Not fully, anyway.

“Guys!” Lucy’s voice came from a few yards ahead of them. She and Elaine had passed them out a while back, when the boys had stopped to look at some berries.

“What?” Barry said, looking up at her in the distance. She was pointing to her right, over the hedges, and beyond a small row of trees. Behind a modern looking wire fence, and up a crooked path, he could see Ballaghstaire Manor. It was just like the old photo he’d seen in the library book, apart from how the garden had grown wild in the years it had been empty. Rain started to fall in heavy, single drops, at first; plonking on the wood and metal underneath them. No one was speaking now. He looked at Jason, and then at Paul, and without discussing it, all three of them started running towards the girls. A flash from the sky lit up everything around them, bright as the middle of day, and the rain fell much heavier. Barry counted the seconds as they ran, until he heard the thunder crashing somewhere far away. Two seconds, which meant the lightning had been two miles away. He had learned that in Cub Scouts. It had felt a lot closer than two miles to him, from the noise and the brightness, but that was the science. Lucy and Elaine were already through the hedge and over at the trees, getting shelter. He knew that standing under a tree wasn’t a good idea in a thunderstorm – he’d learned that in Cubs too, but they didn’t have any other choice. Not until they knew how to get past that fence, and into the house itself, anyway.

“Run! Run!” Elaine shouted at them, laughing, as they sprinted the last few feet – Jason first, then Paul, Barry the slowest, as usual. He wasn’t unhealthy, or heavyset, or anything else that might have slowed him down. He just didn’t like running; he had said to them a while back. He wasn’t naturally fast, even when he tried. So, he hated things like Sports Days, or P.E. He still played soccer with the boys, just to fit in, and to not get slagged off. But he preferred watching sports to playing them, he’d told Elaine, the first day she had met him.

“Giddy up!” said Lucy, laughing as well. The two of them had got a little wet, but they’d reached the shelter before it had started lashing, pulling their jackets over their heads on the way. The boys weren’t so lucky. They were all drenched by the time they got safely under the cover of one of the two big Oaks that were halfway between the tracks and the house. It was nearly Winter, but these ones still had most of their leaves. Lucy knew they were Oak trees from when she used to collect leaves and press them, a few years back. She still had scrapbooks full of them, somewhere, but she was too old for all that now.

“Ah, Jesus!” said Jason, brushing the water out of his hair. The rain had washed the gel away, and he looked funny without his normal spikes.

“Where did that come out of?” Paul said, wiping his hands on his jacket.

“The sky,” said Barry, though he was confused too, since there were no clouds a few minutes ago, when they were looking at the stars.

“Funny man,” Paul said. He checked his inside pocket for the cigarettes; they were still dry, even though he didn’t have them in a box.

“Did anyone bring a towel?” asked Lucy.

“I did, yeah,” said Jason.

“Really?” Elaine said, looking at her trainers. Only the toes were wet, and she couldn’t feel the water coming through yet.

“Yeah, and some shampoo, and my swimming togs, and a rubber duck,” he said, running his fingers through his hair again, trying to get it to spike up again, but it kept flopping back down, flat. The gel and the rain mixed together made it feel slimy, and he didn’t like it.

“Funny man,” Elaine said, watching the downpour in front of them, and twitching out of the way every time a stray drop came through the leaves and hit her on the scalp.

“Did you know there was gonna be a fence?” Paul said, asking Barry.

“I uh, no. No, there wasn’t one in the picture,” he said. Probably because the photo had been taken a long time ago. It was in black and white, and he didn’t know how old the book itself was.

“Well, how are we gonna get over it?” Elaine said. She didn’t like climbing things; the barrier by the train tracks had been enough climbing for her, and that wasn’t even high. The fence was six, maybe eight feet tall, she reckoned.

“I dunno. We’ll figure it out,” he said, though he wasn’t sure how they were going to. It wasn’t like the movies, where one of them would have brought a pair of wire-cutters. They hadn’t even brought a towel. Suddenly, as quickly as it had started, the rain stopped, and it was dead silent, apart from the noise of the droplets rolling off the leaves above. No one said anything for a few seconds, then everyone was looking at Paul, whose eyes were wide open, as well as his mouth. He was pointing to something, behind where Elaine was standing. Everyone turned around slowly, and they saw it too.

*****

“What do we do?” Elaine whispered, frozen to the spot. She was the nearest to it, not that it really mattered, she thought. If it got her, it would get all of them. It would just get her first, that was all.

“Shhhhhh!” said Paul, louder than her whisper, which made it worse.

“Just everyone stay still, like, kay?” said Barry, although he didn’t know if that was good advice. It wasn’t a wasp, or a bee. They all did as he said though, because if anyone would know about these things, he would, they thought.

“Are you right, Elaine?” Jason said. He didn’t know what he could do if she said she wasn’t, but it felt like he should ask, anyway.

“I don’t know.” She had made eye contact with it, and now she was afraid to look away. Her head was full of stories and advice about what to do in a situation like this, but the fear was jumbling it all up; she couldn’t think. Its eyes were yellow, and they shone in the dark like little mirrors, picking out the light from the full moon overhead. Her stomach was in a knot, and her mouth had gone completely dry.

“What’re you doing?” Barry said to Paul, seeing him bend down slowly.

“Getting a stick…”

“For what?” Barry said. Surely Paul didn’t think he was going to be able to fight the thing off with a piece of wood. Even he wasn’t that stupid, he thought.

“Well I, I was gonna… I was gonna throw it. Over there.” Paul nodded at the grass between them and the tracks.

“Throw it? Like, fetch?”

“Um, yeah. I mean…”

“It’s not a bloody d-” Barry stopped, looking back at Elaine, who had let out a high-pitched squeak. She was shaking. It was closer to her now, sniffing at her legs; up and down, slowly.

“Elaine!” Lucy said, still trying to whisper, but it was hard to keep quiet, watching what was happening.

“Hutz it away!” Jason said, starting to get very frightened. For Elaine, and for the rest of them.

“No!” said Barry, but he didn’t know if he was right. He didn’t know anything. He felt Lucy beside him, squeezing his arm. Elaine was dead quiet. She’d stopped shaking now. And she wasn’t crying, because they would have heard her, in the silence.

“Right!” Jason bent down and took the piece of wood from Paul’s hands, and in a flash, he pushed past them all, including Elaine. He raised the stick over his head, wondering if it was heavy enough to do the job, but he never found out.

Another flash of lightning lit up everything around them, and this time the thunder didn’t give anyone time to count. The boom was so loud, it seemed to shake the ground in front of him, and he dropped what was in his hands, falling backwards towards the rest of them. The other Oak tree, not the one they were under, rippled with white and blue light, then several of the branches burst into flames. Behind him, he heard screams of fright out of the two girls, and at least one of the boys. A piece of tree fell, a few inches from his feet – orange-hot, smouldering in some parts, still on fire in others.

“Jesus!” Jason tried to stand up, but his backpack was making it hard. He felt hands under his armpits from behind. It was Paul, helping him up.

“C’mon, let’s go!”

“Okay, okay.” Another, bigger branch broke off above him, with a loud cracking sound. He jumped forward to get out of the way, but it came down a good few feet away in the other direction. Lucy, Elaine, and Barry all looked terrified and shaken in the weird, flickering yellow light.

“You okay?” Elaine said, brushing the clump of damp blonde hairs from her forehead.

“Yeah, let’s go,” he said, patting her on the back to get her moving. They were at the fence before he even thought about the fox again. It was gone, hopefully. The lightning had saved them from it, before he had to. Hopefully it had gone the other way. Hopefully it wouldn’t follow them.

*****

“Well that was easy, sham,” Jason said, as the others went through the gap in the wire fence, while he held it for them. They had found the opening almost right away. The wires were just resting against one of the steel poles, instead of attached to it, like they were on the other ones that they’d seen around the place. It was still dry out. No rain had come after the last bit of thunder and lightning. He didn’t know if that was strange or not. Barry might, he thought.

“Yeah, maybe it’s our lucky day – lucky night, I mean,” Elaine said, letting Lucy go past her. She didn’t feel very lucky. They’d already almost been attacked by a fox and hit by lightning. And her Dad always said bad things came in threes. But maybe they had been lucky, since they’d got away from both of those things without anyone getting hurt, she thought. There was a big driveway, with a few Pine trees on either side. It wasn’t too long, though; she could already see the front door up ahead, and the pillars that held up a flat roof over it. Above that was a big, circular window. It wasn’t stained glass, but she could see what was probably lead all the way through, making a pattern that made it look like a flower. None of it was broken, as far as she could make out. None of the windows at the front were damaged at all. They were just dirty and old. If they hadn’t been, she might have thought someone still lived there. The garden was too overgrown for that though, she thought. It looked like no one had cut the grass or trimmed the bushes in years; maybe decades. It was spooky, full of dark places where things could be hiding. The rest of the trees, besides the Pine ones, were bare and scary looking – some of them had lost their leaves after the summer, but some were just old and dead, and would never have leaves again. She picked up the sports bag that had all her things in it and followed the others up to the door.

Paul heard an owl somewhere, which would have been normal any other time, but now it felt creepier to him. Here, in the dark, on Halloween night, when they were going to stay in an old house that was supposed to be haunted. That was what Barry said, anyway. He’d never heard of the place before Barry had told them, the other day. None of their parents knew they were here, of course. The story was that they were at his place, in the big, four-man tent in the garden. His mother and father were gone for the weekend, they had left Jack in charge of him. The back garden was big, for a Corporation house, and the tent was way down the back. They had left a flashlight on inside, and a radio playing quietly. It wouldn’t have fooled his parents, but Jack did his own thing, with his friends, so he wasn’t likely to come down and check they were there during the night. And, even if he did, it would only be to try and mess with them, or scare them, Paul knew. Good luck to him doing that, since they wouldn’t be there, he thought.

Lucy was a little bit scared and a little bit excited. She wasn’t sure which was which, from moment to moment. The fox had been terrifying, even though it was beautiful too. They were dangerous things, in real life, not like the ones in cartoons. They looked like dogs, but it would be stupid to try and pet one. They could attack you, if you cornered them – the same as rats. Her father had told her that once. He said that they didn’t have enough to eat in the wild, these days, so they came into the city, to eat out of bins, or to find dead cats on the road. She had never seen one before tonight, though. And they weren’t in the city anymore. She heard the same owl as Paul had, and it made her hurry up a little, either from the fear or the excitement.

Jason was behind all of them; he’d stayed to put the fence back to normal, so anyone passing wouldn’t think that anything was different. He didn’t think that was likely, tonight, but he did it anyway. The house looked cool, and kind of spooky. He didn’t believe in ghosts, or any of that nonsense, but it was going to be a laugh anyway. They had flashlights, and a tape player, some snacks and drinks, and they were going to stay there the whole night, if everything went to plan. Barry had it all worked out, he said. He was going to read them the story of the house – the stuff in the book that he’d found, at exactly midnight, to make it even more spooky. It was the sort of thing Jason’s older brothers would give him a slagging about if they knew, but they didn’t know. No one did. As far as anyone knew, him and Barry were camping in Paul’s tonight. Elaine and Lucy had lied to their folks and said they were staying in each other’s places, and they had got away with it. They would never have been allowed camping with a load of boys, so that was the only way to do it, Elaine had told him. The wind picked up suddenly and started shaking the trees on either side of him, making a “woooo” noise that gave him the creeps, a little bit. But he didn’t believe in ghosts, or any of that nonsense, so he was fine. He hurried up, regardless, though. It might rain again soon.

When they got to Barry, he was squinting at the big front door in the dark. Stepping back from it, taking it all in, then going closer again, inspecting bits of it.

“What’s the story?” Jason said, putting his bag down on the big porch. It looked like marble – the sort that the altar in Munchin’s church was made of.

“Locked,” Barry said, tutting. He had half expected it to be, but he was still disappointed.

“Well, yeah, like. You’d hardly leave it open,” Elaine said. She had been hoping it would be, though, on the way. There would be another way in, she thought. The place was massive. It had to have lots of doors, and they couldn’t all be locked.

“Yeah. Okay, will we go ‘round?” Barry said, looking at them. The wind was getting worse now, blowing dead leaves around their feet, and rattling the tree branches.

“Look for a way in?” Jason said. He wondered if he should take his bag with him, but no one else looked like they were going to take theirs, so he left it. It wasn’t like there was anyone around to steal it.

“Yeah. Lucy, you come with me and Paul. Elaine, you go with Jason?” Barry said. He didn’t have a reason for choosing the groups that way, they were just the first ones that came into his head. All that mattered was that the girls weren’t by themselves; that they had at least one boy with them, in case something happened.

“Kay,” said Elaine, though she would have been fine just going with Lucy. She didn’t need looking after by a boy, especially not by any of these boys, who were all younger and smaller than her. It wasn’t worth an argument though, she thought. She followed Jason, who had already picked the right-hand side of the house for them to go explore. An owl hooted loudly somewhere close by, as if it knew the night that was in it, and wanted to add to the spookiness.

*****

Three

“How’s your mam anyway, Shoes?” Jason asked Elaine, when they were around the corner, away from the others.

“Ah, she’s grand. Kind of.” It was funny when he called her by that nickname. No one else did, outside of her family. Definitely not anyone from school. It was a silly thing that people at home had called her since she was a baby, and she didn’t mind it, because it wasn’t mean or hurtful. But she never told people what it meant. She felt like, if she did, then people might make it into a name to make fun of her with. She didn’t know why she thought that, but she did.

“Kind of?”

“Yeah, well, you know.” She would have been defensive if any of the rest of them asked something like he had, but Jason was different. He knew her mother. The long grass was damp, and was making the fronts of her trainers wet, but she couldn’t do anything about that. There was nowhere to walk that wasn’t grass.

“Yeah, sham. What can ye do, like?” he said. He had his own problems at home, although his mum was usually more angry than she was sad. They knew each other, their mothers, but they weren’t what you might call friends. Not like he and Elaine were.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Elaine said, looking up at the sides of the building as they passed by. She wondered how lovely it must look in the daytime, this part, all the windows and the fancy brickwork around them. The moonlight was bright enough, but it made everything look blue, so it wasn’t the same.

“Eh, yeah, dunno,” he said. Girls were always saying things looked beautiful. He just thought it looked cool, like something out of one of the drawings from the comics about dragons and knights that his brother had. It wasn’t that big – it wasn’t a castle. But it was a castle compared to the little house he lived in.

“Is that a door?”

“Where?” Jason said, but he saw it too, before she had to explain. It was halfway down the length of the side wall. There was no step or porch, it was just set into the bricks.

“C’mon and we see,” said Elaine, running over. She saw the nettles just in time and pulled her ankle out of the way. Jason yanked on the metal doorknob and twisted it, pushing in. Nothing happened.

“Maybe it opens out?” she said. Some doors opened differently; like the ones in the handicapped toilets in town. Jason pulled back, using the weight of his body to try and drag the door out towards them. Then he pushed against the wood with his shoulder, and again, a little harder.

“Nope, it’s not going either way. Locked.” He looked down at his hand. It was brownish orange, where some of the rust had rubbed off from the metal.

“Feck it, anyway. Come on.” She stepped over the nettles again, carefully, and they headed towards the back. She wondered what the garden there was going to look like, if it had one.

“Gotta be a back door, anyway,” Jason said. “Everyone has a back door.” He sniffed his fingers, and they smelled like pennies, or a tissue after you had a nosebleed. The wind was getting louder again now, and something above them made a rattling noise. Probably the gutters, he thought. Their own ones at home always made noise when it was windy.

*****

“So, is she going away with anyone, would you say?” Paul said, walking with Lucy and Barry at the other side of the house.

“What’s it to you?” said Lucy, although she knew exactly what he was up to. She wasn’t stupid.

“Me? Nothing, like. Just asking, like. It’s nothing to me, I don’t care,” Paul said, convincing nobody.

“Just making conversation, shur he was,” Barry said, sarcastically. He was looking at the trees that seemed to surround the entire house and its grounds. Tall, dark Pine trees, close together, with no gaps for light to come through. The house had been built into the woods, maybe for the privacy, he thought. It reminded him of one of the Disney films, where the princess falls asleep for a hundred years, and the castle gets covered in trees and brambles. He couldn’t remember if that happened in Sleeping Beauty, or Snow White, or both of them.

“I was!” Paul said, lying. He wanted to know because, if Elaine had a boyfriend, he mightn’t try it on with her tonight. He probably wouldn’t try it on anyway, because he was a bit scared of her, and of Jason, but it was always good to know, he thought.

“Shush, what’s that?” Lucy said, pointing to the ground on her right.

“I dunno. Let’s see,” said Barry, walking over to it. There were two black doors set into the ground. There were small holes on either side where they met, probably where there had been handles, years ago, he thought. He banged on the surface with his fist. It was metal.

“I think it’s a coal bunker,” Paul said. His uncle and aunt had one, out in Shannon. They were always warning him and the cousins not to go near it, in case they got dirty from all the coal dust in there.

“Yeah, I think so as well. Can’t open it though. No handles, like,” Barry said, wishing he had something to pry the doors open with. A bit of wood would probably break, if it was thin enough to get into the gap. A metal ruler would be perfect, but that wasn’t something you’d bring with you camping.

“Might open from the inside,” Lucy said, although that would be no use, since they’d already be in the house by then.

“Yeah, maybe. C’mon anyway,” Barry said. He pointed his torch ahead again, in case they missed something important on their way. It didn’t look like there was anything more to find, though. All the windows were closed, and too high up, as well. The few ones that were on the ground floor were boarded up, with bars in front of them, too. Even if they managed to get the boards off, none of them were small enough to squeeze through the bars; not even Lucy.

“What’s her type, anyway?” Paul said. He was happy to have the bag off his shoulders now. He wouldn’t need to carry it like that again until they left in the morning. If they managed to get inside at all, that was.

“Any fella who isn’t you,” Lucy said. The owl from earlier hooted again, quieter now, or just farther away. It might have been a different owl, she thought. She didn’t mind owls. It was bats she was afraid of, even though she’d never seen one in real life.

*****

“Jaysus…” Lucy said, looking at it in the light from both Barry and Jason’s torches together.

