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Blood Bound by Shannon Ellis

Blood Bound

By

Shannon Ellis

   

Ch. 1 New Arrival

            The first sound to pierce the quiet night air came silently and without warning; an eerie, blunt sifting and crackling churning sound.

            What was that?

            Jolie's eyes flew open only to be greeted by darkness.  Lying on her back, she squinted into the pitch black of her room for a brief moment and waited for her eyes to adjust.  But unfortunately, no matter how hard she tried to focus her vision, no matter how ridiculously she scrunched up her face and narrowed her eyes, Jolie found the dark to be unrelenting to her struggle.  Her first thought was that the bulb in the table lamp by her bed must be burnt out."  But that couldn't be right.  There should have been more than enough light from the street lamps outside her window to illuminate her bedroom even without the lamp. So...why was it so dark?

            The noise sounded again, still a soft, crunching rustling in the night. 

            There it is again!        

            Jolie's breath caught in her throat as she laid there listening to the noise sounding on and off.  It was actually a little frightening, in fact, and getting worse by the minute. She wanted more than anything to turn a light on, but the very idea that some unknown thing nearby was making such strange noises kept her from moving; she didn't want to alert whatever it was to her presence.  She tried to stay perfectly still and quiet as she listened, as tactic she had used often as a child when the strange creaks and moans of her parents house had her convinced a monster was creeping across the floorboards to her bed, coming to eat her alive.  Staying still was her only solace back then in those moments of childish terror, praying that if anything truly lurked in the dark, her lack of movement would convince it that her bed was vacant and not worth searching through for prey or victims. 

The noise was growing louder now, the mysterious muffled rustling rising in volume and filling the very cracks of the room with the hanging tension of unease. 

Just stay still, lay low and maybe it will go away.

It was unsettling to be unable to place what that sound was.  It was almost too unfamiliar to describe.  She wanted to say it was a scratching sound, but the noise was far too gentle, too soft to be hitting against a hard surface.  Jolie found herself recalling that slasher flick she had watched last week at the Savoy, the one where the killer drove one of his female victims into panicked insanity as she listened to him crawl and creep about in the dark, waiting and dreading for him to strike.  Jolie had had nightmares for days.

            ...was this one of those nightmares?

            The noise came back again, slowing down and speeding up in sporadic patterns. 

            Please, please just go away!

But then, Jolie shouldn't have to cower in her bed like a frightened child.  She was older now, twenty-two years of life under her belt.  She was far too old to believe in monsters, of things that go bump in the night.  There was nothing to be afraid of; it was probably just her cat getting into things she knew she shouldn't.  Jolie took a deep breath.  "A-Allie?" her voice was little more than a whisper.  She cleared her throat and tired again, a bit louder.  "Allie?  Is that you?  Here kitty-kitty."

No response.  Not the gentle padding of soft paws across the floor, not the jiggle of the bell on Allie's collar, not even a meow. 

The noise became a bit more pronounced.  It dragged on in longer, rougher bursts of sound. 

That's...that's not Allie...

            She couldn't take not knowing anymore.  She shot up as fast as she could, intending to reach for her table lamp and switch it on all in one quick motion, just as she used to as a child when the fear of monsters under the bed became too much, believing the illumination would chase all the bad back from whence it came.  But this plan was quickly derailed when Jolie found herself lying flat on her back with severe throbbing blossoming across her forehead.  Cursing, she reached up to rub at the bump sure to be making itself known on her scalp.  It was as she brought her hand up over her face, that her attention was caught by something else.  Hovering just a few inches over her head, the top of her hand had grazed a rather low hanging ceiling, the tender flesh of her knuckles catching and scraping across it. 

            The noise continued.  The harsher, crunches of the racket sounding quite abruptly in the quiet every now and then while it seemed the softer sifting sound would linger and blur together into one continuous clamor.

            But Jolie had more pressing matter to attend to now.  "What in the-" Jolie hesitantly raised her other hand up and spread both palms flat out in front of her.  Once again, her fingers were greeted by a barrier. Worry began to set in, her mind was trying to tell her something and in her sleep addled mind she was piecing it together too slowly.  She took a moment to take in the situation; the ceiling had lowered itself in the night, an occurrence that Jolie could recognize as unnatural even if she was half asleep.  Jolie slowly dragged her hands back and forth in front of her, finding not the bumpy, hilly swirls and whorls of her plastered ceiling, but a rough, flat, dry texture.  It felt like wood...and it felt pretty solid. 

            The sifting, rustling from above had suddenly become a second propriety in light of this new discovery. 

            Why would there be wood here?

            A splinter embedded itself into her finger and she drew her hand back sharply with a hiss.  As she did so, her shoulder bumped hard into something.  Gulping, she trailed one hand over to her side until it reached a groove in the wood and slanted downward.   A corner; she had hit a wall.  "No..."

            It was safe to say the mysterious noise was the least of Jolie's worries now, no matter how loud it had become.

            "No, no, no, no...", that word was quickly becoming her mantra as Jolie reached over to her other side and found yet another wall.  She stretched her toes out as far as they would go and was not surprise, but no less concerned to find another barrier where the foot of her bed should have been...if she had actually been in her bed.  She winced as the hard unforgiving wood bit into the soft skin of her feet.  So she was barefoot, but she could have sworn she had gone to bed the night before with socks on.  Where had her socks gone and why the hell wasn't she in bed?  She reached over her head and behind her.  Yes, there was a wall there as well. She was boxed in.  Her fingernails dug into a small clump of something pressed against one of the corners by her head.  Pulling her hand back down, she sifted the substances between her fingers in the darkness.  Feeling it between the pads of her fingers and fall away, she realized in horror exactly what it was: dirt. 

            The noise was growing maddeningly louder still, closer even.  If one were to hazard a guess, it was coming from directly overhead. 

            "No, no, no, no!"  Jolie began to rock back and forth as much as her small confines would allow.  She knocked violently against sides of her wooden prison; thrashing around much like a large fish would at the end of a line when it has that last bit of fight left in it.  "No," she lurched to her left, "No," she jerked to the right.  The mantra in her head had become a panicked siren wail.  She couldn't be trapped here.  She just couldn't be.

            The sound that woke her up had become no more than background noise to her own frantic cries.

            Jolie lay flat on her back again and pressed her hands against the section of wall serving as her ceiling again.  Locking her elbows she tried to push on it, but it wouldn't budge.  Bending her legs as much as was allowed she braced her knees against the wood to give herself more force as she gave the ceiling another shove.  Still, the results where the same.  She heaved against it once more; still nothing.  With a sob, she began to beat against the splintered surface over and over.  She was closed in, surely left to die.  A small box could not possibly hold much air in it and with every gasping breath she took she was surely sucking it up that much faster.  Jolie's panic turned to dizzying hysteria.  'I can't breathe,' she thought, 'I can't breathe.'  She sucked in shallow breaths through clenched teeth and tried to calm herself.  If anything, she only served to elevate her rising terror.  The darkness surrounding her only served to further exasperate the problem.  It played tricks on her eyes, the dark swimming across her vision in blotchy black and dark gray swirls as if things were moving about in the darkness.  But Jolie knew the only thing before her eyes was the blasted ceiling and her own two hands.  Weeping loudly she continued to beat against the wooden roof hanging over her.  All too soon her fists became sore and her breathing grew labored and still, the wood would not give. 

