Category: Fiction

The Party by Elaine Reardon

It was a virtual birthday party. The group of friends had gathered each September to celebrate their mutual Libra birthdays. They’d go out, have drinks, dinner, and enjoy an almost carefree night off from responsibility. This year was different. Anna was turning 50, the first of them to make the half-century mark. Before Covid hit, she and her husband Conner had separated, him going off on a vacation tour of Croatia, her to deal with the repercussions and anger with their not-so-young children. And while he’d been prancing about off the coast of Croatia, the borders began closing, one by one.

She’d held on to half-time work. She heard from him once. A guilt postcard. She finally sorted through what Conner left. His out-of-season clothes were all packed in trash bags in the attic. She tossed out his favorite stupid biscuits, old socks, and trice-read paperback novels.
Anna replaced his battered bookcase with a sleek table with shelves underneath, from Ikea. She put a tray on the top and had her bottle of wine with a couple glasses at the ready. When covid cocooning ended, she’d imagined herself pouring drinks from this new perch, herself feeling like quite the new woman when that time arrived.

Thus far, she’d made a couple pots of jasmine tea when her daughter Maura visited. Maura was just into her first apartment with her best friend and would come home to visit once a week. Anna tried to put on a good face for the first few months, but Maura wasn’t fooled. Mom was devastated. Dad? Well, he’d better not show his face. The bastard! Off in Bolivia, it turned out, with a woman, not Croatia at all!

And so the group of birthday friends, together since school, wanted to be together for this journey into the fifties, amid all the confusion of cocooning and covid.
They planned well. Everyone had a good bottle of something they had hung onto for a special event. They’d have a virtual party on Zoom. They all opened said bottles, kept enough for themselves to drink, and delivered the bottle with its remains ( at least 2/3 full) to Anna’s front door. She had a special bin set out for deliveries.

Anna ended up with several bottles of wine, one of whiskey, a cognac, and some handmade vodka. On the night of the virtual party, Anna set up the bar with all her bottles and washed her best glasses. The glass gleamed in the candlelight. They all dressed for the occasion even though it was Zoom. Anna went Spanish for the occasion and made tapas. She sautéed Padron peppers, sliced chorizo, cheese, and set out olives. Then She set up small plates for her friends, almost like an altar offering.

It cut her to the quick to not be able to sit and feel her friends press into her with birthday hugs, to tell her being together was better than the fiftieth birthday holiday she had planned with Conner. When she thought of Conner, doing God knows what in Bolivia—well, her heart fell into her feet still. So she closed her mind to that for tonight.

At 7:30 the Zoom began. There was a quiet hush as the group took in Amy’s new living room, all signs of Conner gone. One by one they toasted the birthday girl, pouring their classes full. They all nibbled a bit and began to recite remembrances, their first dates, leaving school together, and their first holidays after they all began to work. Enough years had passed since then so the three of them now had grown kids. Without noticing they had transitioned from being on the cusp of new adventures to watching their children arrive in that place.

They raised their glasses, their eyes met over Zoom, and there were no words needed. There was love. Just love.

 