“They’re pure gorgeous, like,” Elaine said. She didn’t know how they could be there, at this time of year, but she didn’t know much about that sort of thing. Her Dad would. The red and white were mixed together, instead of side by side, or in any sort of pattern. It looked like the coloured bits were dripping down the white bit, she thought. Like red paint on a canvas, maybe. Or blood on someone’s skin. She shivered, and it wasn’t from the cold, this time.

“It’s only some bloody flowers like, ye spas,” Paul said, shrugging his shoulders. Girls were stupid. They were always going mad over stupid things like flowers, he thought. He’d hate to be a girl, having to like stupid things like flowers, or dresses, or Duran Duran.

“Are they not supposed to be dead like, in the Winter?” Jason said. He was thirsty, but his drink was back in his bag, on the porch.

“It’s not Winter yet,” Barry said. He was more interested in how the flower bed was so well-kept, when everything else was overgrown or dead, but he wasn’t interested enough to care about it for much longer; there were other things to think about, like getting inside.

“Yeah it is,” Paul said. It definitely felt like Winter. He was freezing, even after all that walking.

“No it’s not, it’s Autumn,” Barry said, looking away from the flower bed now. Behind them, the back of the house had a large, ground floor window. There was no sill; it went all the way down to the ground, and it was wide, too. The curtains inside were drawn, so he couldn’t see what was behind them. There was no big main door, but over to one side, he saw a small green one. Probably for servants, or deliveries, he thought. He’d seen things on TV where they had posh houses like this, and he remembered that the servants had a different door from the people who owned the house.

“Until when?” Lucy said, looking to where he was, at the door. She didn’t think it was going to be unlocked, and there was no handle that she could see, anyway.

“Tomorrow,” said Barry. November 1st was the first day of Winter, he knew; or it was in Ireland, at least. Ireland had different seasons to England, he’d learned that in school. He looked at the door from top to bottom, up close. There was a hole where a handle had been once, and a keyhole underneath that. He gave it a push, but there was no give, not even a little.

“Ah for God’s sake, tomorrow, like. You’re some gowl altogether,” Paul said. He looked at the window in the moonlight. The glass was still kind of shiny, but you could see dirt in all the corners, and cobwebs over the dirt. The curtains inside were yellowy white, plain, with no patterns on them. He had an idea.

“Any joy?” Jason said, coming over to Barry at the door.

“Nope.”

“Could we try to barge it in, like?” Jason said. Lucy rolled her eyes at him.

“No,” she said. Elaine was still looking at the flowers; she’d taken Jason’s torch for herself.

“Why not, like?”

“Cos we’re not The A-Team,” Barry said, spitting on the ground, which wasn’t like him, but he had a weird taste in his mouth; kind of like metal.

“What do we do now?” Lucy said. She was asking him, but she didn’t mind if anyone else had a plan either. Standing around was making her cold, and so was the wind.

“Let me think a second,” he said, but he didn’t know where to start.

“Did ye see anything on yeer way around?” Jason said, to Lucy.

“Just doors off a coal shed we think, but we couldn’t get them open, like. How ‘bout ye?”

“Door around the side, but same as this one. Can’t get in. There’s a handle, but it’s-” His voice was cut off by a massive crashing sound that made his heart jump into his throat. Elaine screamed from over by the flower bed, and everyone looked around to see what had happened. They saw Paul, standing in front of what had been the window, the floor inside covered in broken glass. The wind was flapping the big curtains around in the air behind him, and one landed on his shoulder for a second, making him look like a vampire with a cloak. They were a different colour on the other side. A dark red, Barry thought, though it was hard to tell in the moonlight.

“Paul! What the f-” Lucy started.

“What? I got us in, didn’t I? Like they say, lads: when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” He pushed the curtains apart and stepped into the house. The rock he had used to break the glass was on the wooden floor inside.

“That’s not what that means, Paul,” Lucy said, following him, careful not to step on too much glass. The rest of them came with her, Elaine at the back, still holding Jason’s torch.

“What’s not what what is?” Paul said, following the two flashlight beams around, trying to see what sort of room it was. Just a normal room, not a kitchen. There was no sink, or cooker in it. Everyone he knew had their kitchen at the back of the house. It must have been different in the old days, he thought.

“Never mind. What do we do now, Bar? Someone gonna go back around and get the bags?” Lucy said, definitely not volunteering herself.

“No need. We’ll just go through and open the front door. Jason, man?” said Barry. He was sure it wouldn’t be locked from the inside too, and if it was, it would just be a latch or a bolt that they could slide across. They wouldn’t need a key. He crossed his fingers, just in case, though. He found the door out of the room with the beam of his flashlight, and opened it into another, much darker room. Jason was right behind him. Paul could stay with the girls; the two of them would be enough to bring everything, he thought.

*****

“Okay, I think that’s all of it. Is it here we are, so?” Barry said, putting down the two bags on the floor in the big room that the girls had chosen for them to set up their little camp. Jason had the other three, because he was stronger at lifting things. It was the room just off the one with the broken window; they had found a fireplace in there, and there was hardly any breeze from outside once the door was shut.

“Yeah, d’you think these will burn?” Lucy said, pointing at a pair of scuttles. One had coal, the other chopped wood, he could see from pointing his torch. Jason had the other one, and was moving it around, lighting up the darkness as it went. The room looked old, but it wasn’t falling to pieces. There were still paintings on the wall, in brass frames. No people in them, just rivers, and mountains, and fields. There were some chairs, but he couldn’t see a couch.

“Suppose so, why wouldn’t they?” he said. It was quiet in the room, except for the noise of the wind in the chimney, which meant it was still working, and not filled in. People only filled in their chimneys when they had electric fires though, he thought, and everyone had abandoned this place a long time before electric fires were around, according to his book.

“Dunno, cos they’re old?” she said. She didn’t have matches. Before she could ask him, Paul threw her a box, and she caught them, despite not being able to see properly.

“You know coal is millions of years old, right? It’s from the dinosaur times, like. Another few years isn’t gonna stop it working,” Barry said, pointing his light at the scuttle, as if to make more of a point.

“Yeah, obviously,” she said, although she hadn’t known that. “I meant the wood, like.” He annoyed her, sometimes, he was such a know-it-all.

“The wood’ll be grand, sham. It’s been inside, it can’t have got wet or nothing,” said Jason. He was pointing his own torch at his chin, doing spooky faces. He was an awful messer, she thought.

“Here, give me over my bag there,” Elaine said. She’d just remembered something.

“What’s that?” Paul said, looking at the little grey square she took out of the pocket of her bag. He could smell it from where he was standing, whatever it was.

“Zip firelighter,” she said, handing it to Lucy.

“Nice one, kid,” Jason said, still pulling stupid faces, even though no one was looking at him.

“What’s a that for?” Paul said. Everyone looked at him like he’d said something stupid.

“For lighting the fire, maybe?” Lucy said.

“Why don’t we just use my matches, like?” They didn’t have a coal fire at home. They had a fake one, and radiators.

“Paul?” said Elaine.

“Yeah?”

“What do you put in a toaster, Paul?” Elaine said. She pushed the piece of Zip underneath the little tower of wood that Lucy had made in the fireplace. She wondered if you put the coal on before you lit it, or after it was already going a bit. They used peat briquettes in her fire at home, not coal. Lucy handed her over two more blocks, and she put them with the others.

“Kind of a question is that?” Paul said. It felt like she was picking on him, now. His face was going red, but no one would notice, so it was fine.

“Just a question. Do you not know, like?” Elaine struck a match and poked it in between the blocks of wood to get to the firelighter, which flared up straight away. Barry was there now too, putting some coal on. She was glad of that, because there was no way she was getting coal dust on her hands or her clothes; not when they didn’t even know if the taps in the house worked yet. They hadn’t even seen any, because they hadn’t found the kitchen, or any toilets.

“Course I know!” Paul said. The fire was making the room brighter now, or at least the part of it where they were all standing or sitting. There wasn’t much warmth from it yet, but there would be soon.

“Course he knows!” Jason said.

“Course!” said Lucy, taking the cushion out of her bag, for something to sit on.

“What is it then?” said Elaine, looking up at him.

“Toast,” said Paul, and everyone laughed, filling up the big room with their giggles and shrieks. He laughed too, eventually, when it dawned on him what he’d said. He felt stupid for falling for an old joke, but he knew Elaine was just messing. They all were. None of them didn’t get on, really. He thought they were all sound, even the new boy. The fire would be going properly soon, and he could take off his jacket. He sat down next to Elaine, who gave him a wink and squeezed his leg, to let him know she’d only been codding.

*****

“C’mere I want you; did you shift my cousin in Kilkee this year?” Paul said, talking to Elaine. The others stopped chatting and turned to listen to them. The fire was roaring now, a little later. Everyone was sitting around it, on cushions or blankets. They were going to go for a wander around the house in a bit, once they were all warm and dry, they’d decided.

“When?” Elaine said, opening her bottle of red lemonade a little and letting the fizz go down before she took the top off. She had already drunk about a quarter of it. She knew she should slow down, but she was thirsty from the heat.

“This year, like. The summer. Few months ago.”

“Who’s your cousin?” She didn’t know why she was asking; she hadn’t done anything with anyone down there. She didn’t know where he was getting this from. She could feel everyone looking at her now.

“Mikey Fitz.” Paul was getting too hot on his back, so he moved forward a bit, away from the flames.

“Mikey Fitzgerald?” she said, picturing who she thought he meant.

“Yeah. From Balla.” He was only a second cousin, really; his mother was Paul’s mother’s cousin. But maybe that made him a third cousin. He wasn’t sure.

“I did in my HOLE. What kind of a yoke d’you think I am at all, Paul?”

“What d’you mean?”

“Mikey Fitzgerald? Shifting me? Me, shifting him? He’s a head like a melted welly, that youngfella. I wouldn’t give him the steam off my piss. Shifting me, in Kilkee? Pffffft. Dream on, like.” She offered her bag of Emerald sweets to Lucy beside her, and she felt her face going red, even though she had no need to be embarrassed. She hadn’t done anything wrong. She hadn’t done anything at all.

“Well… He told me different, sham. Says he got his iron off you, behind the arcade. Hand job and all, he tol’t me,” Paul said.

“Hand job!!!!!????” She didn’t know whether to start crying or to burst out laughing. Her face was hot, but it wasn’t from the fire.

“I’ll kick the bollix off him next time I see him, if you want, cuz,” Jason said. He hated Mikey Fitzgerald anyway, even before he knew he was making up stuff about Elaine.

“I’ll do it myself, if I see him first,” Elaine said, raging now. “Then he can tell everyone I touched his mickey. With my boot.”

*****

“Okay, are we right, so?” Barry said, a little later on. The fire had stayed lighting, and everyone had eaten something, even if it was all just sweets and crisps.

“Huh? Right for what?” Elaine said. She was feeling a bit giddy now, and a little dizzy too, as she stood up. She put her hand on the arm of the chair behind her, to steady herself.

“Said we were gonna go have a look around, remember? See what the rest of the place is like,” he said, turning his torch on and off, as if the batteries might somehow have run out since he last used it, a half an hour before.

“Oh yeah. Rapid,” said Paul. He peeled the plastic off the half a Wham bar he still had left and shoved it all in his mouth at once. Upside down, as well, so the fizzy bits were on his tongue.

“Will the fire go out, sham?” Jason said, squatting down in front of it. He could always put more coal on before they went, he thought.

“It’s grand,” said Lucy. She’d taken her trainers off to dry them in the heat, but she was putting them on before going anywhere in the house. There could be more broken glass, or nails, or even rats. Hopefully not rats, but then rats and mice only stuck around when there were scraps of food to eat, and no one had lived here for years and years, according to Barry.

“Hang on a sec, actually,” Elaine said, remembering that she had her own torch in her bag. It was only a small, pink one, and the light wasn’t very strong, but it was better than no torch at all, she thought.

“Where do we go first?” Lucy said. There must have been tonnes of rooms in the place, just going by how big it looked on the outside. As well as the door they had come through, the sitting room had two other doors. One straight ahead of the first one, at the opposite end; another going off to the side, next to a big bookcase. She wondered what kind of books were in it, and if she’d be able to read them, or if the paper would turn to dust when she opened them. She’d seen something like that in a movie once, but this house wasn’t as old as the one in that film.

“Am, I dunno. Me and Jason’ve already been through there, to get the bags. Why don’t we try the side one now?” Barry said. He wished now that the book had come with a map of the house, but it wasn’t that kind of book – it was more a book about hauntings, then about history, or buildings.

“We haven’t been through it though – me and Lucy, and Paul – I want to see!” Elaine said.  Her stomach made a funny noise, and she wondered if anyone else heard it. They were going to need to find a toilet at some point. She didn’t want to have to go and pee in the garden. It was easier for the boys than for her and Lucy.

“Split up, then?” Jason said, popping a Rolo in his mouth. The ads on the TV said you were supposed to keep the last one for someone you loved, but he didn’t love anyone; not like that, so he got to eat it himself.

“Ah, no thanks…” said Lucy. It would be just her luck to end up in the group that got attacked by bats, she thought. They’d be safer together, anyway. Even if there weren’t any bats.

“Yeah, stay together, sham,” Paul said. He wanted to see what was behind both doors, and even though it would be cool to be in the group with just him and the two girls, it wouldn’t be cool if they ran into trouble. Girls were always scared of everything, and they were no good at fighting. He wasn’t either, but at least he was a boy, he thought. He didn’t know what or who exactly he was afraid of running into; he just knew he’d rather do it with the five of them together.

“Stay together, yeah. Will you mind me, Luce?” Elaine said, giggling.

“I will, yeah, sound. Why’re you bringing that?” She pointed at the two litre.

“Ah… case I get thirsty, like,” Elaine said, slipping her arm around the smaller girl’s waist. “Or case I need to batter a Frankenstein with it.”

“Okay, well let’s try this one first then, and then we’ll do the other one,” Barry said, walking over to the bookcase. The air in the house had smelled funny when they first came in, but now the room just smelled like burning wood, or coal, he noticed. He got to the door and pushed down the handle. He hadn’t expected any of the doors inside to be locked, but this one was. He gave it a few shakes and rattles, but it was no use.

“Bollocks anyway, Jason said.

“God’s sake,” said Paul.

*****

“Is it… is it just me, or…” Barry moved his flashlight around the next room, which wasn’t really a room, it was more of a hall, from what the others could see.

“Or what?” Paul said, looking around too. The walls were covered in dark wood, with big paintings hung up high on either side. They were all of people; sometimes someone on their own, other times groups – they looked like family portraits, he thought. Probably the people who lived there, years ago. Or maybe the ones who lived there before them. He couldn’t tell much in this light, but they were all dressed in old fashioned clothes, like in paintings from a museum.

“Jason, do you remember – is it… is it different?” said Barry. He pointed his light down the end, where there was a door; the one that they had come back through with the bags.

“How d’you mean, different?” Jason said, pointing his own torch around. It was just a hallway, with paintings. He wasn’t sure what Barry was getting at. It looked the same as it had the last time, to him.

“I dunno, it’s just… I’m just being stupid, probably.” He couldn’t put his finger on why he felt weird. It was the same hallway, and they hadn’t had much of a look around earlier; they’d had all the bags on the way back, so they couldn’t even use their flashlights properly. Something was bugging him about it, though. He just didn’t know what.

“Who are all them?” Elaine said, looking at the family picture with her own torch. There was an old man, with grey hair, a woman who must have been his wife, in a beautiful green dress, and two younger looking people – a boy and a girl. They must be their children, she thought, although they weren’t young looking. They looked older than her, but maybe kids in the old days just looked old. The boy had a proper suit on, and the girl’s red dress was so long, you couldn’t see her feet. It was spread out in front of her on the ground. The mother and daughter were sitting on a sort of half a couch, and the man and the boy were standing up.

“That’s the family,” Barry said. There was an old photograph of them in his book – black and white, nobody smiling, like the way everyone looked in photos from the old days.

“What’s their names, like?” Paul said. They looked ancient to him. And English too. There were no Irish people that posh, he thought. They looked like they were in the Royal Family, nearly.

“Am, well the auld fella is the Major. Major Cavendish,” Barry said. He was looking forward to telling them all the whole story, but it could wait until later; until midnight. There was no need to spoil it too much now.

“His name is Major? Haha, like a packet of fags,” Paul said. They were the ones his dad smoked – the ones he had in his jacket pocket and had forgotten about until just now.

“No, you spa. Major like a Major in the army,” Lucy said, hoping she was right. Lots of people were in the army in the old days, because of all the wars they had back then.

“Exactly, yeah,” Barry said. “And that’s his wife, Ethel.”

“Ethel…” whispered Elaine, thinking it was a funny name, but everyone had funny names back then, she thought.

“And who’s the other ones?” Jason said, looking at the two of them. They looked miserable, and stuck up, he thought. But maybe most people would look miserable, if they had to stand around for ages, waiting for someone to paint them.

“That’s the twins.”

“Twins?” Lucy said. They didn’t look like twins to her. They didn’t look like each other at all. And one of them was a boy and the other one was a girl. She thought twins had to be the same, like Gráinne and Áine in her school.

“Yeah. The boy was called Alistair…”

“What’s the girl called?” Elaine said. Her hair was nice, even for old fashioned hair, but she couldn’t tell if she was pretty, not from that painting. She might have been though, if she was smiling, she thought.

“Lily-Rose,” Barry said, and both the girls let out a little “Ooh”.

“Lily-Rose, that’s gorgeous,” Lucy said.

“Yeah, pity she isn’t,” Paul said.

“You can talk, you gowl,” Elaine said.

“Yeah, you’re no oil painting yourself,” Barry said, laughing at his own joke, though no one else seemed to get it.

“Pfffft, least I’m not from Dublin,” Paul said, like he always said to Barry, if he couldn’t think of anything smart to come back with.

“Shut up all of ye,” Jason said, pointing his torch down the hall towards the door. “C’mon and we show you the next bit.”

“Go on so,” said Elaine, linking her arm with Lucy’s; half to feel safe walking in the dark, and half just because it felt nice. She was glad they were getting out of the hall, because even in the dark, it felt like some of the eyes of the people in the paintings were looking at her.

