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.”
“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