            "No..."

            She slammed her fists against the wood as hard as she could. 

            The noise kept getting louder.

            "No..."

            She pounded relentlessly against the ceiling as her face became a wet mess from tears and a runny nose.

            The noise grew louder still, deafeningly so.

            "Please no."

            She hit and clawed at the wood until her fingernails chipped and blood seeped from her battered fingertips; a shower of splinters and wood scrapings sprinkling her hair and face.

            The noise seemed to echo across every square inch of her small prison.

            "No.  No.  No.  No.  NO!"  Jolie screamed as she pounded one more time against the wooden surface.  Sobs wracked her body as she lay back against the floor of her prison and curled in on herself.  "Let me out!" she cried.  "Please let me out.  Somebody, Anybody.  Just let me ou-"

            Something loud and heavy struck against the ceiling.

            Jolie jolted slightly.  CLUNK! It struck again, harder this time, followed by a rough scratchy, sweeping sound.  This carried on for some time, the heavy fall of loud abrupt clunking and sweeping sounding in rapid succession.

            Jolie pressed her ear against the wooden barrier separating her from the signs of life on the other side.  Cautiously, hopefully, she tapped against the wood.  "H-hello?  Is someone out there?"

            No answer.  The sweeping and clunking continued. 

            Gulping audibly, Jolie forced back the tears still trying to escape and tried again; raising the volume of her tapping to what she hoped was a loud, quite noticeable knock. "Please, I'm begging you, get me out of here.  I'll do anything, just get me out."

            Suddenly, the roof flew open to the side.  Daylight glared blindly down on her, forcing Jolie to turn away and shield her eyes.  Briefly, she registered the feeling of dirt and gravel raining down on her face, gathering in clumps at the crease between her arms and shoulders and speckling her hair.  She spit some out of her mouth and gasped heavily, savoring that mouthful of fresh, cool air mixed in with soil.  That relief was cut short when she opened her eyes again and saw walls of dirt stretching several feet up all around her.  Dread settled in the form of an unpleasant churning in her gut as it dawned on her that she was in a hole.  She had been sealed up in a box in the ground.  So soon after nearly being scared to death, the implications of what this meant were too horrible and disturbing to consider.  The evidence before her would have been horrifying even if she was calm.  Curling up into a slight ball, she clutched her knees to her chest and closed her eyes tightly, wanting nothing more than to wake up back in her bed.  She would have stayed like that, but she was pulled out of her shocked stupor by a loud cough from somewhere above her.

            Looking up, she found a tall man with dirty blonde hair and a worn hat pulled down low over his forehead slowly standing up from a crouch.  He carefully pulled a shovel up out of the hole Jolie was in; it appeared that he had used the shovel to pry open the lid to the box.  The man stood there staring at her in silence, back-dropped by a milky white and pale sky.

            "Aye, Ean."  He drawled in a low breathy tone.  "I think we found the right one this time."

            "What makes you say that, Conor?"  A softer voice answered back from somewhere over his shoulder. 

            "'This one's blinking at me."

            There was a shuffling of feet and then a younger man appeared at his shoulder.  Ean, as this one seemed to be called, had long, dark chocolate brown hair that fell about his eyes.  He too wore a hat low on his head, but his was much nicer than the man Conor's was; newer perhaps and a far nicer fabric.  In his hand he also carried a shovel. 

            Ean crouched down so that he could get a better look into the hole, his black gloved hands rested on his knees.  From the looks of it, he was dressed in a dark suit, a uniform of some sort.  He made a show of being careful not to wrinkle it too much as he bent over.  "Well there you be now, my dear," he said with a smile, though Jolie noted that it didn't seem to reach his eyes, which remained a blank, lifelessly hollow blue.  "I bet you're just about ready to get out of here, now aren't you?"  He leaned down upon hand and held out the other to her. 

            "Y-yes.  Thank you," Jolie cried, grateful for such a speedy rescue, no matter who it came from.  She quickly scrambled to her feet and stretched out her hand to his. The whole she was in was deep and she had to stand on her tiptoes in other to properly reach him.  Shakily, she latched onto the proffered hand and held it tightly, afraid that if she let go, her rescuer would disappear and she would wake up once again alone in the box.  It seemed to take forever for him to slowly wrap his fingers around her wrist and pull her up.  She struggled in her haste to scale the dirt wall and escape the wooden box below her, her legs feeling as inexperience as a newborn fawn's.

            Ean effortlessly yanked Jolie from the hole and onto level ground.  As he released her hand, she stumbled from the sheer force of his strength and she slipped as her feet made first contact with the moist grass, sending her falling forward to sprawl out across the ground with a grunt. 

            "Sorry about that, miss," Ean moved to help her back up.  "I may have forgotten my own strength for a moment there."

            "N-no, it's alright.  Really it is."  Jolie rose onto her knees and steadied herself against a rock a few inches away from her.  As her fingers brushed the surface of the rock, she couldn't help but notice how smooth it was.  As she moved to adjust herself, one of her fingers swept across a crevice carved into the stone, then another and another.  Slowly she lifted her gaze and found herself looking at the word 'Gavin'. It took her only a second to realize that it was actually a name.  Shaking off Ean's hands, she kneeled in front of the rock and stared in shock.  It wasn't really a mere rock at all; she was face to face with a headstone.  Whipping her head to the side, she saw that there were more stones to the right of the one before her and more to the left of it as well.  They stretched on in seemingly endless rows.  It was then that Jolie came to the sickening realization that she was standing in the middle of a cemetery.  The niggling at the back of her mind, the warning signs going off in her head, all of it had been pointing to this.  She could no longer deny the situation she was in; she was in fact in a cemetery.  Not just any cemetery, but the Glasnevin cemetery, the largest cemetery in Ireland, only several blocks down from where Jolie had been staying for the summer.  Slowly, hesitantly Jolie risked a glance over her shoulder.  She felt a lump form in her throat and a sensation akin to a block of lead being drop into her stomach.  Just as she feared, just as she had unknowingly expected the box she had been trapped in was really a coffin, placed unevenly in a shallow grave.

            Jolie gasped and scooted backwards until her back hit the headstone of the aforementioned Gavin plot.  With a yelp she jerked away from it and scrambled over a few feet, her eyes transfixed on the hole she came out of.  She hugged her knees to her chest, her lip quivering and her shoulders quaking.  "I..." she croaked out, "I really was buried alive.  I was; it really did happen."  Her eyes went glassy and unfocused as she stared at her open grave, astonished and defeated.  "I-I was buried alive..."

            Someone cleared their throat behind her and Jolie looked up into the empty blue eyes that belonged to Ean.

            "I am aware that this must be hard on you," the young man said as he helped Jolie to her feet, "but you must calm down before you work yourself up into a fit.  I'm afraid Conor and I are none too adept at comforting the hysterical."  He tilted his head to his companion, who let out a wheeze of a committal grunt and nodded his head. 