*****

“Janey Mack…” said Lucy, looking around.

“Cool, n’it?” Jason said. They were at the front of the house now, at the other side of the big door. Even if they hadn’t had their torches, the full moon coming through the windows was enough for them to see the black and white square tiled floor, and the high ceiling with its crystal chandelier. With their backs to the door, they saw two enormous staircases on either side, leading up to the main part of the house. Marble steps and brass bannisters, which like the floor and the chandelier, were covered in dust. Jason and Barry’s footprints from earlier on were the only signs that anyone had been there in years, maybe in decades.

“How come it’s still like this? Just like… how come people aren’t in here all the time, like, wrecking the place, or just hanging around, drinking, or sniffing glue and stuff?” Paul said.

“Probably cos you can’t get in without doing something stupid like breaking a window,” said Elaine, and some of them laughed.

“No, seriously, like. How come? Cos of ghosts, is it?” Paul said, but he knew that wasn’t the answer. It hadn’t stopped them coming, after all.

“I think it’s just cos it’s out here, out the country; miles away,” Barry said, wondering if the rooms upstairs would be locked or not, and if they should split up again to go and look, or stick to staying together.

“Yeah, I think it’s that. If this was down our place it’d be covered in graffiti, and all the windows’d be smashed in, by now,” said Jason.

“And you found out about it in a book, like. Knackers don’t read books,” Elaine said.

“Yeah, that’s true, like,” Jason said. He didn’t read books either, but she wasn’t talking about him, she was talking about knackers. He wasn’t a knacker. People from posh places would probably call him and the rest of them knackers, just for living in a poorer area, but it wasn’t true. His mother said it was ignorant to tar people with the same brush, just because of where they were from or what school they went to. And anyway, he thought – knackers lived in places like Balla, or Moyross, or Southill. Everybody knew that.

“What’s this, lads?” Paul was over at the wall, next to a big black box that was about five foot off the ground, with lots of copper pipes coming out of it.

“Is that the ‘lectricity?” Jason said. They hadn’t looked for any light switches, Barry said there was no point, as there wasn’t electricity in Ireland when people used to live in the house. But he was wrong, it looked like.

“It’s not the electricity,” Barry said, though he wasn’t so sure now.

“There!” said Paul, finally getting the front of it open. Everyone had come over to see, and they crowded around him, blocking his light. The box was full of switches. Each one had something written underneath, but the writing was too faded to see, and too old fashioned and joined-up to read, even if they could, anyway.

“That is the electric. That’s the fuse box, like,” Jason said, excited. He’d seen the inside of their one at home, when the power went out one time, and his Dad had to get up on a chair to flick it back on.

“No. It’s something else,” Barry said, frowning. He didn’t know what, though.

“Turn it on!” Elaine said. She was dying to find out what would happen. She opened her bottle and had another swig. She didn’t offer any to anyone else. She couldn’t.

“Don’t!” said Lucy, though she didn’t know what she was afraid of.

“Do!” Jason said. What was the worst that could happen?

“Okay, okay,” Paul said. “One, two, three…” He flicked the first switch. Nothing happened.

“God’s sake,” Elaine said.

“Do another one,” said Lucy, not afraid anymore, just curious.

“Okay.” Paul flicked the next one in the row. Nothing, again. Another, the same. There were two left.

“We’re wasting our time,” Barry said. Even if there was electricity in the house at some point, it would have been cut off years ago. There was no one living there to pay the Light Bill. They cut you off if you didn’t pay the bills, the ESB did. He knew that from the time it happened to his Nana, and his father had to give her a loan to get it put back on.

“Hang on two minutes, like,” said Paul. He flicked the second last one. Nothing happened again.

“Wait!”, said Lucy. She closed her eyes and did the sign of the cross. “Father, son, Holy Spirit, Amen.” Sometimes that worked, if she wanted something to happen. Or if she didn’t want something to happen. Sometimes it didn’t work, but it was worth a try, she thought.

“Father, son, Holy Spirit, Amen,” Jason said.

“In the name of the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen,” Barry said. Elaine made the sign but didn’t bother saying the words, but no one noticed.

“Father, son, Holy Spirit… AMEN!” Paul said, flicking the last switch. Above them, they heard a sound, and everyone looked up. The chandelier got brighter, in the middle first, then slowly all the way through it. Around them, on the walls, little glass lanterns lit up, getting brighter and brighter.

“Janey Mack…” said Lucy. The prayers had worked.

“Electricity!” Jason said, wondering what the weird smell was.

“It’s not electricity,” Barry said, looking wide-eyed at the room now, which was slowly getting brighter and brighter.

“What is it, then?” Lucy said. She smelled the weird smell too. It smelled like…

“Gas,” said Barry. “That’s what they used to use in the old days for lights. Gas. Or oil.”

“Well hallelujah for gas, lads; Jesus was listening to us,” Paul said. He looked up at the tops of both staircases, and he could see there were lights on up there, too.

“Did that one switch turn on all the lights in the house, like?” Lucy said, to Barry.

“Maybe. Or maybe all the other ones we flicked turned them on in the rest of the house,” he said. It was a guess, but it was probably true too, he thought.

*****

“We shouldn’t have let them go, like. It’s dangerous,” Paul said, when he, Jason and Barry were on their own, at the top of the left-hand staircase.

“It’s not dangerous, sham. Shur who’s here only us?” Jason said. There had been a small argument downstairs, about whether they should split up again, and, if they did, who was going to go with who. Elaine wanted to go with Lucy. She got her way, eventually.

“They can shout for us if they need us. We’ll hear them, like. It’s not that big, this place,” said Barry. Although, looking down the corridor, with all the doors on both sides, he wasn’t so sure about that. He was still trying to figure out where the room with the big round window that they had seen from the outside was. It wasn’t where they were right now. But maybe there was another floor, above them. He’d find out soon enough.

“Or we can shout for them, if we’re the ones shitting ourselves,” Jason said, laughing, and opening the first door on the right. It wasn’t locked, but it made a long, loud creaking sound, like something out of a horror movie.

“What the hell is that?”

*****

“You’d swear we were babies, like,” Elaine said, to Lucy. Lucy was a baby compared to her, all right; but they were still able to look after themselves, she thought. Paul was just being a fool.

“I know. I hope they see a ghost and they come running to us, bawling for their mammies,” Lucy said. “Which one will we go in first?”

“Eenie, Meanie, Miney, this one!” Elaine said, pointing at the first door on her left. They were beautiful looking doors, not like the boring ones in her house. They were carved and full of detail, like the front door of a nice house would be. Her house had a nice door, even though it was in Canon Breen. Most of the other lot’s doors were still the ones that came with the houses, because their houses were only around a year old; she’d lived in hers since she was born. The handle pushed down easily, and the door swung inwards without a sound.

“Jesus Christ! What’s that thing?”

Posted in writing

Hey! Here’s the whole first chapter of my new #WIP. Enjoy.

LOCAL BOY IN THE PHOTOGRAPH

By Ciarán West

“Bûm gall unwaith – hynny oedd, llefain pan ym ganed”

– I was wise once: when I was born, I cried

(old Welsh proverb, uncredited)

One

“It’s just short for Pakistani, though innit?” Gar said, scratching his ear, like he always did when he was nervous, or not sure about something.

“It really isn’t, Gareth,” said Angharad. I was glad she had come. I thought she was going to be gone home for the summer, like most of them in the Halls, but she’d got full time hours off himself in La Caprice, so it was worth her while to stick around; especially since she’d paid for a whole year’s stay, with her Loan, at the start of term. No need to pay rent somewhere else.

“It is, though. Same as you say Scotch when you mean Scottish, innit? I’m right, innit, Stu? Innit?”

“Na yin says Scotch, pal. Nae unless thay wantae git thair fuckin’ heid kicked in,” Stuart said. He was from Scotland, originally. But he’d lived in Llanelli since he was about fourteen. Still had the accent; he was only seventeen now. It got stronger when he was drunk, or angry, or both. His mum had it even thicker; I’d been round his house a few times and met her. I was already losing my Irish one, my own mum said, every time I talked to her on the phone.

“What about Iraqis? That’s short for Iraq. That’s not racist, is it?” Gar was from the Rhondda Valley, I liked the way he rolled his Rs, even if he was usually talking shite while he did.

“Iraqi is longer than Iraq, you tool,” Angharad said, opening another bottle of Breezer. It was the watermelon one; it smelled rank, and it tasted worse.

“Well, yeah… but you know what I mean, butt,” Gar said, reaching for the box of Richmond that someone had bought at the shop. That was about four cans of Carlsberg Export ago though, so I couldn’t remember who’d put in money for them. Not that it mattered.

“Ah dunno whit ye mean ninetey per cent o’ th’ time, ye muckle eared fud. Bit come ‘ere, doesn’t mean ah dinnae loue ye,” Stuart said, punching him on the arm. The accent always made him sound a bit threatening, but this was him being nice.

“Tidy,” said Gar, rubbing the spot where he’d been hit, cos even when Stuart was nice, it sometimes still left a bruise.

“Right, whose toilet am I using, then?” Angharad said, getting up from the kitchen table. Five rooms shared one kitchen in Ty Alban, (ten rooms on each floor) but everyone had their own loo, en suite.

“Oh! Tell you what. You can use mine, like,” Gar said. His eyes were bloodshot; could have been from the session today, or from the one last night. I didn’t think any of us had got much sleep.

“Not being funny, Gar, but your toilet is buzzing,” she said, making a face. She wasn’t wrong either, to be honest.

“Oh, that’s fine. Shit in the street then, butt. Suit yourself, like,” said Gar, then he let out a belch I could smell from the other end of the table.

“I’m not going for a… Irish, what’s your toilet like?”

“Ah, it’s like a little white seat, with a hole in it,” I said. She always called me “Irish”, hardly ever Niall, which was my actual name. She only called me that when I was in trouble.

“Aaaaaaaaah! Aw, tell you what, Nailler – you’re fucking hilarious, you are, no word of a lie. Legend, innit boys?” Gareth said, even though it wasn’t that funny. Everything was funnier when you were pissed, though. I had a drink from my can. It was still a bit warm. They hadn’t been in the fridge long enough, still. Or mine had been out of it too long. Didn’t stop me having another sip straight after, though. Nailler was something people in Ireland only called me, but when I had some of the lads over to visit around Christmas, Gar and the others had sort of picked it up from them calling me it, so I was Nailler here too now, sometimes.

“You’re some pricks, mind,” Angharad said, wandering out the door, probably to my room, since it was the nearest one, anyway, and I never locked it. I panicked for a minute, in case I’d left some skin mags out last night, but I’d been too tired for a wank, as far as I could remember. Happy days.

*****

“Aw, why are we fucking here again, Irish? Tell me?” Angharad said, when we were waiting at the bar in Tom Pepper’s, about an hour later. I’d thrown on a shirt with long sleeves, to look a bit tidier. I was still in the jeans I’d slept in, mind. They didn’t get creased easily, though. They were grand.

“Where else would we go?” I said. It was a Sunday, everything closed at midnight in town, so everyone went out earlier than on a Saturday.

“I dunno. Masons, Wetherspoon’s, Sol, anywhere?” The Masons Arms was the Alternative pub here, like Quin’s in Limerick. I should have loved it, but it wasn’t the same, probably because they were the local Indie kids, not my own friends back home, and Indie kids were pricks, really, when you weren’t part of their clique. And I wasn’t part of it; not yet, anyway.

“Nah, it’s Happy Hour, like,” I said. The trick was to get in before the prices changed, and order a shitload of pints, then drink them for the next few hours, on the cheap.

“Yeah, they all look fucking overjoyed, innit. I’ve seen happier people in concentration camps.”

“Whisht a while,” I said, even though I wouldn’t have been caught dead saying something like that back home. It was pure Culchie altogether. You could be extra Irish here, though. The locals appreciated it. Sometimes I thought they only liked us because we looked like them, but we weren’t English. But maybe that was why we liked them, too.

“Shush, mush,” she said, taking one of the trays of pints. It wasn’t too far to the table, but I still got nervous watching her. I’d gone face first into the dancefloor many a time in that place, holding fewer drinks than that.

And it was a dancefloor, because Tom Pepper’s was a pub in the day, and a disco at night. On Sundays it was all ages, but the other six nights it was over 25s, and I was 25, but I never got asked for ID anyway, cos I was tall. The bit we were in now was tiny, but they opened the door into another part of it later on. There was an upstairs too. And a different nightclub, called Storm, that was for eighteen plus, so obviously it was full of fifteen year olds, most nights. I could only really tell the underage ones when they were boys, though. The girls all looked older, to me. I’d have been shit as a bouncer. I was bad enough as a barman for it.

When I got over, Tegan was at the table, with the others.

“You all right or wha, bach?” she said. She was wearing a top that was practically a bra. I had to remind myself to look at her face.

“Tipping away,” I said. Another Irishism that I’d never use in Limerick.

“You doing the karaoke tonight again, is it?”

“Ah, I dunno,” I said. I’d never have done karaoke back home, but it was like a religion over here. My voice was all right, but I was more of a guitarist, really. I’d played the bass in our band, Crane, back home. We’d split up before I’d applied to come to college over here. It was one of the reasons I’d chosen to go abroad. There wasn’t anything left for me back in Limerick. Everyone I knew had sort of moved on. And anyway, some bad things had happened that year, and it was easier to forget them when I was hundreds of miles away, across the sea.

“Oh! Karaoke? I’ll get up, butt,” Gar said. He was on a high stool, looking about as sturdy as the Twin Towers. He liked to think he could hold his drink, but he really couldn’t. A week ago they’d thrown him out of Storm for having a piss at the bar while he was waiting to get served. The guy who owned this place owned Storm too, but we were probably all right tonight. He never really came into Storm, so he wouldn’t know Gar’s face.

“You could barely get up on that chair,” Angharad said, lighting up a ciggie. She only kind of smoked – never when she wasn’t drinking. I put my hand on her leg to get myself up on my stool, but if she noticed, she didn’t say anything.

“Look, it’s Dai Dregs, aye,” Stuart said, pointing at the fella clearing glasses off tables at the other side of the room. He had a bent back, and one of those slopey foreheads you’d see on pictures of cavemen.

“Call him over, yeah?” said Gar.

“Fuck off,” I said. Dai Dregs was a local character, as my dad would call it. His name wasn’t actually Dai (or even David). That was just a thing they did here, called you Dai, and then added whatever you were known for to the end of it. Like Dai DJ, who was actually a DJ called Colin. Or Dai Meat, who was the butcher in Station Road. Or Dai Poop, Gar’s friend from back home, who got shat on by a pigeon once. That was how easy it was to pick up a nickname for life, around here. Dai Dregs was called Dai Dregs because he didn’t get paid for working; they just let him drink the dregs out of all the glasses he picked up. That was the rumour, anyway. You could hardly ask him was it true.

“Leave him alone, Gareth,” said Angharad. She had got changed before coming out. Just into a tight Ramones t-shirt and some tartan trousers. She wasn’t really a dresses kind of girl. She looked great anyway. She always did.

“Why?”

“Cos he’s fucking twp in the head, mun. Bad form, like. Don’t be a cunt all your life,” she said.

“Oh! Fucking like that, is it?” Gar said. Stu looked up from reading a beermat, in case something was about to kick off.

“Aye, lea th’ poor laddie alone, like. He’s ainlie a wee huddy; fuckin’ harmless, he is,” said Stu. I had no idea what half the words he used were, half the time, but you could sort of figure them out, if there was context. I guessed “huddy” meant someone a bit soft in the head. Or in the heid.

“Yeah, Gar. Leave him be. I heard his mammy keeps him in the cwtch dan star, like. Feeds him on buckets of fish heads,” Tegan said. She had a bottle of WKD, the Iron Brew one. Most of the women over here had no problem with drinking a pint, but a lot of them drank shite like that. Although so did the men, too. Especially the younger ones. I knew, from the amount of times we had to restock the fridges at work, on a Saturday or a Sunday.

“Fucking hell, sounds like you when you’re at home in the Rhondda, Gar,” Angharad said, and everyone laughed, even Gareth.

“Oh, all right ‘en. Anyone playing the bandit, is it?” he said, digging in his pocket for some coins. I looked over at the slot machine in the corner, and saw a little auld fella walking away from it, swearing to himself. Mug’s game. Never played them, myself.

“Ah’ament movin’, pal,” Stuart said, leaning back in his chair and stretching his legs out under the table.

“Fine. I’ll go myself. Back in a minute, now. Watch my pints, yeah? Tidy,” Gar said, taking one drink with him, and leaving his other two on the table, with about ten identical looking lagers, and my couple of Strongbows. I’d sometimes get a Murphy’s here (or a Guinness somewhere else in town), but you couldn’t buy a load of those all at once. The lagers might go a bit flat, but stout would be rank after sitting there for more than a small while. You didn’t need to be Irish to know that.

*****

There was no DJ in this part, early on Sundays, so they were just playing CDs, or maybe the DAB. Once the place got going properly, in the big room, it would be all old music – 60s, 70s, 80s. I found it weird the first few times I went out here, but I was used to it now. It was because here, and La Caprice, and Kavannagh’s (the place I worked) had a mix of young people and old people all the time. I guessed it was because it was such a small town. It wasn’t like that in Limerick. The auld ones were the ones who spent the most money, too, so it made sense that most of the music was for them. The young ones didn’t care anyway; some of the old songs were proper tunes, and you’d dance to anything when you were hammered. Sol and Storm played all the young people music, anyway. So there was always that, if you fancied it.

They’d be opening the rest of the club up soon, but we wouldn’t move until we were on our last drink from earlier. Or til they came over to move the tables and chairs away and make it a dancefloor.  That was always the way. Then Laura the Lesbian would start the karaoke. I liked her, she did the karaoke in Sol sometimes too, on Thursday nights. But it was usually the other fella, round there. He was sound as well, though.

“Aw, lush. I loves her, I does,” Tegan said, when a Shakira song came on. Underneath Your Clothes. I liked the video for that one. She was a fine thing; good singer, as well.