The Sage of Shanleys by Stephen Brady

J. J. Shanleys’ Bar sat on a lonely road facing out on the grey Atlantic. To the south lay the bare tundra of the Burren. And all around the hills, a funeral country on the ragged edge of the old Continent.
J.J. was leaning on the bar, studying the funerals in the paper – “Who’s Who In The Underworld,” as he liked to call it. The door to the bar popped open, admitting a squall of rain and the roar of the sea. He glanced up, and saw two strangers in the doorway.
“Come on in, folks. Shut that door behind ye.”
The door was closed, and the newcomers advanced into the bar.
They were a couple in their thirties, both tall, sandy-haired, athletic. They were wearing expensive raingear and matching baseball caps. The man had a Nikon slung around his neck. They both wore rimless glasses, through which they peered in the taproom’s gloom.
“Come on in,” he said again. “Pull up there and warm yeerselves.”
“Thank you sir,” said the man, and the pair climbed onto barstools. The woman looked down at hers as though it might give way beneath her.
“Now.” J.J. closed the paper and straightened. “Welcome to Shanley’s. Last stop before the Hudson Bay! I’m J.J. Would I be right in saying ye two are new to the parish?”
“That’s right,” said the man, blinking at J.J. in a not-unfriendly manner. “I’m Todd Garrity. This is my wife, Shanice.”
“Hi,” she said.
“Are ye from the States?” asked J.J., a little sardonic.
“That’s right, sir. Milford, Delaware. Go Eagles!”
J.J. didn’t know what to say to that, and a pregnant pause ensued.
“So…! What can I get for ye, folks?”
“How about some tea?” said Shanice. She was looking at J.J., but she seemed to be looking through him, at the same time. “You guys always have tea, right?”
“Right y’are. Two teas coming up.”
He went into the kitchen, leaving Todd and Shanice alone.
“I’m telling you,” she said in a low voice, “we took a wrong turn. That old woman at the post office was making fun of you. That Kilfana place, it’s not out here. There’s nothing out here. Except this place.” She looked around at the bar, and shuddered a little.
“It’s fine,” said Todd. He laid his Nikon carefully on the counter. “We’ll get our tea and use the restroom. Then we’ll get out of here.”
“The sooner the better. There’s something weird about this place. And I don’t like the way that guy’s looking at you.”
“What guy?”
Shanice made a minor motion of the head, and Todd followed it.
There was a man there, sitting at the far end of the bar. Todd could have sworn he wasn’t there when they came in.
The patron was barely visible, and seemed to be solidified from the shadows. He was ancient, a mountain of a man, wearing dirty brown clothing, a shapeless felt hat squashed down on his head. A rich, loamy odour issued from him. His face was a mass of wrinkles and weather-raw skin, from which a pair of narrow eyes glinted.
“There ye are,” the patron rumbled. His voice seemed to make the windows rattle.
“Good afternoon, sir.” Todd’s Mom had always told him there was no excuse to forget your manners, even before Saint Peter. “We didn’t see you there.”
“No,” the denizen growled. “Ye wouldn’t have.”
Silence ensued. Shanice was scrolling intently on her phone. Todd was starting to wonder where their tea was. And he was acutely aware of the denizen’s eyes, heavy upon them.
“Very windy out there,” he ventured.
“April the 12th, is it?”
“Um… yeah. Today is April 12th.”
“Well then.” The customer raised a glass of black liquid to his face, took a pull, and set it back down with an air of satisfaction. “That’s the reason for that.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Always a big wind April 12th. Every year. ‘Tis to do with the craters, out in the sea.”
“Really?” said Shanice, without looking up.
“Indeed. Big wind April 12th. And it always blows in a couple of strangers.”
Another silence followed that remark, punctuated only by the wind and the muted roar of the sea.
“This place is not so bad,” said Todd, drumming his fingers.
“I’m telling you, we took a wrong turn. Oh for Heaven’s sake.” She was trying, without success, to pull up Google Maps. “Can’t get a darn signal in here.”
“Did ye come out from Knocknagrealish?” the patron enquired. It took Todd a moment to make sense of the question.
“Oh yes, that’s right. A very helpful lady at the post office gave us some directions.”
“On the wrong wrong,” muttered Shanice.
“Not at all,” came the reply. “That road out from Knocknagrealish is the best road ye could be on.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”
“‘Tis a perfect circle, that road. Follow it long enough and it’ll take ye anywhere.”
Shanice was looking hard at the barfly now. But she could detect no humour: the crumpled face remained unreadable.
“Where’s our darn tea?” she muttered.
They glanced toward the kitchen. The sounds of tea-making were faintly audible, but there was no sign of J.J.
“Say,” said Todd. “when we were coming out on that road, we saw kind of a stone circle. On the hill, a few miles back. Would that be what you guys call a ‘fairy fort?'”
The sage put his glass down, hard.
“No. That would not be what you call a ‘fairy fort.’ There is no such a thing. This ‘fairies’ lark was concocted by the conquerors, to make the natives look backward. Flim-flam is at all it is. ‘Fairy fort’ me eye…” He drank, grumbling.
“Hey, if I offended you, I apologize.” Todd raised a hand, palm out. He was in Human Resources, and had a number of gestures on call to defuse tense interpersonal situations. “But I guess you’d be the right person to ask. What is the significance of the stone circle?”
“‘Twas the house of the Banshee.”
Another silence descended. Shanice returned to her phone. From the kitchen still came faint sounds, shifting and clanks.
“Won’t be long,” Todd said. “We’ll be on our way soon.”
“Good.”
“Still, this place ain’t so bad. It seems kinda… I don’t know… familiar?”
“Please. Next you’re gonna tell me you feel some ancestral connection to this dump.”
“Well, maybe I do.”
She looked up, and her gaze was hard.
“Well I just hope you remember whose idea this was. It wasn’t me who wanted to come to this crappy country.”
This was true. Since Todd’s father had passed the year before, he had talked of little else but finding the land of his forebears. Shanice guessed it was a mid-life thing, and had tried to hook him up with a life-coach. But he wouldn’t let it drop. He’d started talking a lot about his Grandma (whom Shanice had always thought a dismal old witch), and about the townland in County Clare that her people had departed a hundred years before. And now they were here, or in some godforesaken place in the same general area.
“I hope you know,” she said, “that I’m dealing with a lot right now. And I hope you’re getting all this out of your system.”
Before Todd could answer, the rumbling voice came again from the shadows.
“D’you know, you look fierce familar to me. What’s this your name is?”
“Garritty, sir. Todd Garrity.”
The sage nodded, or at least the massive head tipped back into the darkness, then returned. “That’s right. Fierce familiar, you are.”
Ignoring his wife’s gaze, Todd leaned over the bar. “Actually, sir, my family name was Garraghy. From around this area originally, we think.”
“Would that be Garraghys from Kilfarnagh?”
Todd was so stunned he had to grip the bar to keep from falling backward.
“That’s right! That’s what my Grandma used to say. Her Mom, my great-grandma, left from Kilfarnagh with all her people.”
“That’s right,” said the sage. “Margaret Garraghy, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right,” said Todd in wonderment.
“Knew her well. When she was a wee gerl.”
“Oh for Heaven’s sake,” muttered Shanice. She looked over at the kitchen door. But where a chink of light had been visible before, now was only darkness.
Todd said, “I’m sorry, sir, but that’s not possible. Margaret Garraghy left Kilfarnagh in the 19th century. Sometime in the 1880s, we think.”
“That’s right,” the sage said equably. “A grand sweet gerl. They called her Maggie Poll. Somethin’ funny with her left eye. A finer wee lass you couldn’t meet.”
Todd was dumbfounded. All of that matched with things his Grandma had said. All of it taking place in this bare country, more than a century ago.
“Todd!” his wife hissed. “Don’t be an idiot. That guy spins yarns to tourists all day. He’ll hit you up for a drink next. What’s the matter with you?”
“And yourself, young lady.” The denizen addressed her for the first time. “What was your family name?”
She considered not answering, then said: “Schwarzheim.”
The sage drank, and returned to a complacent silence. Todd found that he could not stop staring at the man on the far stool, half-eaten by the shadows. And it seemed, as he studied the mountainous figure, that moss lay in the wrinkles of his face, that swatches of grass grew on the backs of his hands, and that when he moved fine curtains of earth would sift from the creases of his clothes.
Shanice Garritty was staring out the window at the ocean. The sounds from the kitchen had long since ceased. And she realized that they would never get their tea, or leave this place, or see Springtime in Milford again. The only sound in Shanley’s bar was the neverending miles-deep rumble of the sea

