by Gerald Heys
Bloody Bones was real. I’d peeped through the crack under the stairs and seen him crouching; gorging on the carcase of the untruthful child. The Banshee, too: I’d heard her keening for the dead in the night. And I’d glimpsed the myriad jewel-eyed fairies in the dark under the bed, who would steal you away unless you were safely tucked in. And all of them were there, waiting for me, at that solitary house at the end of the boreen.
August turning into September. Tea was hot on the range when we arrived, and the aroma of soda bread in the hall. There’d be salty butter, too, from Dick Culton’s farm, where Nana milked the cows at sunrise. And blackcurrant jam from the fruit off the hedgerows round the paddock where Neddy the donkey munched on the nettles and thistles.
With our bags upstairs, I drank my tea and ate the still-warm bread, staring across the lane at the well. Tomorrow, I’d see Grandda out there, bending with the heavy enamel bucket. Not like a well in a story, with a tiled roof and a handle, just a concrete hole. But the water so soft, it foamed when it boiled for the tea. And Nana’d be there, too, hands behind bent back as she pushed her way up the hill to the village for Mass.
Bacon and cabbage that first evening, with big floury praties peeled hot at the table. Then, the paraffin lamps lit, Grandda sat with his shtinky pipe and told me and Sis-Cow about the ga-nomie who lived in the well, who’d nearly hoicked him in again this morning, the fecker. And what about Blackmore Lane? The muderin’ fella they hanged there had the devil himself come in the dead of night to take him to his black house. The cloven feet had sliced through the hangman’s knot in one swish of his pointy tail. Did I hear tell of that?
But Ma said that was enough now; it was time for my bed.
A candle to light me up the stairs. Half-way, I turned to see my shadow, bigger than any man ever, rising up over my head.
I woke in the night needing the jacks. I felt for the china gazunder, but I wanted more than just a wazz. Much, much more. I had to go out to the privy in the kitchen garden by the back paddock. The paddock on the edge of Blackmore Lane …
Clouds hurried over the moon. The wind whipped the tops of the trees. I stumbled inside the lav, tripping on a root or a stone in the dark. The latch was broken so, perched on the wood over the hole, I held on with my fingers.
Waiting for the drop.
Footsteps. Christ, footsteps. The wind blowing, but there, through the grass. Heavy. Slow. My hold slipped, the door creaked open. And Oh, Jesus: a face in the moonlight. Long, with his horns reaching up to the lintel. And bad breath. The breath of hell. My poo came down in a torrent and I pulled up my jimjams and ran inside, elbowing the Devil in his hairy nose, praying to Jesus and all the bloody saints that ever were as I scrambled upstairs to bundle the sheets over my head.
Morning now, warm and safe. I got up, and padded across the lino to my window over the back. A thick mist had risen from the bog. I stared. No, it couldn’t be. But God, yes. Still out there. The Devil his-feckin-self in the daylight! His horns showing dark in the haze, and his long face coming towards the house. Oh, Christ. My mouth open, but no scream came …
The misshapen head dropped now as Neddy, long ears twitching, nibbled on a forbidden cabbage.