“Oh! Tell you what like, she’s smart as fuck, she is,” said Gareth. He had won money on the slot machine. He’d probably lost money as well, I hadn’t asked. When he said “smart”, he meant good-looking, that was another Welsh thing. Gar wasn’t the type to get a hard-on for someone’s master’s degree.

“Yeah, she’s got a lovely belly, innit. Well flat, it is. I feel like I’m twenty stone just looking at her,” Angharad said, even though there wasn’t a pick on her, and she knew it. I loved her accent. She made words like “belly” last for ages, but she could say “seven” or “eleven” and make them sound like they only had one syllable. I made her say “ridiculous video” about 20 times in a row once, when I was stoned. It was only fair, since every fucker in Wales made me say “thirty three and a third” first time I met them, like I was a performing seal.

“Oh, shut up! You’re a skinny cow, bach,” said Tegan. Her name meant “a toy” in Welsh, which I always found funny. It was a funny language anyway, though. Their word for “carrot” was “moron”.

“Oh! Tell you what, you’re not that fat, Anga. Anyways, I like a bird with something to get hold of on her, not gonna lie,” said Gar, speaking of morons.

“Listen tae Will fucking Smith there. Smooth…” said Stuart.

“Chopsin’, like…” Gar said, giving Stuart that weird stare he sometimes did when he was pissed. It was somewhere between aggressive and just really thick looking. Stu took no notice.

“Where you living now then, Tegan?” Angharad said, changing the subject.

“Um, I dunno for now, to be honest, bach. I’m supposed to be at my Mam’s, but I hardly been there since College finished, innit.”

“Where you been, then? With Aled, is it? Shacked up?” said Angharad. Aled was Tegan’s fella, sometimes. Skater guy, played the drums. Tattoos, big holes in his ears, blue hair (last time I saw him, anyway, it changed a lot) Complete prick, but he could get a hold of drugs, so we put up with him.

“Wha? That fucking arse, no,” Tegan said. She’d got a straw from the bar. I was glad the music was loud, because the sound of people sucking on the end of drinks drove me mental.

“You finished, is it?” Gar said, talking to her breasts now, apparently.

“Finished, no. Fucking… we’re engaged, innit,” she said, showing us her hand. There was a thin gold ring with a tiny diamond. At least two weeks’ dole money, that was. From the fancy part of Argos, I guessed.

“Oooh, give us a look!” Angharad leaned into see better. I wished I had one of my photography loupes from college on me, to give to her. That would have been gas.

“Lush, innit?” Tegan said, handing a stack of empty glasses to Dai Dregs as he passed. “Cheers, babe.”

“S’real diamond, is it?” Angharad said.

“Course it is! Nothing but the best for me, babe. Not gonna lie, I did look it up on Ask Jeeves, after I got it. But, yeah, mun. S’the real deal. Elizabeth Duke. Not some shit from down the Market, like.” I’d guessed right.

“Where’s he tonight then? Is he here? Working, is he? Is he coming later, then?”

“No, he’s a… I dunno, really. I think he’s in Sol, playing pool with the boys. Rhys, and Dai Skate, them boys. Never know with him, Anga; free spirit he is, that one. The prrrrrrrick, like.”

“Oh, how’s he a prick though, if you’re engaged?” Gar said. Both of the girls gave him the same look, together.

“You’ve never been in love, babe, have you?” Angharad said. She was the closest to my age, at 22. Gar and Billy were both eighteenish, as far as I could remember. They hadn’t taken any detours between leaving school and coming to Coleg Sir Gar, like me and Angharad had.

“S’more complicated than you think, Gareth,” Tegan said, and Angharad nodded. I nodded too, because love’s a crazy fucking thing. Freddie Mercury even said so, and that was before he got AIDS off it.

*****

“GOOOOOOOOOD MORNING VIETNAAAAAAAAM!!!!!” The voice was outside my room door, but it still managed to wake me. I’d been dreaming about Ireland. Nothing exciting, just being there. Happened a lot since I’d moved over. Homesick, probably. Although I wasn’t at all, outside of my dreams.

“Fuck is that?” Angharad said. Her eyes were still half-closed, and her hair was a mess. She had loads of it, nearly down to her arse. She was lying on me, head on my chest. I got very aware of my morning wood, and tried to think it away. The lovely smell off her wasn’t helping, though. It wasn’t perfume. Just her normal, nice, girl smell – and a bit of shampoo, maybe.

“Billy, I think.” I could still hear the Northern Irish in his voice, even though he was trying to sound American. He sounded exactly like James Nesbitt, off Cold Feet. The first time I met him was when I passed one of the rooms in the Halls, my first week there, and heard his voice coming from inside. I’d half expected to see Jimmy himself in there, when I popped my head around the door for a nose. But it was only Billy. We were friends soon after that, even though he was clearly some class of Prod, from Antrim. It was like that book, Across the Barricades, but without the sexual tension.

“Ah, right. The wanderer returns, is it?” She sat up, looking a bit dazed, like she wasn’t sure how she’d got here. She wasn’t wearing her trousers in the bed, just her t-shirt and some knickers, which wasn’t helping my efforts to not have a stonk on.

“Yeah. Did we see him last night, no?” I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember much at all, though. We’d come back here after Tom Pep’s. There was cheap ASDA vodka, and cheap ASDA Red Bull. And loads of food from Charcoal Grill. The rest was a blur.

“Nope. Off somewhere, he was. Man of Mystery. Like Austin.” She reached across me to get the pint of water off the locker next to the bed. It was still full. One of us had been smart enough to pour it before going to bed, but neither of us had been smart enough to drink it. My head was pounding, so I was already regretting that. There were Anadins somewhere.

“Yeah, or he was in bed again.” He did that a lot, Billy. Stayed in his room for two or three days, watching movies, or playing Playstation. He had a toilet and a shower in there, same as the rest of us, but I did wonder what he ate, when all his food was in the kitchen. Maybe he only came out at night to feed, like a fox, or a badger.

“True. Ugh, will we get up?” Angharad stretched her arms out and yawned, I yawned too, cos it was catching. Her t-shirt lifted up a bit, and I could see her belly button ring. Again, not helping.

“Um, yeah.”

“Looks like someone’s already up, bach,” she said, nodding at my crotch. I felt my face going scarlet.

“Uhhhhhh. Feck off out of it, will ya?” I put my wrist over myself, but touching off it made it twitch, and that was worse.

“Do you want me to hit it with a spoon for you, is it?” she said, laughing. The laughing was helping, to be honest. Hard to keep it up when a woman is looking at your knob and pissing themselves. I wasn’t that kinky. The last time we did a load of Es, the usual thing had happened me, where I couldn’t piss for the whole night, and went completely impotent, but woke up in the morning with a willy like a tree trunk. That time, she’d grabbed a hold of it through my trackie bottoms, knocked on the head with her knuckles, and said “Is this thing on?” into it, in front of everyone in Liddy from work’s sitting room.

“I think I’m grand for now, cheers.” I pulled my shirt down over it, and took the pint glass off her, because I was suddenly gasping.

“Fair enough, mush. Where are my trows?” She stepped down off the bed, facing away from me now, in her good pants with her great arse, and I was in trouble all over again, knob-wise. I could hear shouting from the kitchen, but it didn’t sound like aggro. Just Billy, and probably Gareth. I looked at the clock. It was two in the daytime. I was lucky I hadn’t had work, or I’d have been sacked.

*****

“You two shagging or wha?” said Gar, when we got in to the rest of them, in the kitchen. I needed toast, but I wasn’t sure if I’d bought bread. Someone else would lend me some, hopefully. It was share and share alike here, usually. Until the last week of the month, when everyone’s money was gone, and someone would cut you for asking for a slice of ham.

“You ask that every time, Gar. And the answer is still no,” said Angharad, pulling up a chair.

“Yeah, fuck off, you pervert,” I said. There was bread. Kingsmill wholemeal. Two slices, and one of them was the end, but it’d do me fine. Me and Anga had never been a thing, in that way. I fancied her, of course. She was a massive ride, in her own way. But I fancied loads of people, to look at. We were great pals, and she trusted me to look after her when we were out drinking; keep her out of trouble and pull her away from twats. I’d have been a wanker to cross the line with her, so I didn’t. I’d tried it on with her, accidentally-while-drunk, a few times, sure. But she always told me to fuck off, politely, and never brought it up the next day to mortify me. That was a sign of a good pal. She was a keeper.

“Oh! Nothing pervy about asking someone a question, is it?” said Gar. I pushed down the handle on the toaster. Number 4. That was fine. Not too light, not too burnt. She’d slept in my bed last night because she couldn’t be arsed going upstairs, and because my bed was bigger than anyone else’s. One of the perks of being the Assistant Warden, you got the biggest room in the Halls (Chris had a whole flat, mind).

“Depends on the question, Other Irish,” Angharad said, pulling her big load of hair to one side so she could brush the tangles out. She’d found a hairbrush belonging to her in my room. She was always leaving her stuff behind.

“Here, I’ve a question for you,” Billy said. He had on a Rangers top. He had a lot of Rangers tops. You probably got them for free if you were a Protestant from where he lived. Or at least a discount on VAT.

“What’s that?” she said. It was just her, me, Billy and Gar. Tegan was gone, and Stu hadn’t come back with us. He’d pulled, I remembered now. Things were coming back to me.

“D’yiz ever consider brushing your hair somewhere that isn’t where I’ve to prepare my fecking meals, no?”

“Amazingly enough, no,” she said, giving him the finger.

“Prepare your meals? Fuck off will you, Billy. Pouring a bag of chicken dippers onto a baking tray isn’t preparing anything, like,” I said. No one ate properly in this place. It was wall to wall Student Food. None of them could cook, apart from Anga, and she lived up in the top floor, with three other girls, and Slow Simon.

“You underestimate my culinary skills, so you do. Aye, wait until you taste my platter.”

“That’s what Angharad said to Nailler last night, innit,” said Gareth, and everyone laughed.

“My fanny is not a platter, thanks,” she said, pretending to throw the hairbrush at him, making him duck, in case she meant it.

“What’s it then, an all-you-can-eat buffet?” said Billy. I looked down into the toaster to see if it was nearly ready. The smell of it was making my stomach growl.

“Nah. It’s like a tiny little hors d’oeuvre,” she said. For some reason the mix of French words and a Carmarthen accent sounded extra sexy; it would have even if she hadn’t been talking about her vagina. I was definitely in medical need of a wank. There was about two minutes left before the toast popped. I could probably pop myself in that time and be back before it got too cold to butter. Maybe it was time for me to get a girlfriend. Eleri had been a long time ago, now. Nearly four months.

*****

Me and Angharad went to get some shopping around four. Nobody else wanted to come; Gar had gone to bed, and Billy disappeared into his room again. I wanted something more to eat, but I didn’t know what, yet.

“So, are you gonna come do pictures then?”

“Pictures?” Angharad had been for a shower and a change of clothes. I hadn’t. The girls were so much cleaner than the boys, where we lived. That was why they all lived together, cos they didn’t want to be around us and our filth all the time. I didn’t mind. It was less hassle, that way. I’d hoovered about three times since last September.

“For a photoshoot,” I said. She knew what I meant; I’d only mentioned it about a million times before.

“Oh. Your little plan to see me in my pants, is it?”

“I see you in your pants all the time.” The Brits said pants when they meant underwear. We said it when we meant pants. “Two countries, divided by the same language”.

“Yeah, well. To see me with my pants off, then, innit. You perv.”

“It’s not that kind of… I wouldn’t…”

“You wouldn’t want to see me with my pants off? Why’s that then? Not good enough for you am I, Irish?” She went through the big doors of the shopping centre and took a left into ASDA. It was busy, for a Monday.

“No, I just don’t… I’m not talking about nude stuff.” I didn’t know which part we were going to first. I didn’t have a shopping list. She might have, though. She was organised, that girl. More organised than me, anyway.

“Well that’s good, cos it wasn’t gonna happen anyway, mun.” She took a basket off the greeter guy with the Happy to Help badge. He looked a bit twp in the head. Maybe his name was Dai Baskets. Or Dai Shop.

“Yeah, well. I just… I want to do some stuff with the D60 – on digital, not for college. We’re still using bloody film there. And, I just think you’d- I think you’d be great for it. That’s all.” I didn’t give a shit about seeing people in their underwear. I wasn’t some 60-year-old perv in a Camera Club whose wife wore pyjamas to bed. It was fucking easier to pull someone in a club and see them naked than it was to get someone to model for you, at my age. I didn’t even really like shooting. It was always a bit stressy, and too hot (if it was in the studio), and I usually couldn’t wait for it to be over, so I could work on the pictures. That was my favourite part. But it wasn’t very rock and roll. You never saw Austin Powers converting .tiff files; or using the Eye Dropper tool to make a 25% Opacity skin tone airbrush.

“Great for modelling? I’m not a model, like.” Someone passed us and gave us a nod; a blond girl, big boobs, wasn’t sure if I knew her, but I nodded back anyway.

“You don’t have to be a model.”

“What do I have to be, then?”

“Just… fit,” I said, cos I knew if I said something like “beautiful”, or “pretty”, she’d take the piss out of me, or she’d start putting herself down. She was a weird combo of cocky and insecure, I always thought. But maybe we all were.

“Fit, is it now? Fair enough. And what would I have to do? I’d feel stupid, you know? I’m not that sort of girl, Irish.”

“Why, do you have a penis?”

“Fuck off. You know what I mean.” She already had about ten things in her basket. I couldn’t think of anything I needed, except bread. Bread, and something to put inside the bread. I liked the cheap roast beef slices they had here. Didn’t have those in Irish shops, just the fresh ones, and they cost a bomb.

“Yeah, but look, I’ll know what I’m doing, yeah?”

“Yeah?” She didn’t sound too convinced, but she’d never seen me shoot anyone, so she wouldn’t know.

“So, I’ll direct you,” I said, grabbing some Dairylea slices out of the fridge. I liked them better than real cheese. They reminded me of Calvita, back home.

“You’ll direct me, is it? Who are you, Steven Spielberg?”

“I’ll tell you what to do, I mean.” I was good at it, people told me. I was great at making you feel relaxed, the last girl had said. Sioned, from college. She’d liked the photos as well, but she made me give her the negative of the one with an accidental nip slip, which was fair enough.

“Ooh, kinky.”

“Yeah, anyway. What I’m saying is, I’ll set up the shots, tell you where to look, how to pose, and all that. All you have to do is…”

“Stand there and look prrrrretty?” She picked up a head of iceberg lettuce, even though no one would be eating that, unless they were shoving it into a burger bun. It’d be at the bottom of the fridge in a month; all brown, and smelling like vinegar.

“Well, yeah. Lie there and look pretty, to be honest.” The set I wanted to do was all going to be on a bed or on a floor. I’d pulled a load of tear sheets out of lads magazines – Loaded, FRONT, those sort of ones, for ideas. I’d give her a look at them later, so she’d know what I wanted.

“And what’s in it for me?”

“Well, you’ll get a load of decent photos, like; when I’m finished editing them, obviously. Good ones, no shite.” My Canon D60 was a beast of a camera. Cost me more than two grand, with the lens. But I shot RAW files on it, not jpegs, so each one had to be processed, converted, and Photoshopped, before I’d even dream of blowing it up to 8×10 for anyone to see.

“Oh! Photos of me in my knickers, yeah? Tidy. Who’m I gonna show them to, Irish? My Mam, is it? She’ll be proper chuffed, I’d say.”

“I dunno, do I?” I grabbed a loaf of Hovis seeded bread and put it in the basket. We could work out the money later. I was good for it.

“You’re not selling this to me very well, Irish; I won’t lie.”

“How ‘bout I buy all the underwear, and you can keep it after,” I said. I could afford that. I wasn’t asking her to do it for some dodgy reason. I just didn’t have anyone else, and I knew I could get great shots out of her. Her body was right for it; I wouldn’t have to do any smoke and mirrors to hide anything, either in the shoot or on the computer. And it’d be a laugh, once we were there and we got into it. Much more than me doing it with a stranger would be. I always had a laugh with her, no matter what we did. She was probably my best friend, since I’d come over here. Although Billy might have argued with that.

“That’s more like it, bach. We done here or wha?” She had filled the whole basket while we were chatting. It was like Supermarket Sweep. I was impressed.

“Uh, for now, yeah, maybe.” I’d remember something important later. Probably when we were already home, though.

“Tidy. Now, stop thinking about me in my knickers, you big rapist. Carry that for me like a good boy, innit.”

“Yes ma’am,” I said, taking it off her. I hadn’t been thinking about her in her knickers, but now I was. Her fault, in fairness. My conscience was clear.

Posted in writing

Intro to “I Want to Tell You” by Ciarán West

 

child-abduction-on-the-rise-in-lahore-1d588f5625ef9c9ec51831a466ee149dHello, people. In addition to the announcement that More Than Words (Boys of Summer 3, Electric Boogaloo) is out on Valentine’s Day, here is a sneak peak of a new CW novel you didn’t even know was in the pipeline. Enjoy!

I Want to Tell You

By Ciarán West

 

 

 

 

One

The sun never comes into her bedroom. He has done something to her window; bricks on the outside, then wood between the bricks and the glass. Because glass can be broken and wood can be broken, if you try a little harder, but bricks are things you can’t break, without some sort of machine, she thinks. Even at eleven years old, she knows there is something important about the bricks. He and she can’t be in a place with other houses around them. Someone would ask questions. A neighbour would say:

“Hey there, why are you putting bricks in front of your window?”

and he would have to answer them. Because the bricks weren’t there the first night, or the second night. He had only put them there when she tried to break the window when he used the bathroom, on the third day. And anyway, she never hears him talk to a neighbour, or to anyone. So, they mustn’t be in the city, she thinks. Maybe in the countryside, where the farms are, and the forests, and where her dog, Scout, went to live, two years before, when he got sick. They didn’t tell her what kind of sick Scout was, just that he would be better off in the fresh country air. She still misses him. A lot.