            Ean produced a handkerchief from his coat pocket and took one of Jolie's hands within his own.  "There now, you see," he chided.  "You've already work yourself up into a tizzy once.  I take it you managed this while you were still in that coffin, yes?"  He was referring to Jolie's scraped and bloodied fingertips from her terrified attempts to claw her way out of her coffin.  Ean finished dabbing at one of her hands and moved onto the other one.  "That's about all I can do for you for now.  We'll get you fixed up as soon as we're able."

            "I-it's quite alright," Jolie assured.  "Thank you, but don't worry yourself.  It doesn't even hurt anymore."  That was concerning as well.  Judging by the peeled back skin and bountiful smear of blood across her fingers, it should be causing her a lot of pain or at the very least an annoying sting.  But she didn't feel much of anything in her hands. 

            Jolie regarded both men with confusion and fear.  Conor stared unperturbed back at her, though the slightest twitch of his eyebrow might not have been her imagination.  Jolie took a moment to study the man.  He was on the tall side; a little over six feet if one had to hazard a guess, with long, thick arms and legs.  He was wearing a large, worn out brown jacket and pants that were frayed at the edges and a patch on one of the knees, covered from head to toe in dirt.  As he tilted his head back to regard her, Jolie caught sight of a set of murky grey eyes embedded in a valley of worry and frown lines peeking out at her from under the brim of his old hat.  Like Ean, he too wore gloves, though his were more battered and looked to be more of the working glove sort.  He stretched his head from side to side, working out the kinks in his neck and flexed his fingers over the handle of his shovel. 

            Jolie's eyes rested upon the shovel for a moment.  "You..." she turned to Ean and noticed that not too far from him he had placed a shovel as well, though there didn't appear to be a speck of dirt on Ean to show for it, not even on his shoes.  "You two dug me out."  It wasn't a question.  There was only one way to save a person buried alive and as much as Jolie hated to think about it; that was the state she had been in before they came along.  She shuddered to herself and turned back to the men before her.  "You dug me out.  I was trapped and you saved me."

            Something flashed across Ean eyes for a second, but it was gone as quickly as it came, the foreign flicker of emotion doused before Jolie could name it.  "That we did, miss.  Though I must admit, it took us a right bit of trouble at first."  He gestured with a casual sweep of his arms to the cemetery grounds.  

            Jolie looked out upon the cemetery again.   By the looks of the pinkish hue just barely breaking across the sky, it could have been no more than five in the morning, maybe earlier.  The birds where startlingly quiet that morning; not even the annoying caw of a seagull or the persistent coo of a pigeon could be heard overhead.  Where did all those flying rats go?  Usually even the buses shooting by couldn't scare those things out of the streets.  The air was surprisingly crisp and chilly for a summer morning, Jolie resisted the urge to wrap her arms around herself.  The ground beneath her feet was soft and damp with morning dew, sparkling between the rows of smooth and polished stones.  It was then that she noticed that for rows upon rows in every direction, just about every grave without a headstone had been excavated, mounds of dirt, gravel, and clumps of grass piled high next to craterous human gopher-like holes torn fresh in the earth.  Conor was already busying himself with covering the grave nearest them back up. 

            When Jolie turned to Ean aghast, he had the good graces to at least roll his shoulders in a resemblance of a shrug.  "There's been a bit of a few recent burials in this place and with the economy the way it is, you can imagine not everyone can afford a stone.  So you can surely understand the trouble we ran into, coming here looking for an unmarked grave and there's been about, oh I'd say seventeen alone in the rows closest to us right here."

            Conor 'hmphed' from where he was working on reburying his fifth grave. 

            Jolie blinked.  "W-wait...hold up a second.  I'm still trying to wrap my mind around how I got in this situation.  A-and now you're talking like you knew that I would be here waiting for someone to come dig me up!"

            "That's the general idea, yes," Ean yanked his own shovel from the ground with a wet thump and shouldered it across his back to one side.  "Now if you would just come with me, we have a lot to discuss.  I trust you can handle the reburials on your own, eh, Conor?" he called out to his companion. 

            Conor just turned his head to them and gave a curt nod.  "S'fine," he grunted, flinging another shovelful of dirt over his shoulder into a grave. 

            Ean nodded back.  "Very good."  He clapped his hands.  "Now right this way, miss."  He headed off towards the main sidewalk leading back to the cemetery entrance. 

            Jolie simply stood there staring at his retreating back, still weary from the emotional and physical strain of the whole ordeal she had suffered.  Her mind was a swirling mess of confusion and questions that seemed to double in number the longer she stayed in the presence of the two men. 

            Ean paused several rows ahead of her, but he didn't turn around to see if she had followed or not.  "You have been through quite a bit in only a few short hours time," he began in a soft voice.  "You're exhausted and probably think this is far too much for you to take in right now in your current state."  He turned around to face her and his face was grim and business-like.  "I want to assure you that it is perfectly understandable for you to feel this way, given how things may appear."  He pulled out a pair of sunglasses from his coat pocket and placed them over his eyes before continuing.  "However it is important for you to understand that we cannot stay here.  The streets of Dublin are only quiet for a few brief hours a night and that will be ending soon.  It is almost time for the morning to begin again and I doubt anyone will be unable to find suspicion in a pair of shovel wielding gentlemen accompanying a woman in white gown through the cemetery." 

            Jolie jerked back with a start and glanced down at herself.  She hadn't noticed before, but she seemed to be clad in only a long off white night gown of some sort, making her skin seem unnaturally pale in the morning light.  The outfit almost reminded her of a hospital gown.  It certainly wasn't one of her own night gowns and after taking a quick peek down the front, she realized that neither was the bra and underwear she had on under it.  Feeling her ears grow hot, Jolie wrapped her arms around herself in a poor attempt at modesty. 

            Ean kept glancing over his shoulder at the horizon peeking out over the housetops and the walls around the cemetery and brought a cupped hand to his mouth.  "Better be quick on finishing that, Conor," he called to his friend just taking care of the last recently unburied grave. 

            Conor glanced up for a moment and nodded, producing a pair of his own sunglasses and putting them on before digging faster.

            Ean turned back to regard Jolie.  "Well now you see there, miss.  You are in quite a delicate state being dressed as you are.  It would be best to come with me and we can give you something with a bit more dignity to wear, what do you say, eh?" he approached Jolie and gently took her by the arm and led her out the entrance. 

Jolie, her mind still reeling at the thought of someone undressing her in her sleep, followed on autopilot.  She didn't feel the long gray pea-coat being placed about her shoulders or the sunglasses placed over her eyes; she didn't take notice of the black cloche hat being pulled down past her brow.  She certainly didn't register being guided into a black limousine at the cemetery gates, Ean closing the door before seating himself in front behind the wheel, Conor, trudging up the sidewalk and climbing in back to join them as the final dawdling rays of sunlight burst forth over the city of Dublin. 

To be continued...

 

 

Photos from Global Field Course--Writing in Ireland

 In these photos from Ireland, the class shares their adventure and their process for writing.