Defiance by Catriona Murphy

Over the outcrop, on the rocky lip, the waves crashed in a ferocious thrust, thrashing against the drenched boulders.

Clara could hear the splash, the rush of that river’s surge – the power.

And was jealous of the force it wielded.

Because it had all crumbled a week before.

Her professor’s body was found in the men’s toilet.

The sigil that was burned into her front garden lawn, blazed until the neighbours called the police.

Her brother’s breathing down the phone, his kidnapper holding it to his trembling lips to drain her, to provoke her.

To tame her.

But there was no taming.

She wouldn’t relent like some broken beast, hobbling on its last leg as the hunter’s final gunshot rang through the forest. No sounds that would run terror or fear through her bones or veins.

A rod of defiance stuck deeply in her body and would not bend to any wind. Any call. Any bluster.

Closing her eyes, she allowed the waterfall spray onto her face and neck, the droplets cleansing.

She felt the pulse of the forest run through her, down her dark hair and tingling spine, and into her rooted legs and feet.

Today there would be no sacrifice; today there would be no submission.

Stepping forward, she dipped one foot into the water, then another, until the calming waters pooled and rippled around her waist. They emanated her echoing sadness, in how each concentric wave reflected the desolate sky; clouds overhanging and cushioning down the Brazilian humid heat within the earth a little longer. To madden its inhabitants in that press, that pressure, that would squeeze the moisture out of her body, if not for the solace of water.

She allowed herself to float like driftwood, a little away from the bottom of the waterfall, feeling the unsettling of what cried inside her to come out.

Only when she could touch the rod inside, could she take action, and not before.

Closing her eyes, she saw the book burst into flames in her room again, the dying cries of the crow outside before she threw clothes and her wand into a case, and fled into the night like a despairing shadow, leaving death and her captured kin in her wake.

She opened her eyes to the constellations of branches and leaves overhead, and beyond clouds puffing to burst their burden, and cleanse the earth.

Recalling her initiation and her days of living in the wild, of how she read the stars, cooked breakfast over a fire and shot arrows into her food. She longed for the simple life of living only to survive and take no more than what she needed.

She still has furs above her living room mantelpiece of a panther she’d encountered.

But those days were gone.

Now were the days of college, adjusting to a society she felt cold in and dealing with matters too dark for any of her fellows students to bear.

Slipping away from the water’s cold embrace, she thanked it for its imbuing clarity and walked to her tools by a sapling tree.

The forest birds called out her name but she ignored them.

Picking up her amethyst stone, it emanated a soft violet glow, and her mind ticked over the past week’s events.

Regardless of her plight, she knew what to do.

Arc of the Comet

Arc of the Comet, a lyrical, evocative examination of promise, potential and loss, follows Conor Finnegan, a handsome, charismatic, athletic young man, and Tom McIlweath, a shy and insecure Everyman desperately seeking harmony and acceptance.

Through the Waters and the Wild

Haunted by lost loves and limping through a lifeless career, Conor Finnegan’s discontent mirrors the restlessness of his grandfather Liam, caught as a young man in the crossfire of the Irish Civil War.

My Friend Jenny (The Joyless Junkie)

Life can be hard enough when growing up in Belfast.
Unfortunately Kat likes to live on the edge a little.
Mingling with a dodgy crowd that regularly dabble in drugs and criminal activities.
The leader of this gang is Jenny. A rather unstable young woman,
with a bad temper and a hatred of all things Catholic.

Through the Passageway

Through the Passageway is the first book of a five part series following the two main characters, Annie and Abigail as they discover their capabilities when faced with major changes to their lives. They are thrust into an action packed, adventure to save not only themselves but the people they love and protect their homes from total destruction.

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