He doesn’t leave her by herself anymore to break windows. Now he uses the bracelets. He calls them the bracelets, but she knows they’re called handcuffs. Police use them, to keep bad people from running away. She isn’t bad. But she does want to run away. He tells her that she can’t run away. He tells her she can go when he goes, but she doesn’t know what this means, and when she asks him he never gives her an answer, except for:

“Soon,”

and she doesn’t believe him that it will be soon, or that he will let her go, or that he will go. But he won’t tell her any more when she asks him, so she doesn’t know what to believe. But she will run away, she thinks, if she gets a chance. But she doesn’t think she will get a chance. So maybe she should believe him when she tells her:

“Soon.”

Sometimes he leaves her for hours, while he drives off in a car to get groceries from the store. This is once a week. When he does that, she has to have the handcuffs now, and the feetcuffs, which are really just handcuffs that he puts on her feet, but she calls them feetcuffs in her head, because she likes words, and she likes to make up new ones. He puts them on just one foot, not two, around the ankle, tying her to the radiator in the basement. The radiator is never hot, so it must be broken, she thinks, or he just never turns it on. She doesn’t need it to be hot, or turned on, because it’s still the summer, and it’s hot all the time in the house, even in the night. The walls and ceiling down in the basement are covered in empty blue egg boxes. He tells her that the boxes stop any noises from coming out of there, so she can scream and shout and scream, and no one will come, and all that will happen is she will make her throat sore. She doesn’t believe him; and, on the first day he leaves her to go to the store, she screams and shouts and screams, but no one comes. All that happens is her throat is sore. So now she believes him.

He has a special machine that gives electric shocks. She doesn’t know what it’s called. He used it, that first night, at her house. That was how he took her away. It hurts, she thinks, but she’s not really sure. It’s hard to remember. She just knows that’s how he took her away, because she doesn’t remember anything after he touched her with it, except for waking up here, and it not being her home, and being here ever since. This is how he stops her from screaming and shouting and screaming when he is here. He shows her the special machine, and he reminds her of what it does, and he tells her he’ll use it on her again if she tries anything funny. So, she doesn’t scream or shout, but it doesn’t matter anyway, because she knows that no one will come, even without blue egg boxes on the walls and the ceiling. Because there is nobody to come. They are somewhere far, far away from everyone else. That’s why he has to go in the car to the store, and why it takes so long for him to come back, she thinks.

He brings her new clothes every time he comes home from the store too. Pretty dresses, and jeans, and shirts. He asks her what size she is, and she tells him she’s a kid, so it’s ages, not sizes. He doesn’t ask her what age she is. He just comes back with Age Eleven things. She likes them, she thinks they’re pretty, but she doesn’t tell him that. But he doesn’t ask, so it doesn’t really matter. He tells her to try them on, each time he comes back from the store, but he says she can do it in the bathroom, and she gets the idea maybe she can climb out a window, or shout out a window, or lock herself inside until someone comes. But there’s no window in the bathroom to climb out of or to shout out of, and no lock on the door, and anyway, no one is coming, she thinks.

*****

He comes into the room and sees her. She’s so much more than he ever imagines, when she was just a dream or a fantasy in his head, for all those years. He knows that taking her was wrong, in the normal sense. But also that it was right, in his mind. And they are so far away from anyone else right now, that the normal sense doesn’t matter, or it won’t for a while – all that matters is how he sees it. And how he sees it, is that it was good for him to take her.

He tries to make her comfortable. He feeds her, he gives her drinks. He cooks for her, he buys her clothes (it was too sudden for him to take any clothes from the house, so he’s had to improvise since then, picking things up for her at Target, or TJ Maxx, in the next town over.) He wants her to feel good in the short time she is here with him, but he can’t force it. He can’t make her. She might be eleven years old, but she knows her own mind, and; strong as she is, she isn’t immune to being sad, or to feeling down, or to missing the people she loves. He tries his best, but he knows it will never be enough.

The place is secure. Remote, isolated, no neighbours. He has done his homework. He expected her to be reluctant, of course. That’s natural. He hadn’t expected her to be so feisty, though. Didn’t think she’d try to break the bolted down window in her bedroom. But he’d underestimated her. He shouldn’t have been so naïve. He knows who she is, after all. He built a temporary shut-in outside the bedroom window with some breeze blocks that were  lying around. He has no way to make cement, but he hopes the plywood between the window and the wall will hide the fact that the bricks can be toppled with a hard enough shove. She knows the bricks are there, because she watched him build the wall. In her head, hopefully, a brick wall is an impregnable structure, and not the flimsy, vulnerable Jenga thing he’d actually constructed.

He has planned this, for so long, but at the same time he feels like he hasn’t planned at all. This is his first time really meeting her or knowing her. She has always been the variable, in even the most tightly plotted plan. He likes her, though. Even more than he thought he would. She doesn’t like him, understandably. She is afraid of him, and probably with good reason. He has kidnapped her, imprisoned her, threatened her with a Taser, watched her like a hawk. There really is no reason why she would find him personable. And yet, he’s still sad that she doesn’t. It hardly matters, though. Variables aside, he still has a plan, and he’s still sticking to it. Everything has been leading up to this time- for as long as he can remember clearly, and he’s not going to fuck it up now. He has a goal.

He doesn’t like to have to tie her up. He has no choice – she’s no idiot, she’ll figure out a way to escape, and everything will be ruined. And he can’t have that. So he cuffs her when he needs the bathroom, and he locks her in the basement when he has to go to the nearest town. But he doesn’t enjoy it. He hates it. Of course he hates it, because it’s something that makes her feel bad, makes her uncomfortable, makes her frightened. And that’s the last thing he wants for her. Because he loves her.

Posted in writing

Sample of Prior Bad Acts, By Ciarán West

angryBoy 400px

 

Okay, so while I do my usual ridiculous self-doubt writer’s block dithering over chapter seven of More Than Words, here’s a bit from a forthcoming book, notable for it being the first one I’ve ever done that isn’t named for a song title. Trigger Warning: If you thought Girl Afraid or A Certain Romance were a bit too extreme for you, turn back now, this is not for you, trust me. Everyone else, enjoy.

 

 

 

 

One

 

It was Horowicz, of course. It was always him, this time of night. Shift over, about thirty minutes for me to get home, and the phone in the hall would ring. If I didn’t pick that up, he’d call my cell. Just to check. Just to make sure. Eight years on the job together and it never changed. It didn’t make me pissed, or feel like he was babysitting me. It was just his way. Partners are close. It’s not the same as being close to your husband or your kids; it’s different. Sometimes it feels even closer. Nothing can compete with what you two experience together. There were things we saw on the job that we could never take home. Things we’d never talk about outside of work. But we could talk about them together.

“Carrie?”

He didn’t sound good. Something in his voice. I couldn’t gauge it.

“Hey. I’m home.”

Every night, for eight years. Same old same old. My partner, Jeff. Just looking out for me.

“What? Oh, good. Listen, Carrie…”

“What’s up? Are you okay?”

“I’m – I’m fine. It’s… I need you to come in.”

“Come in? I just got-”

“I know. I know, Carrie. Just… trust me, okay? I need you at the precinct. Now. Take a cab.”

“What’s happened? Did you – is it Harrison?”

I’d put in too much OT in the last couple of months. Was looking forward to a whiskey and bed. The Jared Harrison case was bad. The kind that stays with you. We hit a wall with the ADA. the week before, but maybe Horowicz had something new. The hallway was hot; the phone table was next to the main pipes. I’d gotten in the habit of setting the thermostat to switch on an hour before I got in. New York winters..

“No, not him. It’s something else, something new. Just come in, I’ll tell you everything when you get here.”

“Okay. Be there in twenty.”

“Good. And Carrie?”

“Yeah?”

I cradled the handset under my chin, while flicking through the cab company cards and take-out flyers I kept in in the drawer of the table..

“You have a drink yet?”

“What? No. No, not yet.”

He had my evening routine down pat. Subway, bus, lock the apartment door, coat off, single malt, bed, trash TV, and sleep. He’d caught me just in time, though. I smiled to myself, pulling out a yellow card, with ‘A-Cars, Manhattan’ on it.

“Okay. I’ll see you soon.”

He was gone. I shivered a little, in spite of the heat. Something was wrong.

It was past 3am when the cab dropped me at the door. I pushed the hand-scribbled receipt into my coat pocket and went past De Courtney on the desk, who barely looked up from her newspaper . I pressed the elevator button and stepped into the empty car. The place was never quiet, but a Tuesday night/Wednesday morning was dead compared to the weekend. The cab ride had been quick, no real traffic going downtown. I called Jeff on the way, but his desk phone rang out. Whatever it was, he was busy with it. The doors opened to a silent room. Our workspace was open plan, and it would be usual, even at this time, to see one of the squad at their desk finishing some paperwork, but there was no one. I tried to remember who the night crew was: I figured Jensen and Crowley. They’d either caught a case, or they were with Jeff. I threw my coat down on a chair and headed to the interview rooms. There was no one in the pen. That was normal too. Our squad handled rapes and sexual assaults of adults and minors, under the umbrella of the Detective Bureau. Everyone had their gold medallion; most of the job was brain power, but we weren’t house mice. We got out. Uniform were always first on a scene, and if it was sex-related, we got the call. The Sex Cops, the Pussy Police, and all the other nicks those smartasses had for us. They treated us like a joke, a lot of the time, but most of them couldn’t handle doing what we did. A detective I knew from Queens said to me one time:

“I prefer it up here, Carrie. We don’t have no living vics in Homicide. A stiff don’t change her story a bunch of times, neither.”

He was right, but I asked to come to SVU as soon as I made Detective. Wasn’t sure if I had for the stomach for it, but I figured if I didn’t try, I’d never know. That was a long time ago. I was half way through my Twenty.

I passed the glass outside Room One, expecting to see Jeff inside with a collar or a vic, but it was black. Two was the same; no lights, no people. The only other place he could be was… I swallowed dry. Kids are the worst cases to pull. I thought about that whiskey I hadn’t drunk, and Jeff’s voice on the line. Fuck. I found myself walking slower, and my heart rate started climbing. Deep breaths, Carrie. You’ve done this a thousand times before. That much was true, but it didn’t make it any easier. The lights were on in the last interview room. It looked nothing like the fluorescent lit, bare brick of the others. It was specially designed to feel comfortable. Soft furnishings, books, a toy box, even some curtains, just for show. There was no window behind them, but it did the trick; kids aren’t supposed to be interrogated, even in cases where they’re the suspect, not the victim. We’d had a few of those over the years. All of them stayed with me after, for longer than they should have. Jeff was sitting at the reading table, across from two small children. I put about eight and nine on them. The girl looked older. Both blonde, clean, not street kids. Someone cared about them. I flicked the intercom so I could listen in. Jeff looked white, shaken. It was his voice I heard first.

“And then… and then what does your fa- what does Papa do?”

The small boy answered him. Considering what he said, his tone was chillingly matter of fact.

“Papa kills the baby.”

“I see. And where does he- where does this happen, Tommy?”

The boy went to speak, but it was the girl who answered.

“In the church. In the secret room in the church. Papa kills the baby, and then we cook the baby, and then we eat the baby.”

The boy nodded, almost excitedly, agreeing:

“Yes! We cook the baby. And we drink the blood.”

“Yeah, we drink the blood. We always drink the blood”, the girl said, playing with her long golden locks. Jeff looked like he was struggling to keep his composure.

“Who drinks the blood, Lily?”

“Oh, we all drink the blood. Me, Tommy, Papa, all the others. We drink the blood and we cook the baby, and then we eat the baby’s meat.”

I leaned against the glass to steady myself. Light headed, all of a sudden. I hadn’t eaten since lunch.  Jeff wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.

“And who are the others? Do you know their names?”

He was good at it. The obvious terror and revulsion he must have been feeling never showed in the tone of his voice. Years of practice. The kids looked at each other, and then the one called Lily spoke.

“There are lots of others. Sometimes the same, sometimes different. Miss Seaver, Reverend Alcott, Mrs Bane – she’s Natalie’s mom… Am, Mr DuBois, Mrs Theroux, lots of people. They all drink the blood, and they all cook the baby and eat the baby.”

“Okay, Lily. Okay. Who- who is- did you say Miss Seaver?”

“Yeah, Miss Seaver is a teacher. She’s not our teacher. I mean, she used to be my teacher, but she’s not anymore.”

It was too surreal. This kid, this kid who couldn’t have been more than ten years old, saying these horrible things, with all the innocence and calm of someone solving the puzzles on Dora. What had Jeff found tonight? Where did these kids come from? I couldn’t listen any longer. I rapped on the glass to get his attention. He jumped, like he’d been woken from a nightmare. To all intents and purposes, he had. I saw him get up and excuse himself, before coming through the door; tie off, shirt unbuttoned. He looked like he’d aged years since I saw him earlier.

“The mom brought them in, not long after you left.”

We were at the vending machine. It was right across from the one way glass of the room. We could still see Tommy and Lily. They were laughing at something in one of the books on the table. I had a coffee, black. I’d never wanted something stronger in all my years on the job.

“Where is she? Who is she?”

“That’s the thing. We don’t know.”

He took the lid off his drink and gulped it down. An asbestos throat came as standard in our job; you never know when your coffee break is going to be interrupted.

“You don’t know? What did she say? Did you get a statement?”

“I didn’t see her. Garcia said she came to the desk and asked for you, by name.”

“For me? How? Why?”

It hadn’t been Sal Garcia on the desk when I came in, but De Courtney had probably relieved him around two. That was the usual switchover time.

“Beats the hell out of me, Carrie. All I know is that she was acting crazy. Wouldn’t fill out any forms, kicked up hell until the deskie told her what floor we’re on. Didn’t matter he let the mom know you were gone for the night. Really shook the shit outta Garcia. He said she was spooky as shit, too. She had black eyes, he said.”

“Someone beat her up?”

“No, he meant her eyes. The colour. He said it was like looking into hell.”

“Fuck.”

“I dunno, people say a lotta shit. But she freaked him, for sure.”

“And she didn’t come up?”

“No, Garcia said she came back down a minute or two later. On her own. He tried asking where she was going, but she just ran. Alex and Sonny are out looking for her. Nothing so far though. She’s in the wind.”

Alex Jensen and Sonny Crowley were part of our six officer SVU team, under Capt. Jim Richards, at Manhattan Borough Patrol. The other two, Mannirez and Slater, were off shift until morning.

“Fuck, so what happened? With those two, I mean? Was there an outcry? Have you called up? You were in there on your own when I came in. You know 1PP won’t be- ”

“- I know. I’m just… there was nothing I could do. These kids, they walked in here, and asked to see you. I didn’t know what it was. Then Garcia called up, and I sent Jensen and Crowley to pick up Mom.”

“Did you call anyone?”

“Haven’t had a chance. And ACS isn’t going to answer a phone until the morning. And these kids… these kids just started talking. And once they started, they didn’t stop. And I could really do with a shot or three of Wild Turkey now, Carrie, so don’t bust my ass on procedure. Please. This shit is fucked up. You heard them yourself.”

He looked drained. The circles under his eyes were deep and dark enough to get lost in, and his lips were chapped and broken. He was probably right about Children’s Services, but he should have called someone. Then I remembered that he’d called me.

“I did. What else have they said? Any more names? You been able to check any of this out?”

“What? No. No, it’s just been me, remember? That’s half the reason I called you, Car. And well, just to have someone else here. Cos I’m starting to think I’m crazy. Did you see them? Hear them?”

“Yeah, I did. I wish I hadn’t, but… and there’s more?”

“So much more. Look, I could tell you, but I want you in there with me. I’ll get them to talk, from the start. I don’t wanna hear it again, Carrie, trust me. But if there’s no change in the details when they talk to you, I’m gonna have to start believing this real.”

He finished what was left in the cup, and crushed the paper in his fist. Behind him, the little girl was goofing around, making her brother laugh (I guessed it must be her brother, if the missing chick was Mom). They looked like the most normal kids in the world, but they were in our precinct, in the early hours, talking about… child sacrifices like they were recapping episodes of the Flintstones. I followed Jeff into the room, bracing myself for whatever was coming. The boy smiled at me when I came through, but little Lily seemed to only have eyes for Det. Horowicz.

“Tommy, Lily: this is Detective Burnett.”

“Hi, guys. You can call me Carrie.”

Their faces lit up, and they both spoke.

“You’re the special lady! She’s the special lady!”

“The nice lady!”

“The lady who will help us!”

“The good lady! She’s the good lady, Tommy.”

“She’s the kind lady. Mama said Police Lady Carrie will help.”

“Mama said Officer Burnett does kind things!”

I tried to look normal. There was something about the two of them that gave me the creeps, though. Not anything about the way they looked, or their voices. It was the things I’d heard them say, and how they’d said them so easily. I was thinking on my feet: it was all new to me. Was it some sort of sick prank? If it wasn’t, their behaviour wasn’t too hard to explain, in theory. Children who were the victims of systematic abuse within a family unit often acted as if the most heinous things were normal to them. They’d been conditioned, almost trained, to see the harm that was being done to them as ordinary. In extreme cases, some of which I’d witnessed first-hand, the victims would swear blind that they actually enjoyed it. Those were the worst cases, because you knew that they were almost better off with that ignorance. That months of therapy was only going to open their minds to the fact that they had suffered, and that the people who were supposed to love them and take care of them were the ones who had made them suffer. It was a quandary, morally, but in practice we had no choice. They had to be fixed.

“Well. Now I feel really special. Does your mommy know me? What’s her name, your mommy? Does she have a name that isn’t ‘Mommy?’”

The girl looked bemused.

“Yes.”

“She does? That’s great, Lily. Can you remember what it for me? Take your time, honey. It’s okay.”

“Her name is ‘Mama’.”

Of course. I smiled and didn’t let the frustration show.

“Mama, yes. And how about another name? What does… what does Papa call Mama? Tommy? Do you know?”

The boy looked at the floor. His sister nudged him and made an encouraging grunt, but he just giggled.

“Tommy? Would you rather tell Detective Jeff? You can whisper it if you like. Me and Lily won’t listen, will we, Lily?”