 

 

Running Elsewhere by Miriah Petruzzi

 

 

RUNNING ELSEWHERE

By

Miriah Petruzzi 

 

The Corner Pub was particularly crowded that Friday night, and Lita was doing her best to keep up. Between filling and refilling glasses of Guinness, Jameson-Coke, and Carlsberg, Lita was keeping her eye on the back door.  A Pro-life rally had rolled through the streets of Dublin earlier that day, and the supporters were clear amongst the sea of bar goers, all dressed in yellow.

            "Ah yes, my sister is one of those riffraff trying to get a fecking abortion, it's a embarrassment to our good name," said a surly middle age woman to a young futbal player. The cackling and the loud bickering amongst the room nearly drowned out her words. People continued bustling in and no one seemed to be leaving. The air was warm with bodies. The walls were plastered with so many colorful decorations, that the aged brick was barely visible. Street signs, license plates, bottle caps, and American, Irish, and French flags were some of the curious items lining the walls.

 "Another, whiskey on the rocks there lady," said an older man to Lita. She turned on the balls of her feet and took his euro. Seconds later she returned with his drink. "Yer really should come fer a ride with me chicken." Ignoring him for the third time that evening Lita smiled and addressed the next person waving money at her.

Lita had been working at this bar for four years now, it was a slummy little joint and she knew it. She had gotten the job through a family friend, and for now the pay was getting her by. She didn't like crowds, and on nights like these she did an exceptional job hiding it. She had grown up in the County Clare, and although she loved it, she knew that the time had come for a change in her life. However, after so many nights like this one, Lita was becoming more keen that maybe the city was not the place for her.

"Eeeh you, I've been standing er fer nearly five minutes now, I'd like some service if yer don't mind." Lita's eyes snapped away from the back door and onto the large man sporting Scottish colors, standing in front of her. Her game was a bit off tonight, preoccupied with something much larger than the mass of people before her eyes. Lita was always good with hiding things; in fact she thrived off of it. Her smile could fool the smartest of men.

"I'm sorry sir what can I getcha?" Lita chimed in. And so her night continued. A series of requests, complaints, and refills surrounded her like another night. The routineness of it all sickened her, but she kept her poker face well polished. Cigarette smoke wafted in through the ever-opening front door, the night air growing colder with each swing. The back door stayed painfully closed. Covering her frustration with planning, she continued to envision the break that she would take as soon as he arrived. She would make a gin and tonic for both of them and then head out to the side patio.

            Irish music blared through the pub, echoing off the drunken faces in the circular room. "Another refill?" Lita asked to a man falling off his barstool.

It was nearly half past three when the last few customers were finally escorted out the door.

            "It says it in the bible and that is all I have to say about that! Those bloodly women think they can decide fer themselves!" hiccupped a swaying man in a yellow button up.

"Buncha hippie radicals if ya ask me," followed his rosy-faced friend, as the heavy door closed shut behind them.

Lita quickly ran from behind the counter to lock the hatch and deadbolt the door. Her blonde hair was straying from her once tight bun, and her white blouse was blotched with loose drinks. "What a night" she thought to herself as she put her rag on the counter and sat on a barstool.

She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. Her hands were red and aching from the night's work. She opened her eyes, then closed them again. She rested her chin on the counter and sighed. Rolling green hills drifted through her mind's eye. A small house by the water, sheep being sheered by a man in overalls. Sheep walking to the waters edge. She smiled in her slumber. A women with curly red hair held outstretched arms and mouthed words. "Lita, Lita, Lita..."

"Lita!, Lita! Gammy girl!"

Lita woke up in such a rush that she nearly fell off her seat. She met the beady black eyes of Mr. Sweeney, a four-foot, rather angry looking man. His face was wrinkled from a lifetime of cigar smoking. He wore a distinctly pissed off expression, as he often did.

            "I'm so very sorry Mr. Sweeney" she replied on her toes. He walked away in a huff not saying another word. Embarrassed that she had lost herself, Lita worked tenfold for the rest of the night.

            By 4:00AM the bar counters shown like a mirrors. Her heels clanked on the newly polished floors, not a speck of grim in sight. Lita, now the only one left in the pub, shuffled the skeleton key from hand to hand, eyes on the back door. She breathed heavy for a few moments.

            "I'll give him just five more minutes," she told herself. She stood for a moment before collecting her things from the back room; a tattered calico jumper, a small tie knapsack, and a once folded piece of paper. She returned to the bar area and waited. The clock ticked noticeably for what seemed the first time in hours. Lita adjusted the jumper around her shoulders and wrapped the thin wool taught around her torso. Pulling her chin to her chest she leaned against one of the bar's wooden beams, and allowed herself to slide down to the floor. She clutched her knees and squeezed her eyes shut.

            Her thoughts had no time to wander, or to think differently about the choice she was about to make, before a rough rapping on wood met her ears. She shot up from the floor like a firework and ran almost to the back door, before switching to a casual pace. She opened the door as calmly as she would her own front door to friend coming for tea. 

            Shane stood in the doorway. Per usual, he stepped right into Lita personal space bubble. Inches from her face, he smiled a devilish smile, revealing an all too familiar set of crooked yellowing teeth. He was a tall lanky man, attractive, but aging before his time due to a constant bar-scene lifestyle. Tonight he wore a set of faded jeans and a wrinkled white T-shirt, making him appear less pale in contrast. 

            "Lita!" he grinned opening his arms wide to her.

She could smell the strong stench of alcohol on his breath. His eyes were bloodshot, although he did not appear tired. She was distinctly annoyed by his lateness, but chose not to mention this detail.

            "Shane" she said walking emotionlessly into his arms.

            "I'm sorry I'm late chicken, I had a bit of business to take care of on the home front."

"Ah I am guessing your wife doesn't know that you're here then, aye?" Lita said locking her eyes on his. He looked away.

"Ah no, no... she does not" Shane replied scooting his way out of the doorway.

"Would you like a drink?" Lita reluctantly offered.

"Ah yes please, tonight has been a dry one for me," Shane hiccupped.

"What would you like then?"

"A well, could I have a shot of Jameson and one of Bushmills, and a Smithwick to wash them down if yer don't mind" Shane's lips curled with the request.

"Certainly" Lita replied without displaying any shock of his forwardness.

She poured his shots and a glass of coke for herself. When she turned back around, Shane was bending down, fiddling with something on the floor under his barstool. He stood up as she came closer. Shane puffed out his chest, now sporting a yellow button that read, "Pro-Child, Pro-Life" He met Lita's eyes and grinned a sarcastic smile. She didn't smile back, but placed the drinks on coasters.

The two sat in the silence of the early morning. Lita, frustrated with the time, began to obviously check her watch. Shane sipped his beer absentmindedly picking the dirt out from under his fingernails. After a few minutes Lita spoke.

"Ah so Shane, we are still headed to the North of England right? I have my travel papers here, and the money, and a bit extra for your help." Her voice echoed in the empty room.

"Oh Lita, lovely lovely Lita, I forgot to tell you, the plans have changed a bit. You see my friend is no longer in the North. Our voyage will be a bit shorter this evening."