The girl shot me a glance that was neither conspiratorial or hostile. There was something rotten in her. Those eyes. Bad things had happened to her. She wasn’t bad herself. Or at she hadn’t been, to begin with. She was beautiful, in spite of it. They usually were. The boy rolled his eyes and gave an overly dramatic sigh, and leaned into Jeff. The whisper was faint, but I heard it clearly.

“Papa calls Mama ‘the whore.”

We’d hit another brick wall. I hadn’t smoked in ten years, but I wanted one now. I looked at Jeff, sitting opposite, with the boy. It was time for me to hear their story.

“So, Jeff tells me you guys have been real busy…”

I didn’t know how else to start it.

“Busy like the bee?” said the smaller kid. His eyes were less troubled than his sister’s, but he mightn’t have seen what she had, or at least not for as long.

“I guess so. Jeff says you have a story. Is that right? Did Mommy tell you to tell us the story?”

“Mama says to always to tell the truth,” said Tommy. Lily nodded, agreeing.

“And is the story the truth? Lily?”

“We don’t tell lies.”

Her tone was slightly abrupt and defensive.

“That’s good, Lily. Because you know what happens if you tell a lie to a police officer, right?”

“You make us die?”

She didn’t look like she meant it as a joke. I swallowed the spit at the back of my throat.

“Oh, no. No, Lily, the police would never do anything bad to you. You must know that, right?”

“Well… kind of.”

“Only kind of?”

Jeff’s voice reminded me I wasn’t there alone. The precinct was still empty. Someone would have tapped glass to let us know we had company.

“Well… yeah, maybe. Papa says, sometimes, if you tell a secret, someone makes you die.”

“Well that isn’t true, Lily. Especially not me and Detective- me and Carrie. We’re here to help you. No one is going to hurt you. I promise.”

“Will they hurt me? Will they make me dead?” said Tommy, squeezing his sister’s forearm, across the little table. They were tactile with each other. Normally it wouldn’t raise alarm bells, but abused children often displayed extreme neediness and regularly sought validation. Sometimes it came across as innocent, other times it manifested as inappropriate touching- both among themselves, and with a new adult. We’d seen it a million times.

“No one will hurt you either, Tommy. Now, who wants to start? For Detective Carrie? What you wanna talk about first?”

“The school?” said the girl, with all the enthusiasm of a star pupil who knows the answer in class.

“Or the church?” said Tommy, chewing on the sleeve of his sweater. Jeff’s interest piqued at the suggestion, and he answered.

“What about the church, Tommy? You didn’t say anything about a church…”

“That’s cos you didn’t ask us about it, stupid.”

“Tommy, stop being bad.”

Lily had been holding her brother’s hand loosely, but in that instant, her fingers closed over his, crushing them. I convinced myself I’d imaged the cracking noise. The boy’s face flushed, his eyes watering.

“I’m not being-”

His protests were cut short by another crush of fingers. I swapped glances with Jeff, wondering what to do next. He made the decision for me, taking Lily’s wrist with the lightest of grips.

“Hey. Come on now, Lil. You don’t wanna hurt your brother, do you?”

She turned her head extremely slowly, and gave him a smile that, on an adult woman, would be interpreted as almost coquettish. It was unnerving, and then it was gone.

“I’m sorry, Jeff.”

Horowicz had seen the look too. I could see it shook him.

“That’s… that’s okay Lily. But it’s not me you should be saying sorry to…”

The girl rolled her eyes and let out an exaggerated sigh. Her body language was a mess of childish awkwardness, and that unmistakably adult flirtatiousness.

“Ugh, do I have to?”

“Yes,” said Jeff, moving his chair back an inch or two. I didn’t know how conscious it was, but it was noticeable.

‘Okay. I’m sorry, Tommy.”

Nothing about the way she said it convinced me she meant it.

“Okay, tell us about the church. What church is it? Do you remember the name of the church?”

Jeff had the right tone to his voice when he spoke to kids. He was a big guy, and I’d seen him lose it in the room, or on the street, with adult perps. He had a switch somewhere, though. He was a father, and a good one too.

“It’s not a real church, silly,” said the boy, giggling. Their hairstyles and clothes were neither fashionable or outdated, I noticed. But it was hard to tell; everything looks like the 80s again now.

“It’s only a church sometimes.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Lily’s right. It’s not a church all the time.”

“That’s funny. So what it is when it’s not a church? Lily?”

I was letting Jeff talk. I took out my notebook to take down some details. We didn’t record interviews like this, usually. Not that it was an interview, or an interrogation. They were minors, they weren’t suspects, they were vics. If we decided a crime had been committed, we could take statements, but I wanted their mother there. Jensen and Crowley needed to find her.

“Ah… I don’t know. It’s a… place. It used to be a place, and-”

“It used to be a place before. But now it’s not a place. And people used to be there. There’s tables. And… chairs. And… windows. But it’s not nice now. It’s dirty, and messy, and there is probably rats there. Probably lots of rats,” said the boy, cutting her off, mid-flow.

“Okay, Tommy. Do you know where the place is?”

“Hmmm, not really.”

Lily looked up from her book, and joined in again:

“It’s across the sea.”

“No it isn’t, Lily!”

“It is, Tommy. You don’t know!”

“I do know! I never been across the sea. You never been across the sea either, Lily. You never, you never!”

“Hey, hey, hey, hey! No fighting, guys. Lily, what do you mean, it’s across the sea?”

Jeff’s voice never went above a certain volume or under a certain pitch. The room felt cold. It was probably the time of night. It was always below freezing in NY after about Eleven. Maybe the heating had broke.

“It’s over the sea. We go on a boat.”

“I never been in a boat!”

“You have, Tommy. You have.”

“Never.”

“He doesn’t know, Officer Jeff. They put him- they put us to sleep, then they take us on a boat. Over the sea.”

“Okay, Lily. And… how do you know this? I mean, if you’re asleep?”

The underarms of his shirt were saturated, even with the cold. I wasn’t imagining the temperature either. I could see his breath in the room as he talked.

“One time, I woke up.”

“You didn’t! She’s making stories, Officer Jeff! She is, she is.”

“Okay, Tommy. Let’s let Lily tell us about the boat, okay?”

“Uh… okaaaaaay.”

Tommy slumped forward on the table, but he gave in. Kids usually did what Jeff told them to. Another useful talent.

“Thank, you. Now, Lily: you sure this happened? Cos sometimes, when I’m really tired, I have a dream- and in the dream, everything is really, really real. And when I wake up, I don’t even think it was a dream. Does that ever happen to you?”

“No.”

“Well, okay then. What can you remember? About when you were on the boat? Whose boat was it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anyone who has a boat, so…”

“It might have been sailors.”

The boy had an innocent joy about him, like most kids his age. I had to keep reminding myself of the context of what was going on, because I had no frame of reference for it. I looked at the girl, who was biting her lip, a look of annoyance in her eyes.

“Shut up, Tommy. You don’t know.”

“Okay, okay. No shut ups, no stupids. Don’t make me give you a time-out, all right?”

“Sorry, Officer Jeff.”

The weird, flirtatious thing was back. Along with the briefest of fingertip touches along Horowicz’ forearm. Blink and I’d have missed it, but I saw. I had no clue who this kid was. What she was.

“That’s okay, Lily. Now, how did you know you were on a boat? You’d never been on one before, had you? What makes you think you were going… across the sea?”

“Well, it was moving real wobbly. Yeah? And I could hear the birds.”

“The birds?”

“Yeah, but not like birds in morning, or in the forest. Different birds. The ones you hear in a movie, when people are on a ship.”

“Okay, you mean gulls? Seagulls?”

“I think so. I didn’t see them. I was in a bed. Underneath the boat.”

“Below deck, that’s how you say that.”

“Below deck.”

“Okay, well that is good. You’re good at that, Lily. Maybe you could be a detective someday. Like Carrie.”

“Maybe. Can I be a detective like you, instead, Jeff?”

I didn’t know why that offended me so much, but if it was intentional, it worked. I tried not to glare at her. She was innocent. The victim.

“Hehe, if you like, yeah. Do you remember anything else about that boat, Lily? What it looked like? A name? Did it smell like fish, or like something else?”

“Like fish!? Uh… I don’t think so. And I couldn’t see. It was dark. It was in the night. And I was pretending.”

“Pretending?”

“Yeah. Pretending to sleep. Or they would find out.”

“Who would find out?”

“The grown-ups, silly. They would find out and I’d be in big trouble. So I pretended. But I could feel the water. And hear the birds. Just like at the beach.”

“What kind of trouble, Lily? What would they do to you, the grown-ups?”

“If they caught me doing something bad?”

“Yeah. If they… What happens to you?”

“Oh, they just hit us. Or burn us with the hot things. Or do fuck to us.”

I felt myself gag. I could see Jeff’s fingers digging into the pine of the small table. Before he could answer, Tommy spoke, in a horrifyingly matter of fact way, that seemed to make it much worse.

“Yeah, sometimes hits. Sometimes burns. Sometimes do fuck. Sometime they do fuck when we haven’t been bad. Sometimes they just do it. It used to hurt a lot, but now… it’s not so bad.”

I had to speak.

“Tommy, what do you mean by- what is that? What does ‘do f..uck’ mean?”

His sister was the one who answered this time.

“Ugh, are you stoopid? Doing fuck is when the man puts his thing in you, and he moves it in and out. In the front or in the back. It’s what they do to us. Papa does it, Mr DuBois does it. Reverend Alcott does it. Everyone does fuck. Even the women do fuck. The women do fuck to us with the plastic thing. The plastic thing looks like a man’s thing, but it’s not real. And it hurts, a lot of the time. It’s bigger, I think.”

I had nothing to say back. Jeff looked shaken, but he kept on.

“And do they do this to you too, Tommy?”

“Oh, yeah. Everyone does fuck. All the people. All the kids. We don’t like it, do we Lily?”

“I do. I like it sometimes. Sometimes I really like it.”

This time the touch was anything but subtle, and her fingers stayed on Jeff’s arm. She looked at him in a way no kid should ever look at an adult. The rapping on the glass behind us saved me from saying something no adult should ever have to say to a kid. The others were back. I hoped to Christ they’d found the mother.

 

 

Two

 

They’d come up empty. Jensen and Crowley had been across the street at a bodega, on a late sandwich run, when Jeff had put the call out with the mother’s description. They hadn’t seen her, or the kids. Alex was the one who came to the room; I came outside to her, partly because Jeff hadn’t moved when the knock came, mostly because I needed a break. It had been a long time since a case shook me like this one.

“Nothing?”

“Nada. I mean, it’s not like there’s a lotta people out there. We went ten, fifteen blocks, and circled back. There’s too many alleys and backstreets. Our best chance was, catch her before she makes a turn. But she could have turned anywhere.”

“Damn it.”

“How are the kids? What’s going on?”

“They’re…”

I searched for the right word. They were physically intact, but ‘fine’ and ‘okay’ didn’t really cut it. ‘Good’ was out too.

“Tough one?”

“Like you can’t imagine.”

“Shit. Anything we can do?”

“Not right now. I’ll need you to run some searches in a while. But we don’t have details, yet.”

“They aren’t talking?”

“Oh, they’re talking. It’s just… complicated.”

“Anything you wanna share?”

She put a hand on my shoulder. She was younger, I had four years on her, job-wise. But she was a Mother Hen, always had been.

“No, I’m good. I need to get back in there. When Jeff and me figure out- when we know how much of this is real… we’ll know what to do. Where’s Sonny?”

“He’s in the car.”

“Going back out?”

“Yeah. Just came back for coats. It’s fucking ice out there.”

“Okay. Get me on my cell.”

I looked in at Jeff and the kids. The speaker was off. I couldn’t remember switching it. Maybe he had, when we came back in. The boy was sucking his thumb in a way that seemed too babyish for him, but boys grow up slower than their sisters. The girl was rapt, eyes fixed on Jeff. Her body language made me want to turn away. I paused at the door. Another coffee might help. I’d get one for him, too. I thought about getting the kids some sodas, but it would be too much to carry.

The light in hallway buzzed a little, and flickered for a second. There was something alive inside it, probably a mosquito. I couldn’t make out what it was, but I could tell it was trapped, and dying. It took me a while to get the coins out of my pocket for the machine. The sound of them dropping through the slot seemed a lot louder than normal, in the stillness of the empty hall. Everything had an edge to it tonight, if it could still be referred to as night. The early shift would be on soon, and the sun would be up. I couldn’t see either of us getting home before it went down again. I pressed the Extra Shot button. Caffeine was no substitute for sleep, but it’d have to do for now.

 

“So, if it’s not really a church, why do you call it a church?”

Jeff threw me a glance as came in, nodding his approval at the arrival of refreshments. I could see two soda cans (empty?) on the shelf behind Lily. I’d ask them if they wanted more, when there was a break in the conversation.

“It’s a church cos we do praying there, like in a real church. But… it’s not really like a real church,” said the boy. His sister agreed,

“Yeah. It’s not like, a nice church. On Sunday. When people dress up real fancy, and there’s bells. It’s not like that.”

“So what do people wear at this church then, Lil?”

“Am, cloaks.”

“Yeah, cloaks. Long cloaks. Sometimes they’re dark, sometimes cloaks are white. I don’t know why. They just are… They’re just different colours sometimes.”

Tommy’s demeanour was that of a kid who’s put his hand up in class to answer the question, but doesn’t really know the whole answer.

“I think different colours for different feasts. I think that’s it.”

“Feasts, Lily?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, they’re not feasts like feast feasts. They’re just called feasts. We don’t eat lots and lots and lots of nice food,” said the girl, smiling. She had well-kept teeth, another sign of a good home, and someone caring about her. Ironic as it seemed.

“We do eat though!” said the boy, indignant.

“Yeah, yeah we do eat, Tommy. Just not like… not like a big feast. Not like cakes and Jell-o, and ice cream, and turkeys, and sweet potatoes, and pie.”

“Yeah, we never eat pie at church.”

I wanted to laugh. It wasn’t funny, but the mixture of anxiety and strong coffee was enough to bring on a fit of inappropriate giggling; like the kind you try to keep in when you’re a kid in a classroom, or an adult at a funeral.

“What is it you eat then, Tommy?”

The sound of my own voice was alien to me, it’d been so long since I’d spoke in the room.

“We eat the baby. First we kill the baby. Usually Papa kills the baby, and sometimes he makes me help to kill the baby.”

It couldn’t be real. Jeff cradled his coffee, without taking a sip, and let me carry on with the questions.

“A real baby? Or is it just a doll, maybe?”

The first time I’d heard them talk about the babies seemed like hours ago now. It might have been, I wasn’t watching the clock.

“Oh no, it’s a real baby all right. It makes cries, and it screams, and it doesn’t like it.”

“What doesn’t it like, Tommy?”

“It doesn’t like it when it’s killed. Papa gets the curly knife, and he puts it on the baby’s neck. And… sometimes he puts my hand on the handle of the curly knife, and we kill the baby together. It doesn’t like it though. It cries and cries and cries, but when the bloods come out, it probably stops crying then.”

Still disbelieving, I looked to the girl for confirmation.

“Is this true, Lily?”

“We don’t tell lies.”

“Okay. Okay, good. That’s good, Lily. And what happens to the baby then?”

“Papa hangs the baby up with ropes, ropes around its feet. And… then the all the blood drips out, into a big bowl. And then Papa or another grown-up pours the blood into shiny cups, and we drink it. It’s not nice. It doesn’t taste good.”

They’d seen it in a film. Someone had left them unsupervised with the TV on, and the rest had just managed to work its way into their heads. They thought it was real, but it was just a movie. The only hitch in that theory, of course, was they were corroborating. Or was it conspiring? Tommy spoke now.

“Ugh, yes! The blood tastes bad. The meat is all right, though. They cook the meat. Sometimes it’s fried in like… big steaks. Sometimes it’s like stew. It’s okay. It doesn’t taste bad. It doesn’t taste like… baby.”

I tried to pretend it was normal. Stick to what I’d ask in any other situation. Get the facts, even though I was sure now they were anything but.

“And… where do the babies come from, guys? Whose babies are they? Where does Papa get them?”

“Hospitals. Babies come from hospitals.”

Tommy looked pleased he’d got the answer right. His sister shook her head.

“No, babies come from their mom’s bellies first. They come out from the front hole. And they get in there when a man…”

“Yeah, but they come out of the bellies in the hospital, stoopid.”

“I know, stoopid. Everyone knows that.”

She didn’t look at me the way she did at Jeff. We had a different dynamic, clearly.

“Okay, that’s good, guys. Babies do come out of… And, yeah, usually in the hospital. Where do these babies come from though; who owns them? Who are their moms?”

“Whores,” said Tommy, with a shrug of indifference. Lily agreed.

“Whores and sluts. Bad people. Junkies. We take away their baby because they can’t look after it. They’re bad people, and bad people can’t be moms, or dads.”

“Who told… how do you know this?”

My theory about the whole thing being the plot of some Friday night B-movie on the horror channel was crumbling with each second that passed.

“Papa says it. He says the babies come from the hospital, and Officer Joe goes with the lady from the look after kids place, and they take the baby from the whore, and then they bring it to the church and then we kill it.”

“The look after kids place?”

“Yeah. I don’t know what it’s called really. They look after kids. Sometimes they come to our school and talk to the teachers. They come to the church too, and wear cloaks.”

“Okay, Tommy. Do you know their names?”

“Who?”

“The look after kids people. What are their names? What do you call them?”

“Hmmmm, I can’t remember. Lily, do you know?”

“Know what?”

“What is the names; of the look after kids people?”

“Am, one is called Sarah. And… another one is called… Alice?”

“And what about Officer Joe? Does he have another name? A last name?”

I realised then that I didn’t know their surnames. Jeff had sheets of paper in front of him, with pencilled scribbles. He’d have gotten all that before I came. I couldn’t make out what was written from where I was. But he’d have made sure he took their full names down.

“Ah… no. No, I don’t think Officer Joe has another name. He comes to the school too. He knows the teachers. Well, some of the teachers. The teachers from the church, the ones who wear the cloaks.”

“Do all your teachers come to the church, Tommy?”

Lily answered instead.

“No, not all the teachers in the school. I don’t think so. I don’t know though, cos it’s dark. And the cloaks have big hoods, so sometimes… sometimes you can’t see faces. You just hear words, when they talk or when they sing.”