"It is morning" Lita said calmly. "And what do you mean the voyage will be shorter, we have to leave the country!"

"On the contrary chicken, I have another mate in County Clar-"

"WHAT?" Lita choked on her coke and her stomach sank.

"Are you mad? We can't stay in Ireland, its illegal here!" Lita exclaimed.

"Ahaha getting cold feet are you now?" Shane smirked.

Irritated by his doubt she calmly replied, "When do we leave?"

 

The two boarded the train for the west at 6:00AM. Lita was on edge, and oddly enough it was not about surgery or sketchy men, or the illegality of it all, but about the prospect of being so close to her family. No sooner had they sat down in their compartment, Shane fell asleep and began snoring. His face was flush with the train window, his large pale nose squished and fogging up the view, his greasy hair contrasting with the beautiful rolling hills.

Lita tried to sleep, but her nerves kept her awake. She studied the fabric on the seats, the gum stuck under her armrest, and the bald spot forming in the center of Shane's dark hair. The train became bumpy, jostling Lita's stomach, making her feel worse. With one particularly violent shake of the train Shane's head flopped over onto Lita's chest and a bit of spit dribbled down her front. She closed her eyes and moved her shoulders about, in hopes of waking him. No luck, there he remained for the duration of the ride. She needed his help; she did not move him.

 

          "No mama I want the purple one! It's my turn for a new jumper!" Shane mumbled.

 

           Lita cracked a smile. The sun was coming through the trees now, as the train grew closer and closer to Doolin. Lita almost wished that it were raining. She did not want to remember this day as a sunny one, but instead as one where the weather matched her feelings and her gruesome thoughts.

It was nearly noontime when the conductor came through the intercom announcing that the train had reached its last stop in Doolin. Lita tapped Shane on the head a bit harder than necessary, but he didn't move.

 

          "Shane...Shane...Shane!" she beckoned loudly.

Finally he woke with a jolt, "Creamed corn! Creamed corn! He yelled, before opening his eyes to the sun.

          "Lets go" Lita said. "We need to get off the train now."

 

          They bustled out, Lita leading the way to a nearby bench.

          "Where are we?" Shane asked.

          Irritated with his ignorance she softly pointed out, "We are in County Clare, the place you told me we had to go, remember?"

          "Oh, did I say that? I meant to say County Cork" Shane said with a laugh.

          Lita felt her face grow hot, "Pardon?"

          "Settle down girl I'm only kidding, follow me, his place isn't far from here."

 

          Both times that Lita had visited County Clare since her move to the city; she'd often felt nostalgia upon returning. This time was different; she wanted to be anywhere but here, as they passed her old school house. Perhaps it was from lack of sleep, but Lita felt out of her body. This wasn't her; the girl who made straight honors all the through grade school. The girl who helped her father shear the sheep and milk the cows on their farm. She was no longer the girl who helped her mother with her five brothers and sisters. Dublin had gotten her. Dublin got me. Lita kept repeating in her mind.

Finally Shane began to slow his pace and look carefully at the few brightly doored buildings around them. "It's this one," he pointed to shabby two story brick building with overflowing garbage cans outside. Lita was surprised to see a house in such a state in the green countryside. As they got closer she realized that it wasn't a house at all but an old shop. Shane led her around to the back of the building, where they descended wet cement stairs to a small landing. Shane rapped on the wooden black door with his fist. A few moments went by and he rapped again. Lita began biting her lips and looking up at the still blue sky. She clutched the small wad of money inside her jumper pocket. The door creaked open and there stood a plump, short man with wild grey hair and circular spectacles.

 

          "Shane!" The little man yelled in a squeaky, yet oddly deep voice, stepping right in front of Lita to greet his friend.

          "Humphrey, my good man!"

          "Come in, come in" he beckoned, nearly shutting the door on Lita, after Shane slipped through the door.

 

          The smell of the small room hit Lita like a slap to the face. It was mix between old meat and animal feces Lita determined, as she sat down on a small wooden stool. The little basement room appeared to have once been a bar. The counters were still intact, although they were covered with cigarette butts burned into the wood. There was an array old fruit, dirty clothes and surgical devices littering up the rest of the grey tiles. Lita noticed a set of forceps with what appeared to dried blood crusted onto the handle.  She tried to look elsewhere.

This was her only option, the only one she had the money for. She was too embarrassed to tell any of her girlfriends. But after looking around at the piles upon piles of garbage, she wished that every friend in her life had come with her on this journey.

 

          "And then she tells me she wants to buy me a drink!" Humphrey laughed to Shane.

          "Fecken skanks!" agreed Shane.

          Lita, cleared her throat softly. Shane turned to Lita and let out a sigh.

          "Humphrey, here is your next victim, name's Lita."

          Humphrey took his fingers out of mouth and stretched out his arm.

          "Please to meet you dear, you are a pretty one."

          Reluctantly Lita smiled and shook his hand.

 

          "So before we get started, do you mind me asking..." Humphrey trailed off.  

          "Pardon?" Lita asked, ringing her hands.

          "Eh if yer don't mind me asking, wh why do you eh wan to get rid of it then?

          "I'm just 22" Lita replied not meeting his eyes.

          "Good enough for me!" guffawed Humphrey, while Shane chuckled in the background.

          "Do you have me eighty euro then?"

          Lita handed him the euro that had grown warm in her tight clutches.

          "Alright then, step into me office."

 

          Shane followed behind, and Lita turned to shoot him a look that unmistakably read, I don't want you to come. He followed anyway. To Lita's disgust, Humphrey did not lead her to a clean backroom, or even to another real room at all.

 

          "I hope you don't mind toilets," he said as he pulled back a blood-splotched curtain to reveal a bathroom. A grimy dripping sink housed a few bandages and tools.

          "Take a seat" Humphrey said has he beckoned her to the toilet.  

          Lita sat down in silence, fixing her eyes on the floor.

          "Ah feck, I don't have all my shyte. I'll be right back," Humphrey said as he lifted the curtain.

          Lita held her breath to escape the smell. She felt tears burning in her eyes. She was glad that Shane stood on the other side of the curtain. Her mind raced. Would it really be that bad? I could be a good mother. The baby would never have to know about this. It would never have to know it's true father. Her heart was nearly jumping out of her blouse. She fixed her eyes on the blue tile. She noticed an abandoned condom crumbled behind the sink.     

         Moments later Humphrey returned. He had the blood stained forceps that Lita had noticed earlier, a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a flask of whiskey in his arms.

 

         "Alright you ready then chicken?"

         Lita shook her head.

         "No?" Humphrey pressed. He laughed.

         "Nervous huh?" I promise you I'll do a good job, I'll have that little bastard out of you in no time."

         He spit on his hands, as if to clean them. He took a swig of the whiskey before offering it to Lita. She shook her head at him again. Humphrey sat on the side of the tub and put his arm around her. Lita's body went rigid at his touch. Humphrey didn't notice.

"Listen, Laura," Humphrey said in a tone he thought comforting.

"Listen, it will be okay I'll take good care of yer. You are a pretty little thing," he continued.