“Okay. They sing? What do they sing?”

“Devil songs.”

The hairs on the back of my neck were already up, but the last bit made me feel like someone had dropped ice cubes down the back of my shirt.

“Devil songs?”

“Yeah. I think… in other churches, they sing about Jesus, and God, but not in the church over the sea. It’s different. Other churches have crosses, but we have big stars.”

“Big stars, with a circle round them,” said Tommy, with a serious expression that suddenly made him seem much older.

“And there isn’t God. God isn’t allowed in the church,” said Lily.

“Yeah, not God from the Bible.”

“Is there a different god in your church?”

“Um… kind of,” said Tommy, deliberating. Lilly agreed.

“Yeah. There’s kind of gods. But they don’t look like people.”

I looked at Jeff for support, or some kind of reassurance that I wasn’t still at home, in bed, half-way through a whiskey nightmare. He didn’t catch my eye.

“What do they… what do the gods look like, then, Lily?”

“Animals. And birds. One is like a goat, with curly, curly horns. They’re curly like Papa’s knife for killing the baby. One is like an owl, but he’s not a friendly looking owl. His eyes are too black to be friendly. I think they are the gods. But sometimes Papa says there are no gods. Papa says the real god is yourself, and doing what you want, and what feels good. That’s what he says, all the time.”

“Sometimes Papa is the gods, though. Remember, Lily? Remember when Papa does the changing?”

Jeff finally spoke, his voice was cracking like schoolboy on the brink of adulthood. His coffee was next to him on the table, almost full; cold and undrunk.

“What do you mean, the changing, Tommy?”

“It’s… I dunno. Sometimes when we are in the church, it’s a special feast. A different one to always and normally. And everyone sings a devil song, and Papa changes. His faces changes, and if you look at it, you can see him being something else.”

“Something else?”

“You can see him being a owl, or a goat, or sometimes a fox. Just in his face. He doesn’t look like Papa anymore, but you know he is him, cos you can see his shoes, under his cloak. That’s how you know the god thing is still Papa. It only happens on a special feast though. Not every time. The special feast with the special song, and when they…”

“Tommy?”

“The special feast on the special day, when all the grown-ups and all the kids come to the church. It must be a special day, cos Papa does the changing, and everyone does fuck that day. They do fuck to the kids, and to each other, and the kids do fuck with each other, and everyone is doing fuck on the ground, and no one has cloaks on, everyone is in their skin, and then Papa kills the baby on the… on the church thing, and when he puts the blood on himself, he changes. Into a owl, or a goat, or a fox. His eyes go bad. Like on snakes. His eyes are like snake’s eyes, in a fox’s face.”

“I think sometimes he’s actually a wolf, Tommy. Sometimes it’s more like a wolfy face, with yellow snake’s eyes,” said the girl, with the chilling nonchalance I was worryingly familiar with by now. A call came in on the radio, and I snapped out of my fugue to listen to what it was saying. Crackly, not clear, indistinct. A 10-13, possibly. Officer in need of assistance. Then words, just two of them, almost whispered. “Officer down.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in writing

Ciarán West 5: Electric Revelationaloo [a blog] #irishwriter #newfiction #amazon #wonderwoman #dececptivehashtags #Corbyn

plot
Whenever I write a book, it goes like this:
 
– Have idea
– Start writing
– Get to end of first two chapters
– Be stumped
– Come up with plot
– Still be a bit stumped
– Eventually have a revelation where I think of that One Good Scene that brings the whole thing together, gives it its voice, etc, and will probably be other people’s favourite bit
– Finish the book.

Obviously that sequence is followed by:

– Wait for feedback and reviews
– Wait some more
– Cry
– Inject Smirnoff into own temple
– Lose three days
– Wait some more
– Cry
– Howl at the moon
– Contemplate entire existence, self-worth, and just the very point of living
– Masturbate

But that’s for another blog. Today I want to talk about the revelation/One Good Scene part.
 
With The Boys of Summer that was the scene with Richie’s dad in the garden, and the one glove, because for me it summed up everything about being a male parent back then (or maybe even now) where it’s not considered proper for you to have emotions, or feelings, or to connect with your kid. And then that brings about the later scene where his dad tells him what’s what about life, finally.
 
With Girl Afraid, it was a different thing. It’s an action/horror book, so what I needed was a big set piece, and that turned out to be the last chapter, where it all goes a bit Line of Duty season three finale. Once I had the ending, I went back and wrote the rest.
 
Sweetness Follows, I went back to the formula of the first one, obviously, so my revelation/Eureka moment for a scene had to be about characters/feelings again, not shoot-outs and gore. My main character wasn’t as likable as Richie, so I needed to connect you with him, and the way to do that was to soften him. He’s not as expressive as Richie either, so the commentary about how he’d changed as a person had to come from someone else, so it comes from Ciara, in the nightclub after the Battle of the Bands, and it’s only a few sentences really. But once I had that, I knew I had my book.
 
A Certain Romance, I had to take a character who does really heinous things, all the time, and make people like him enough to maybe root for him, or at least to keep going with the book until the end. Obviously that was always going to be a struggle, and no matter how I did it, people were still going to hate him, or give up, or whichever; that’s par for the course. It’s not a conventional book in any sense, so I was taking risks, fully knowing that they were risks. In the end, the way to make him resonate, was to show you him getting his heart broken, because we’ve all had our hearts broken. And I didn’t do it with some dramatic fight or blow-up, I just did it with a single word from someone, which I think is far more devastating. Your mileage may vary.
 
With More than Words, well I’ve been struggling to find that one scene for months now. The rest of it is fine – it’s funny, it’s not too boring, the characters are lovely, but today, on a little walk, I thought of the exact scene that’ll turn it from a fun little Oirish romance novel into something that belts you in the belly and leaves you affected for a good while after you’ve turned off your Kindle. Because that’s basically what I’ve tried to do with all the others, so it would be a shame if I didn’t do it with this one.
 
PS. I promise it’s not a scene where I kill someone.
 
Thanks for reading this. All three of you.
 
CW
Posted in writing

Ciarán West’s More Than Words, Full Chapter One #newfiction #irishauthor #boysofsummer3

school-430781

Just in case you’ve finished The Boys of Summer and Sweetness Follows and you’re hungry for more Irish nostalgionsense.

One

 

I always thought Richie and me would be together forever. Even though we met when we were really young; even though there were nearly two years between us; even though no one gave us a chance of lasting, I kind of believed in us. And he did too, I thought. Then, in September 1991, when I was fifteen, everything changed. And no matter what either of us wanted, or what either of us did, we’d never be able to change things back to how they used to be.

 

 

“Oh my God! Aw, lads! Ohhhhhh my God, turn that up, like! Turn it up, that’s my song!” shouted Jacinta, from over at the bedroom window, where she was having a fag.

“Really? I thought the last one was your song?” said Triona, rolling her eyes. They were like chalk and cheese, those two, but I loved the bones of them both.

“Yeah, well. This one is too. Turn it up!”

I leaned over to the stereo and put it up a little, but not too much, cos Mum was downstairs, and she’d probably start banging on my floor with the sweeping brush if I put it up too loud. I didn’t even know what song it was, but Jacinta was like that – she knew all the new ones. She spent half her life in DJ boxes, chatting to yer man about the tunes, and getting bought drinks. Triona leaned over to me.

“Any idea where we’re actually going, Mar?”

“Eh, I dunno. Wherever lets us in?” The three of us were fifteen, but you’d look older with the heels and the skirt and the make-up, so it was just luck sometimes. Some places were Over 21s though, so they always asked you for ID, and I hadn’t got a fake one yet.

“Ugh, somewhere shite then?” Triona was a bit of a muppet. She liked weird music; stuff you’d hear Dave Fanning playing on 2FM. She only came to the dancey places with us for the laugh and the few drinks.

“Cheers isn’t shite, you spa,” said Jacinta, back over from her fag. She picked up the bottle and tried to look through it against the light. It was that cider that came in a champagne bottle – the sort they gave out as a prize at a nightclub, pretending it was real champagne. The bottle was dead heavy glass, so you never knew how much was left in it. I liked the way it popped like the real stuff, though. And it was cheap as shit.

“Cheers is the epitome of shite, Jaz. If you looked up ‘shite’ in the dictionary, there’d be a picture of Cheers next to it,” said Triona, drinking back the end of her glass.

“A pit o’ what? Fucking hell, Caitriona Kelly, with your big words. If you looked up ‘gowl’ in the dictionary, d’you know what there’d be a picture of?” Jacinta turned the bottle upside down to double check it was empty, and a little dribble came out onto her knee.

“Let me guess, me?” Triona had a look that could wither a plant on the spot. She’d a few of them, actually.

“Yep. That’s what there’d be. Big picture of you, with ‘Goooowwwwwwl’ written under it.” It was hard to tell when Jaz was only slagging, or when she meant it, but she was usually only having a mess. She was if she knew you, anyway.

“Why do your dictionaries have pictures in them, lads?” I said, picking up the other bottle off the ground, and one of Mum’s tea towels. They looked at me funny for a second, then they both started laughing. We were all half-cut already, but that was a good thing. Adamski was on the radio now. Or Seal. They were the same song.

“Here, d’you want me to do that?” said Jaz, pulling her boob tube up and then down again. Them things never stayed on right for long, but they were all the rage.

“No, shur, you’re grand,” I said. I put the tea towel over the cork bit and twisted the bottle till I felt the pop inside my hand. That was the best way to do it, so’s you wouldn’t take someone’s eye out. One of Richie’s friends, Jonathan, showed me how to do it last Christmas. He was even younger than Richie, but he’d an old head on him, as Dad would say. And he was tall as well.

“Right, fill her up!” said Jacinta, sticking out her glass. Triona had an empty one too, but she was kind of quiet, so she wouldn’t actually ask; she’d just wait til I offered.

“Say when,” I said, knowing she’d never say when, and I was just gonna fill it up until it nearly started spilling. You’ve Got The Love came on the speakers, and she nearly jumped out of her chair.

“Turn that up! That’s – ”

“Your song?” said Triona, winking at me, and then “Thanks, Marian,” when I poured the cider into her wine glass.

*****

“Have ye nothing downstairs ye could rob?” said Jacinta, about an hour later. The drink was finished, but it was still a bit early to be heading out. It was a Saturday though, and it’d been a hot day, even though it was September, and we were back in school on Monday. Dad always said the weather got hot again in the first week of school just to annoy the kids. It’d been raining all week before, so maybe he was right.

“Like what?”

“Like a nice bottle of Kia-Ora. What d’you think I mean, you spa? Booze!”

“Ah, I don’t think so, like,” I said. We didn’t have a liquor cabinet or anything like that, so the only time there’d be spare booze around was Christmas.

“Fuck’s sake, Marian. Do I’ve to do everything around here, do I? Bloody…” Jacinta got up and went towards the bedroom door. Triona give me a look, but she didn’t say anything.

“Where you going now?” I said, looking at her tiny silver mini-skirt and the boots that went nearly all the way up her legs. She’d a great figure and lovely legs, so she could get away with dressing like that without looking too much like a slapper. Even though she kind of was one.

“D’worry ‘bout me. Back in two shakes,” she said, and off she went. I made a face at Triona like to say I didn’t know what was going on at all.

“She’s a complete looper, her,” said Triona, but she was smiling, so she didn’t mean anything bad. We all knew each other from Salesian’s, but me and Triona had been in primary school together too, we went way back. She lived in Caherdavin, same as I used to. We’d to move to Kennedy Park when my Dad’s business went bankrupt, then we came to Thomondgate a couple of years ago. I missed living in Caherdavin, even though I hadn’t lived there since I was eight. I wasn’t really like most of the people around here. Except Richie, maybe. I wasn’t anything like Jacinta, but she was sound out, and it was good to have a friend I didn’t have to get on a bus to go hang around with.

“Ah, she’s great all the same,” I said, but I knew Triona thought so too, so it wasn’t really us arguing or anything. I stood up and had a little stretch.

“Right, will we get you something to wear then?”

“I’m wearing something already,” Triona said, doing one of her faces. I looked her up and down in her tackies, her black Levis, and her Queen t-shirt. I’d seen Freddie on a thing on TV the other day. He looked gaunt, my Mum said. He did and all. Pure thin. And no moustache.

“You are. And they’re lovely, like. Don’t get me wrong. But we’re going pubbing and clubbing, Triona, and you’re not coming dressed like that. Come on, let’s look through my stuff and we’ll find you something.” I wasn’t taking no for an answer. She’d thank me later when all the boys were trying to ride the hole off her.

*****

“Ah, now. I think it’s lovely, I do. Pure romantic, like.” Jacinta was leaning out the window for another fag, so it was like we were talking to her arse. She’d come back with half a bottle of Smirnoff from her house across the green. I’d gone down for Coke from the fridge, dodging Mum on the way, in case she started trying to talk to me or something.

“Shut up, Jaz. It is romantic. Richie’s lovely. So what if he’s only thirteen, like?” said Triona. I’d got her into a tartan skirt and a belly top – she actually looked really good. She was at my dressing table mirror, trying to do her eye-shadow with drunk hands. I’d have to help her in a second, she was no good at stuff like that.

“Nearly fourteen,” I said, cos it was true.

“Exactly. Nearly fourteen. That’s hardly no difference at all,” Triona said, tutting at the eye-shadow brush and putting it down so she could have a drink of her vodka and Coke. It was Diet Coke, cos that was all we had down there.

“Ah, yeah, but… I mean, he can’t come out with us, can he, Mar? He wouldn’t get into the Henry Cecil, or Cruise’s Hotel,” said Jaz, turning around with the fag still in her mouth. It didn’t really matter, cos Mum knew I smoked, but I didn’t want the bedroom to be stinking; that’s why I said we’d to do it out the window.

“Well, no, but that won’t be for long,” I said. She had a point, though. It got annoying. I wondered how long I’d have to wait until he could do normal things with me, sometimes. I loved him, though. I had for a long time, now.

“S’pose, yeah. Well, I’ll tell you, I couldn’t do it.” Jaz smelled the Coke before taking a sip of it. I didn’t know why. She’d poured it herself, and anyway, there was no smell off vodka. Not really.

“Couldn’t do what?” said Triona, trying the eye-shadow brush again. She was making a balls of it. I’d have to take it all off for her in a minute and start again.

“Go out on the tear and not be able to shift whoever I wanted, like. Look at me, shur – All that effort, for nothing? No thanks, like.” She waved her hand up and down herself to show us how glam she looked. The fake tan looked all right just after the summer like it was now, but she’d still be that orange at Christmas, cos that was Jaz for you.

“It wouldn’t be for nothing, though. You’d have a boyfriend, like. Mar just goes out the same way any other girl who’s not single goes out. It’s not all about boys, going out. Well, it isn’t for me, anyway,” said Triona, rolling her eyes again, and then blinking lots, cos her mascara probably wasn’t dry yet. She should have put that on last, in fairness. She really wasn’t any good at it.

“Yeah, well that’s lucky then, isn’t it?” said Jacinta. I gave her a glare like to say “Don’t you start,” but she just stuck her tongue out at me.

“I get plenty, thanks, Jaz. Don’t worry about me. Mar! I give up. Come do my face, will you?”

“Plenty of lezzers, probably, yeah,” muttered Jacinta, reaching over for the bottle of Diet Coke, cos she’d necked her drink already.

“Is that your subtle way of asking me out, Jaz?” said Triona, with her eyes closed now, while I took the shadow off her lids with a wet pad.

“In your dreams, love. I’m way out of your league,” said the other one, pouring herself one last double before we hit the road. I was ignoring them both, cos I wanted to do a fancy smoky blend with the brown and the gold, and I had drunk hands too now as well.

*****

“Morning.” Richie was sitting on the edge of my bed. Mum must’ve let him in. She was grand with him being in my room alone with me. He’d been with me more than two years now. She’d raise an eyebrow at me the odd time, but we’d had the talk, and I told her we weren’t doing nothing up there. Even though we were, usually, just not… what she’d be worried about.

“Oh, hello. Jesus…” My head was splitting. It was ten in the morning on Sunday. Way too early.

“Jesus?” Richie looked nice. He always dressed nice on Sundays, even though he didn’t go to mass anymore, and he’d no Mum around to make him.

“Ah, just my head.” I looked around for the glass of water, but it was empty. I must have drank it in the night.

“Oh right. Had too much last night?” He was doing the face again. He was always a bit funny with me mornings after I’d been out without him. It was annoying.

“Ugh, just a bit, yeah. Sorry, my breath is stinking. Have you a mint?” He usually did, cos of smoking.

“Nah, you’re grand,” he said, but he still gave me a Wrigley’s out of his pocket.

“Thanks.” I felt better then, cos he was only being nice. It must’ve smelled like dog shit. He had his hand on my hip, through the quilt. I got a bit of a nice feeling.

“Your Mam and Dad are gone out…”

“Are they? How do you know?”

“They were going when they let me up. I’d say we’ve the place to ourselves for a few hours, like.” I knew what he was getting at, and I didn’t mind. I always felt  dead horny when I was hungover. I didn’t know why. I asked the girls about it once, and they said the same. You’d get really sort of… wanting to have a cuddle, and wanting to do more. But you were sort of numb down there too, so you couldn’t ever really… get to the end.

“Well then, what are you waiting for?” I lifted the quilt off my legs. I’d changed into my silky nightdress thing the night before. No bra or knickers under it. I liked the way his eyes sort of lit up when he saw me under there. Richie always made me feel gorgeous, even if I looked like shit, with no make-up on, like now. He started kicking off his shoes really fast, God help us. I did a little stretch like a cat would, and the silk felt really nice against my skin. He didn’t know whether to look at me or get on with taking off his shirt and stuff, the poor thing. He got all stuck in his top when he was pulling it over his head. He had a nice back. He had a baby face, but the rest of him looked older than he was, I thought. I moved my knee up towards my chest to give him a little flash, and he tore off his socks like they were on fire or something, bless him.

*****

We’d hit the town straight after we finished the vodka. We walked it, cos it was nice out, and you’d be waiting ages for a taxi to come on a Saturday night. Triona was struggling in the heels I lent her. We were the same size, she just wasn’t used to them.