         Lita kept her eyes closed, and fists clenched.

         "After I'm all done, what do you say you come back to my room? You can have some whiskey," he breathed in her ear. "Drink some whiskey will ya?" he continued.

         "We can talk. You can tell me what you like. No more worries fer yea. And if you get in this pickle again, I can just fix you up, no problem, and if it's mine, I'll only charge yea a bit. How does that sound my sweet slag?" Humphrey cooed.

Lita sat still for a moment; she wanted him to believe that this actually comforted her, as she eyed her money in the front pocket of his shirt. She turned her head and looked right into his eyes. She smiled and he smiled back. He closed his eyes and leaned in to kiss her. As soon as she saw his eyes close, in one swift motion she grabbed the euros sticking out of his chest, and with the same hand she punched his jaw so hard that she sent him backwards into the tub.

 

       "You fecking whore!" cried Humphrey, caught in the moldy shower curtain clutching his face. 

       Lita broke into a run. She did not pay any attention to Shane's yelling; in fact she did not even take in what he was saying. She ran faster than she had in years. She opened the grubby little door and climbed up the stairs, past the garbage and through the gate. She did not stop running. She clutched the money in her hands, and shook her head. Her bun fell out of its tight weave. Her long blonde hair sparkled in the afternoon sun, as sweat began to build on her forehead. She kept running. She did not look back. My baby will be someone special. She said over and over in her head as she ran down a dirt road.

The wind began to pick up after some time; the sky began to grow dark. Still she kept running. My baby will be someone special. She quickened her already fast pace, as she felt raindrops hit her chest and face. Down another dirt road she sprinted, nearly two miles from the place she was working on erasing from her memory. She did not stop running, until she began skipping. She smiled as the rain began to come down in buckets. She skipped past an old girlfriend's house and her smile widened. She skipped past the large Whitebeam tree that she had engraved her name in five years previous. She laughed and cried, as she stopped to touch the mark, still as clear as the summer day when she'd carved it.  She fell to her knees and put her arms up to the sky. Tears and rain streamed down her cheeks, a mix of hot and cold. Her clothes became mud splattered but she did not care.

 

She stood up again; she could see her little farm in the distance. She ran as fast as she could, as if Humphrey and Shane were at her heels. She made it to the front steps, and stopped short, to appear calm once again. She rubbed her eyes. The smile came naturally. She tapped softly on the door; it opened immediately. The warmth of her home surrounded her. A woman with red curly hair met her eyes.

 

          "Lita! My god!" her mother gasped, but was unable to hid her distinct happiness of seeing her daughter.

          "Ma" Lita said with the sincerest of smiles, a smile that she never brought to Dublin, "I need to tell you something."

The Real Ireland by Kate Harner

THE REAL IRELAND

by

Kate Harner

  

            Hannah stares out the window to the Dublin streets, sipping the Carlsberg she had bought hours before at the Off-License down the block from her hotel. Kerri and Meg giggle as they take shots near the bedside table. A sigh slips through her lips as she watches the Viking Splash Tour barrel down the road, the passengers' plastic horned helmets bobbing up and down. The clomping of horse hooves mixes with the revving of engines. A light rain mists the storefronts.

            "Hey, Hannah!" calls Kerri. "You ready for tonight?"

            Hannah turns from the window. "Of course I am. I'm just waiting on you two."

            "But you barely drank anything. Drinking a few beers isn't what pre-gaming is all about," says Meg. "We're on vacation. You can start to live a little."

            "Please, Meg. I am living. I'm in Ireland!" Hannah drinks more beer to make her point, but she doesn't sip with enthusiasm. The word "vacation" brings her back to everything she left in New Hampshire: the real world. The post-graduate, I-don't-have-a-clue-what-I'm-going-to-do-with-a-bachelor's-degree-in-English fears press against her chest for a second. Thinking about her dad's offer to work as his secretary until she finds a real job does nothing to relieve the pressure. Her fingertip traces the beer can's condensation in swirls.

            "Well, when in Rome..." Meg's voice breaks through Hannah's thoughts.

            "When in Ireland!" offers Kerri.

            Hannah smiles. "I don't need to get belligerent every night to have a good time, unlike some people."

            "Kerri and I won't get belligerent tonight! Promise. Right, Kerri?"

            "Right!" Kerri agrees a little too quickly.

            "That's what you guys told me the other night night when I wanted to go to Blarney Castle the next day." Hannah looks down at her drink. "We ended up sleeping until two. We can do that back in America any day."

            Meg steps over to Hannah's chair with a slight stumble. "Hannah, I promise we'll get to do your touristy things soon. We'll go somewhere tomorrow, OK? Cliffs of Man or whatever."

            "Cliffs of Moher."

            "Right! We'll do that tomorrow, OK? We'll leave early enough for you. You said you already looked up how to get there by bus, right? So let's do it."

            Hannah looks up at Meg's reassuring grin. "OK. That sounds like fun."

            You know what else is fun?" asks Meg. "Shots!" She drags Hannah off the chair and toward the beds.

 

            Hannah, Kerri and Meg walk over to the Temple Bar area. "Is here good?" Hannah points to a random bar.

            "Sure!" Kerri exclaims, one hand raised to the air and the other around Meg's waist. "Wherever we can get a drink is a good place to me."

            Hannah pulls the bar door open, the muffled music spilling out into clarity onto the streets. She pushes through the throng of people clutching glasses of Guinness, Kerri and Meg following behind. Heading straight for the bar, she rifles through her purse for euros and catches the bartender's eye. "Jameson and Coke, please," she says to the bartender. She turns around and sees Kerri and Meg stopped two feet away from the door by a group of boys dressed in light polo shirts and plaid shorts. "God damn," she mumbles. Kerri tosses her hair to the side as she laughs, and Meg plays with her necklace as she listens to a guy gesticulating with his hands in large circles. The bartender places her drink in front of her and she hands him her money. Walking over to her friends, Hannah says, "C'mon, guys. I think there's music in the back." She barely glances at the disappointed looks on the boys' faces before taking Meg's hand and leading the two toward the other end of the bar.

            "What was that for?" Kerri asks as Hannah sits down at a table near the guitarist performing a cover of Bruce Springsteen.

            "Trust me, they're not as cute as you think," Hannah says.

            "Bullshit. You're cock-blocking me just 'cause they decided to talk to us instead of you. Not my fault I'm looking good tonight." Kerri crosses her arms and stares at Hannah. "You owe me a drink."

            "Now that's bullshit. I dragged you away from Ireland's answer to the frat boy. If anything, I deserve the drink." Anger burns her throat more than the whiskey. She and Kerri used to get into small fights like this, but one hadn't happened since the end of junior year -- months before they started planning their Ireland trip as their last hurrah after graduation. She didn't realize that she would have to deal with this tension again.

            "Now, uh...let's just settle down, guys," attempts Meg.

            "Don't pull that reverse psychology crap on me," counters Kerri.

            "That's...not reverse psychology." Hannah takes a breath. She refuses to get stuck in Kerri's drunken stupidity. "Look. We're both drunk. I'm sorry, OK?"

            "Sorry doesn't get me a drink."

            "No, but he might." Hannah points behind Kerri, where she sees the group of boys walking over. She sighs as Kerri squeals in delight before leaving Hannah and Meg.

            "She's a firecracker, but that's why we love her." says Meg.

            "Yup."

            Meg smiles. "C'mon, Hannah. Would you loosen up a bit, please? Drink and enjoy the music. That guy is pretty good."

            "OK," says Hannah. "I'll enjoy the American music I can't hear anywhere else."

            "God, Hannah. Sorry that not all bars in Ireland are authentic pubs filled with potato-loving redheads. Times have changed. So has Ireland." Meg gets up from her chair and walks over to Kerri, laughing and swaying to the music. Hannah watches.

 

            "Good morning!" Hannah opens the hotel blinds and smiles at the sunlight stretching into the room. Kerri and Meg groan and pull the covers over their heads. Hannah makes out a mumbled "What the fuck?" from one of their bodies.

            "Guys, it's already 11 a.m.! I made sure you got some sleep. I already bought some croissants and coffee. They're on the table." Hannah grabs their comforter and tugs it off the bed.

            "Shit, Hannah. Why are you doing this?" Meg blinks through bleary eyes, holding her hand in front of her face to block the light.

            "Cliffs of Moher today! It's a great day for it too. I think it's the first time in ages that Ireland's weather forecast predicts sunshine all day."

            "Cliffs of what?" Kerri murmurs as she cuddles her legs into the fetal position.

            "Moher. C'mon, Kerri. They're famous cliffs on the west coast. And we're seeing them today." Hannah walks over to the table and takes a croissant. "The train leaves for Galway at twelve-thirty. Then, we'll catch a bus from there to Doolin. It shouldn't take more than three and a half hours or so, I think."

            "Yeah. That's so not happening today," says Kerri.

            "What do you mean?"

            Kerri groans again. "Hannah, I'm hungover, and I've barely gotten any sleep. I'm not schlepping across this damn island in this state."

            Hannah puts down her breakfast. "Then take a shower and wake up. We're doing this."

            Meg props herself up on her pillow. "Maybe it's best to do it another day, Hannah. We're not feeling too hot right now."

            Hannah tugs at her hair. "No. We're doing this today. You promised, and we only have two more days left."

            "Why would you promise her that, you idiot?" Kerri groans. "Why can't you promise enough sleep to rid me of this headache?"

            "I've done all the stuff you've asked to do," explains Hannah as she tries not to grit her teeth. "I went to all those bars every night, even when it got old after day two. It's my turn today."

            Meg nudges Kerri with her fingertips. "She has a point. We haven't really done the classic tourist stuff yet, and she's been talking about doing something like that all week."

            "Fine, fine. We'll do it. But it's going to take my ass longer than an hour and a half to get ready."

            Hannah grins. "I'll take it. Now come have some breakfast."

 

            After applying some extra foundation in front of the Galway train station's bathroom mirror, Hannah glances at her cell phone. 5:46 p.m. The three-hour train ride nearly took all her energy from her as she dozed listening to her iPod, but excitement now begins to tingle in her toes. She is so close to something that she has wanted to see for years, ever since her aunt had told her that the cliffs were one of the most magical places she had ever been to when she came back from her honeymoon in Ireland. Judging by the photos her aunt had taken of them, she wasn't lying.

            Hannah smoothes her hair down with her palms, forcing herself to relax. She remembers making the same gesture in her bathroom at home, right before moving into college freshman year. All those excited nerves and high expectations, and they all had led to nothing. Well, at least nothing incredibly special. Yes, she had made good friends with Kerri and Meg, her suitemates since that year, but the rest of college life had disappointed Hannah. There had been no pristine library with thousands of old books to get lost in; no elderly professor who saw an innovative idea in her senior thesis and who wanted to bring her to nationwide conventions where scholars argued over her ideas; no gorgeous R.A. in her dorm with whom romance was forbidden, yet with whom she still found moments to sneak away among the ancient tombs in that pristine library of her fantasy. Instead, her university's library did not even carry a copy of Samuel Johnson's Greatest Works and smelled like burnt plastic, even in the archives section; her senior thesis was an unoriginal attempt to prove William Shakespeare could not have possibly written all the poems and plays to which the public gives him credit; and all her R.A.s had been girls.

            Her parents had told her that her college years would be the best of her life, but she hopes they had lied. She needs something to meet her expectations, which college didn't do. When her parents asked her what she wanted for a graduation gift, she already knew the answer: money for her trip to Ireland. With her aunt's description of the countryside, Ireland would go beyond her expectations. It sounded too beautiful, too charming. When Hannah asked Kerri and Meg if they wanted to go, they jumped at the chance, suggesting they stay in Dublin so that they could go to the country by day and live the city life by night. It turns out they have been living the city life nearly every night and day since they arrived, and they only have two days left. Still, Hannah smiles at her reflection. Today she got out of the city. Today she will experience something magical. She walks out to the train station entrance.

            Kerri and Meg stand beside two young men. Dread pushes its way to the bottom of Hannah's stomach as she reaches them. "Hey, guys?"

            Meg smiles at her. "Hannah! There you are. We didn't know if you had gotten lost. I thought you just had to go to the bathroom."

            "Yeah....I was just....thinking for a bit. That's all."

            "Ah, you Americans always take a while to think, now don't you?" jokes one of the guys in his Irish accent.

            "Oh, stop!" Kerri playfully hits his shoulder. "Well, Hannah, it's a good thing it did take you a while, 'cause while we were waiting, we met Dan..." -- she gestures toward the jokester -- "...and Callum. Guys, this is Hannah."

            "Nice to meet you!" Callum says.

            Kerri continues. "Luckily, they know a great restaurant a block away from the bus station and we were telling them how starving we all are --"

            "So, we figured we'd come to the rescue," says Dan. "A buddy of ours is a bartender there, so we can get a free drink with our meals. Whaddaya say? Shall we head off, then?"

            Hannah looks to Kerri and Meg, who beam at her with hopeful hesitation. Why must they put her in this position?

            "I'm sorry, but we're trying to get to the cliffs before it closes," says Hannah. "In fact, I'd like to get there before it gets too dark to see anything."

            Callum pats her on the shoulder. "Don't worry about that! Our Irish sun may be cold, but it casts its rays long after it should, until about 11 at night. You'll see plenty. And you have loads of time for dinner! Aren't you hungry?"

            Hannah registers the emptiness of her stomach. "A little...."

            "Perfect!" Dan shouts. "We'll have a good time, Hannah. I'll even get you your first drink myself."

            "But you guys said our first drinks would be free 'cause of your friend," says Kerri.

            "Shhh! I was trying to look chivalrous over here." Dan rolls his eyes in mock annoyance. "Geez. What's a guy gotta do to look good nowadays?"

            "Buy me a second drink," teases Hannah. She can't help it. She can allow herself a little fun, considering how close she is to her goal. Plus, eating a quick dinner with two Irish guys? Few things more authentically Irish than that come to mind. She'll keep an eye on the time.