“I should have got a loan of a jacket off you, Mar,” she said, hugging herself and pretending to shiver.

“Will you go away ou’that, shur. It’s lovely out.” Jacinta. She’d be freezing later, though, so she couldn’t say nothing.

“Yeah, Treen. Grow a pair of balls, will ya?” I’d a warm shrug in my handbag, so I’d be okay if we had to stand waiting for a cab later. I’d been clever.

“Pffft. If I had balls you’d probably be able to see them in this…” She looked down at the skirt I’d lent her. It wasn’t even that short, it was just short for her, cos she normally wore big long hippy things. As long as our school skirts. The winter ones.

“Where’ll we go? Mickey’s?” I liked Mickey Martin’s. They’d comfy seats and we never got ID’d. The toilet was weird, though.

“Jesus, what? Mickey’s again?” Jaz gave me a look. She’d heels on her that must’ve been about six inches. I didn’t know why she did that; fellas didn’t like you being taller than them. Richie didn’t, anyway. I was smaller than him though, so I could put on three inch ones and still be grand.

“What’s wrong with Mickey’s?” I sparked up a fag, cos I hadn’t had one in ages.

“She loves mickeys, don’t mind her,” said Triona, but she wasn’t talking about the pub. I sniggered.

“Better than loving fannies, like you do, you lesbian,” Jacinta said. We were in Thomas Street now, and she was leading the way, so she was coming to Mickey’s anyway, no matter what she was saying. We turned into the alley where the front of it was, and it was packed already. They’d a few tables and chairs outside, cos it still felt like the summer, even though it wasn’t. Not in Ireland, anyway.

*****

Richie and me were really good at doing stuff, probably cos we’d been together for so long. He knew what to do with me, I’d trained him well, as the lads said. I remembered when I first met him and he didn’t know anything really, and I’d to show him how. It was kind of sweet. He picked it up really quickly, though. He wasn’t clueless anymore.

He was under the covers with me now, just wearing his jocks. Mum and Dad were hopefully gonna be out for a good while, so I wasn’t worried about them coming back and catching us. Mum wouldn’t open my door without knocking first anyway. But, if she did, there was no way there’d be time for him to get dressed before she started asking me to open it. It was grand, though. We were probably safe for a while.

I still had my nightie on. There wasn’t really any reason to take it off, he could get to everything anyway. Easy access, as Jaz would say. The hangover thing was definitely happening – I was really up for it, but no matter what he was doing, I couldn’t quite get there. And the more I thought about it, the more it got worse. Like I was putting pressure on myself, or something. He was kissing my neck now, and along my collarbones, making me shiver in the warm. I’d forgotten my headache for a bit, but it’d probably come back in a while. I’d have to rob some tablets from the bathroom cabinet. I felt him kissing down me and I wondered were my armpits a bit pongy from dancing last night, but it was too late to do anything about that now. I’d just let him get on with it. I looked over at the chair where I’d thrown my clothes after coming in. Nice bra and normal, white knickers. I always did that when I went out without him. It was like a little ritual. Like I was saying to myself “No one’s gonna be seeing you in your bra and knickers, so there’s no need for them to being matching or look nice.” It was weird, obviously, but it was my little thing, and it made me feel better.

*****

We got a table in Mickey’s, with some boys. There was no seats in there, but Jaz marched right over to where the guys were sitting, and talked us in there. She was like that – dead brazen. It came in handy lots.

“And what year are ye in, in the Crescent, then?” She was asking the guy sitting nearest to her. A tall rugby jock looking fella, with a bumfluff beard.

“Shhhh, will you? You’ll get us thrown out,” said yer man. He looked like he was going red, but it might just have been the lights in there.

“Ah, g’way, you handicap, you. No one’s listening.” Jacinta had a straw with her bottle of Stag, cos she didn’t give a shite about barmen thinking she was too young.

“Fifth year,” said the guy, nearly whispering. I looked over at Caitriona. She looked a bit uncomfortable, and not just from the clothes. Yer man next to her looked like a right swot. He probably thought it was his birthday. She looked like a ride after we’d done her make up for her, and she was thin, so the belly top looked nice on her, even though she’d no boobs.

“FIFTH YEAR?!” Jaz said, way too loud. The fella’s eyes nearly popped out of his head, and he snuck a look over at the bar, but the lad there was busy pulling pints.

“Shush!” He put his head down, like he was trying to hide behind his pint. I was drinking a Long Island Iced Tea, cos I wanted a cocktail, and we’d said we were going to Wiseguys after this, but no one seemed to want to move.

“Jaysus, will you look at you, like. Pure para. Who’s gonna think you’re under eighteen? Big lump of a youngfella. You’re grand. Calm down. You’ve to buy me a drink in a minute, shur.” I saw her drop her hand under the table and give his leg a squeeze. I hoped it was just his leg, anyway. He suddenly looked like he’d forgotten to be worried about the barman throwing him out. Yer man sitting next to me leaned in to say something. He smelled like too much Lynx.

“So, where are ye going after this?”

“Huh?” I’d heard him, I was just being a gowl.

“Ah, uh, are ye going out-out?” He was very boring looking. Not that I’d have been interested if he wasn’t, or anything.

“Uh, yeah. I dunno where, though. You’d have to ask Jaz.” I nodded over at the boss. She still hadn’t taken her hand back up. She was earning her free drink, definitely. Yer man next to me, Simon he was called, looked over at her, then back at me.

“She’s a bit scary,” he said, looking kind of worried.

“Yeah, she’s fecking terrifying. She’s all right, though. If you know her.”

“Haha, I suppose so. Can I buy- can I get you a drink?”

“Nah… I’ve got one. Thanks, though.” I wouldn’t have minded another one, but you didn’t want to be giving them the wrong idea. When they started getting the wrong idea, you had to start dropping the word ‘boyfriend’ into the conversation, and then they got all sulky looking, and they stopped talking to you.

*****

I could feel Richie getting a bit frustrated with me, in the middle of everything, cos of me being so numb from the hangover. I didn’t think he realised that was what it was, I’d never talked to him about it before. He’d been moving away down there with his hand for ages, and I was making nice noises, but he knew what I was like when I actually finished, and he knew it hadn’t happened yet. I looked at him a couple of times and he looked dead serious, like he was concentrating hard on an exam, or trying to figure out a jigsaw. It made me want to giggle, but I couldn’t do that. You couldn’t laugh at a boy when he was doing stuff to you; they didn’t ever take it well. I felt him move down me, and he lifted up the bottom of my nightie, kissing my stomach. I knew where he was going, and I got paranoid about not having a shower yet, and maybe did I smell, but I couldn’t really tell him to stop, cos he got dead sensitive when you did that – he took it really personally, like I was saying he was doing it wrong, or it was rubbish, even though it never was. Sometimes I just didn’t fancy that sort of thing, or sometimes I just wanted him to come up and kiss me again, cos I missed him. You couldn’t explain that to him, though. He was a funny one sometimes, but all boys probably were.

He was on his way down now, he’d be there in a second, so I had to do something quick. Maybe I should just let him get on with it, though. It might be nice. It was usually nice. But maybe he’d be down there for ages without coming up for air, and nothing would happen, and then he’d just get annoyed. With me, or with himself. I was starting not to care about whether I was stinking now. Fuck it. He started doing what he went down there for, and I pushed my head back into the pillow. We were good together. I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else, really. Felt weird even trying to picture it. He wasn’t perfect; no one was. He’d get strange and moody sometimes – like he did when I asked him to go to the mass for my Uncle Pat’s 2nd anniversary a month back – or a few other times – but I wasn’t perfect either. We were perfect together though; even Jaz said that, sometimes, but she’d usually make a vomit noise after it.

*****

We’d ditched the lads by the time we got down to Arthur’s Warehouse. They were going to Doc’s anyway, and that was pretty hard to get in on a Saturday night, cos they weren’t desperate to get people in there, like they would be on a Sunday. Arthur’s was grand, cos Jaz knew all the bouncers on the door. She gave one of them a hand-job in the toilets one night. Not even to get in his good books or anything. She just did it cos she wanted to. Mad tart.

Triona was steamed. She was up dancing and everything, so you knew she’d had a few. They were playing 80s songs for a bit. Absolutely sad. But we were dancing to them anyway, cos what the hell. Jacinta came bashing through the crowd in her big heels. She’d been over talking to the DJ for ages; flirting with him for free drinks. He was ancient. He dyed his hair black, but that made him look even ancienter, I thought.

“Mar! Mar! There you are! Quick! I’ve a emergency.”

An emergency,” said Caitriona, who was still sober enough to be a gowl.

“What’s wrong, Jaz?”

“Just come with me to the toilet, Mar. I’m not joking. Seriously, like. Come on.” She dragged me away by the wrist. We nearly knocked over a few people dancing on the way. The glass boy outside the doors of the toilets was supposed to stop you going in with drinks, in case you spilt one, or someone got glassed, but he didn’t say anything about me taking my bottle in. He probably didn’t have time, Jaz was dragging me in there so fast.

*****

“Hey. Penny for them?” I was lying up on Richie, after we’d finished messing around. In the end, I’d just pretended, made the right noises, and then I sorted him out. That didn’t take long at all, cos he wasn’t hungover, and cos it never took long if he’d been doing stuff to me first. Or maybe I was just brilliant at it, or something. He’d never complained, that was for sure.

“How d’you mean?”

“I mean whatcha thinking?” I liked this – the cuddle after. Made me feel safe, cos that’s when I wanted to feel safe the most. When I wanted to feel okay, and good, and liked, and not dirty. I’d have hated it if Rich was one of those boys that just did their business, then got all funny and awkward, and got dressed, and tried to make an excuse to get out of there. We had a while yet before my folks came back, though. And we’d hear the car coming in around the back.

“Eh, nothing really. Did you get on… was last night all right?”

“Yeah… Drank a bit too much, danced a bit too much, spent a lot too much.” I tried to keep the answer jokey, in case the question had been serious, or something. He got funny sometimes, about me being out without him, but I’d figured out ways to stop it before it started, usually.

“Where’d ye go, then? Talk to any – meet anyone ye knew?” His tone of voice was weird, like he was asking one thing and meaning something else. I didn’t wanna get into all that shite now. My headache was back, and I was tired again.

“You’ve nothing to worry about, Rich. You never do. You know that, right? You trust me, don’t you?” I looked him right in the eyes when I said it, cos I read that somewhere – that people believed you more if you looked them in the eyes when you said something. And it was true, anyway.

“Ah, yeah. Yeah, I do. I’m sorry, it’s just…”

“It’s okay.” It kind of wasn’t okay, really. Nothing worse than someone not trusting you when you hadn’t done nothing wrong.

“I just – it’s not you I don’t trust, Mar. It’s other fellas. Fellas are awful, like, sometimes. All the time. I should know, I’m one of them. They’d only be after you for one thing, you know?” He was trying to be nice about it, in his own stupid little way, but it still annoyed me.

“Yeah, I know, Rich. And they won’t get it off me, cos I’m not interested in anyone else. You should know that by now.” I knew I sounded dead huffy, but I didn’t care. We’d had this before, loads of times, and it still never went into his skull. Made me want to clatter him sometimes.

“I know, yeah, but, I mean – what if you met someone, like – someone you liked better than me, like? I just… I just do be worried about you, sometimes. Out there, on your own, dressed up all… nice, like.” He had his sulky face on now. I couldn’t believe he’d started all this, after what I’d just done for him. But I had asked him what was up, so it was half my own fault.

“Well, that’s not gonna happen any time soon, babe. Cos I love you, and just you. And, even it was gonna happen, you can’t keep me locked up in a… box, to stop it. That’s just life, shit happens, but it’s not gonna happen, okay?” I’d nearly said ‘up in a trunk, so no big hunk’, cos of the Cliff Richard song, and that made me want to giggle too, even though I was a bit cross. I looked at him, and the sulky face turned into a better one, then he put on a smile, kissed me on the top of my hair, and gave me a nice big squeeze.

“You’re right. I’m sorry, I’m just being an eejit, Mar. Sorry.”

“You are being an eejit, yeah, you spa. Anyway, d’you think I give amaaaaazing blow-jobs like that to just anyone?”

“Haha, no. No, you don’t.”

“Exactly. Just to you. And Patrick Swayze. And your Dad.”

“Hahahaha, you bollix, you.”

He whacked me over the head with a pillow, and we were back to normal again.

*****

“Oh, for God’s sake, Jaz!” The both of us were squashed in together in one of the cubicles in the jacks. We were lucky there was one free when we got in, normally you’d have to queue.

“What???”

“That’s not a fucking emergency. I was picturing some youngone half-dead on the floor in here, and you asking me to give her the kiss of life, like.” I was rooting through my handbag, but I couldn’t find the thing I needed to get for her yet.

“It’s a fucking emergency to me, like. Coming on in the middle of Arthur’s on a Saturday night, and I no jamrags with me? If that’s not an emergency I dunno what is.”

Jamrags… you’re something else, you are.”

“Yeah, well. Fucking gutted now. Tis lucky I always have a spare pair of knickers in my bag, like. Be prepared, they says. We can fucking flush these other ones, like. Looks like a butcher’s hanky, that does.”

“Jaz!!!” She was disgusting. It was one of the things I loved about her.

“Fucking gone, they are. Weren’t even cheap, them, either. Got them in the North last year. They’re Top Shop. English knickers, Mar. Have you found me a pad yet, like? Or are you looking for the Lost Ark down there?”

“I don’t have any pads.” I’d never said I had pads to her.

“You don’t have any – what you mean, Mar?” She flushed the knickers, but they wouldn’t go down. She tore off a load of tissue and threw it down into the bowl on top of them.

“I only have tampons.” I didn’t ever use pads. They felt like nappies.

Tampax!? What are you, a Protestant? For fuck’s sake, Mar. I’ll never get one of them up me.”

“Jesus, there’s been plenty of bigger things up there, Jaz, according to you anyway. Cop on, will you?” I found one. An applicator one, still in the little packet. Three drops on the side. That’d have to do her.

“Ah now, fuck off, yeah. I’ve just… I’ve never used one, like. How do you – do they hurt?” She was being serious as well. Some girls were really funny about using them. When we did our talk in school they hardly mentioned them. It was all pads and stuff. I’d got my first ones off my Aunt Sarah, but she lived in England, so maybe it was just an Irish girl thing.

“Of course they don’t… look, there’s applicator thing here, and… do you want me to put it in you and everything, is it?”

“Feck off, Mar. I wouldn’t be into that now at all. You’re mixing me up with Triona, like.” She was always going on about Triona being a lesbian. You’d swear she fancied her or something. I could have told her a few tales there, but I didn’t, cos that’d be lousy on Caitriona. And Jaz might end up thinking I was a bit… as well.

“Look, it’s either this, or you can spend the rest of the night… holding it in, like. Up to you, love.” I handed her the little packet.

“Ah, Jaysus, no. It’d be like a slaughterhouse floor out there in ten minutes, says you. Just… tell me what to do, and feck off out of here and let me do it, yeah?”

“Yeah, you’re welcome, like.”

“Sorry. Yeah, thanks, Mar. You’re sound out. D’you think I won’t pull now? They can tell, fellas, can’t they?”

“Tell what?” I could hear loads of voices outside the door. Probably girls waiting for one of the stalls to be free. We were probably making them piss their knickers, we were taking so long in there.

“When you’ve come on. They know, don’t they?” She took the yoke out of the packet like it was going to bite her or something, and squinted at it.

“No. How would they know?”

“Dunno. Smell of twopences off your gowl?”

“Hahahaha, I love you, Jaz.” Someone tried the handle of the cubicle door, and started swearing when it wouldn’t open. I had to go out there in a minute, and they’d think it was free, until Jacinta locked it again behind me. That’d be fun.

Posted in writing

So, Why Girl Afraid 2? [a blog] #amwriting #whatiwrite #newfiction #irishwriter

girlafraidfinal
Now available on Amazon (and in your very nightmares)

Why indeed? Let me start from the start, because starting from the end is very 1990s Tarantino, and you know how I don’t like to write about the 90s.
Girl Afraid was originally written because I didn’t want to typecast myself in the Oirish Nostalgia genre, I wanted to write something outside the First Person style, and I’d given up on getting representation, so I wanted to write something that every agent and publisher would have rejected due to its content. At the same time, I thought The Boys of Summer was quite niche – even though it has only ever got positive reviews, I have no gauge for how many people gave up after the first few pages due to the language barrier thing. (Or maybe because they just hated it, but they never said that in the way reviewers did with Girl Afraid, so I’ll literally never know).
 
Anyways, the plan with Girl Afraid, before I decided it was going to be all censorship-proof and shocking and controversial, was to to make it more accessible. Which meant making it dumber. If The Boys of Summer was like a movie, Girl Afraid was going to be like a Michael Bay movie. Because stupid is accessible. But once I made it about what it was about, that canceled out the accessibility, so now you had something that fell between two stools – on the one hand, it was stupid enough to impress people who found The Boys of Summer too niche, but it was offensive enough to make 80% of them get sick in their handbags.
 
So, it was a failure, right? No. Girl Afraid has more reviews, more downloads, more internet chatter, and more hard cash sales than anything I’ve ever written. Even thought I know it’s the worst novel I’ve ever written. It is the Cars 2 of my Pixar Universe. And me calling it the worst doesn’t mean I hate it, I am just putting it up against The Boys of Summer, which I genuinely think is amazing, and Sweetness Follows, which I think is even better, even though literally no one has read it yet.
 
So, is Still Ill a forced sequel? Not at all. I always had plans for where I wanted that story to go. It never really ended with Poppy, Alice and Harry in that room. It was just that I had other plans too. Some of which (Chink and After London) never really became anything, because of genre confusion worries. But, now, when I’m about to release A Certain Romance, part 3 of the Boys of Summer thingy is coming out at the end of February, and I’ll be at a loose end for what to write next, sure. And my plotting for it is pretty exciting/mental/controversial/sexy/surprising, etc. And just as pulpy as Girl Afraid was. So watch this space.
 
CW out.