            "Oh ho!" Dan smiles. "Let's head off, then!" They leave the train station.

 

            Tapping her foot against the floor, Hannah looks up at the clock in the restaurant for the eighth time. It reads 7:40. The next bus to Doolin leaves in five minutes. If they have any chance of making it to the cliffs on time, they have to get on that bus. Hannah curses herself for allowing Dan and Callum to distract her. Dinner had been so much fun; she asked them about life in Ireland and even confessed that she has no idea where she'll be working or what she'll be doing when she gets home. The fun dissipated, however, when Hannah turned to see that an hour and a half had already transpired. She should have been more vigilant about the time.

            Eyeing Kerri and Meg rushing out of the bathroom, Hannah stands up from the table. "Thanks, guys," she says to Dan and Callum. "You say the bus station is just a left out of here, right?"

            "Right," says Callum. "I'm sorry we had to rush things. Can we --"

            Hannah doesn't listen to the rest. "It's fine. Bye!" She darts toward the entrance and whips the door open. She takes a left and runs to the bus station, hearing Kerri and Meg's footsteps close behind her. Hannah gets to the station, goes up to the teller, gasps, "Three for Doolin!" and pushes over her money. No time to get separate tickets; they'll figure out how much everyone owes when they get on the bus. If they get on the bus.

            The teller hands her the tickets and change. "The second door over there," he says, pointing. "Hurry!"

            They rush through the door and onto the bus, settling into the three seats closest to its door, which closes with a wisp of air. The bus backs out of the station.

            "Hannah, I'm so sorry," says Kerri as she digs in her purse for money. "You looked like you were having so much fun that I lost track of time. It was nice to see you enjoying yourself." She hands Hannah the euros.

            "It's OK; I lost track of time too," says Hannah. Her legs jitter as she wills the bus to go faster. "But we made the bus, and with some luck, we'll get to the cliffs in time. We won't be able to stay for more than a few minutes, but that's all we'll need."

            "We'll make it," reassures Meg as she squeezes Hannah's shoulder. Her hand is too hot to provide much comfort.

            "Hopefully," murmurs Hannah. She takes a deep breath and slumps down in her seat, preparing for the longest bus ride of her life, spending the next hour and ten minutes focusing on how she'll get to the cliffs. She'll have to ask the bus driver which bus they'll need to get there when they arrive in Doolin. She doesn't want to ask now and distract him from getting there as quickly as possible.

            Once the bus comes to a stop in Doolin, Hannah hops up and heads toward the driver. "Excuse me, sir, but which bus do we take to get to the cliffs?"

            The driver looks at her. "The cliffs? No bus this time of night; all of 'em will be coming back down from there soon. Better try another day."

            Hannah grips the metal railing in front of her. "What do you mean? They don't close for another half hour! There's gotta be one that's going up there in the next couple of minutes."

            "Sorry, but no. There's no bus that drives people there so they can see the cliffs for just five or ten minutes. No one would pay for that!" A few passengers push past Hannah.

            "I would!" She can hear the desperation in her own voice.

            "I think you'd be the only one, dear," says the driver. "Stay the night at one of the hostels! Then you'll have all day tomorrow to explore the cliffs. Paddy's Hostel is pretty cheap."

            "I looked into the hostels here, and all of their offices close by nine," shrugs Hannah. "It's just nine now."

            "Well, it's raining out now, so you wouldn't be able to see them well anyways if you could get there tonight." The driver points to his windshield. Hannah hadn't noticed the rain until now. "If you mean to get back to Galway tonight, the bus leaves in about forty-five minutes. Maybe get a cup of tea, eh?"

            Hannah nods, then turns and steps off the bus. She feels a quiet sadness settling inside her stomach. She does not question why her anger is not fiery and quick like it usually is. She knows that this disappointment has been building since she got to Ireland and realized it is not the quaint country from the 1800s she used to read about. Her heart longs for home.

            "Hey." Kerri steps over to Hannah, zipping up her rain jacket. She hands Hannah's over to her. "What do we do now?"

            Hannah doesn't look up as she puts on her jacket. "Get a ticket back to Galway and wait for the bus."

            "You mean we came all this way --"

            "Kerri," warns Meg. She turns to Hannah. "It's OK. We can try again tomorrow. It wasn't too expensive to get here."

            "I'll pay for your ticket, Han," says Kerri. "I shouldn't have made us have dinner with those guys. It's my fault."

            "It's no one's fault," says Hannah.

            "It is. Let me make it up to you."

            "I don't want us to spend our second-to-last day here on public transportation for that long. We should do something else closer to Dublin, I guess." Hannah tries to mask the disappointment from her voice.

            "OK," says Meg. "We can do that. Let's get our tickets." She walks toward the station door. Hannah follows.

            "You know," says Kerri, "we're right next to the water. I can see it from here. Why don't we just check it out?"

            Hannah looks at her, surprised. "Kerri, with all this rain and fog, we won't see much."

            Kerri grins and nudges her. "So what? I've never seen the Atlantic from this side. It will be quick. Who's with me?" She starts walking toward the water without waiting for an answer.

            Hannah and Meg shrug at each other, then zip up their rain jackets more tightly and follow.

            The wind picks up the closer they get to the ocean and tears at their hoods. Hannah sees the gray water lashing out at the rocks beyond the green tufts of grass. The smell of salt permeates the restless air.

            "Maybe we should go back!" Hannah yells to Kerri's form a few feet in front of her.

            Kerri turns around. "No, Hannah! Let's just do this and we'll go back! This is as close to the Cliffs of Moher as we're gonna get." She turns and continues toward the ocean enshrouded by fog.

            Hannah steels herself against the wind and marches forward. They walk over a gravel parking lot, their footsteps wet crunches overpowered by the bellowing of the wind, which threatens to push them back. "This is ridiculous," Hannah mumbles to herself as she reaches the slimy rocks. Head bent low, she focuses on walking without slipping and breaking her neck. She bumps into Kerri's body, then looks up.

            Blue-gray water throws itself at the pockmarked rocks with more force than Hannah has ever seen. The white spray rockets toward the churning sky before falling like angry flower petals. Wind boxes her ears and the slamming waves howl at the fog.

            "This....this is awesome!" Hannah yells.

            "What?" Meg comes up beside her.

            "This is awesome!"

            "It's definitely something!" Meg shivers in the cold rain.

            Hannah looks out to where the ocean and sky kiss the fog. "It could be endless!" she tells Kerri, whose features, which looked bold with adventure mere minutes ago, are now contorted in an effort to face the wind. "The sea, the sky! They could go on forever."

            Hannah walks closer to the water, navigating the uneven rocks. Sea foam droops over everything. Hannah tries to touch it with her fingers, but it melts on her skin or scatters into the air, resembling fragile white flies darting back and forth. The air seems to roar at her. Inhaling deeply, she roars back.

            "What the hell are you doing?" Kerri asks. "Have you gone mental?"

            "This is the most sane I've felt in months!" She stretches out her arms and tilts her head back, letting her hood fall away from her face. Rain courses down her tangled hair and soaks her shirt collar. She screams again, letting go of all her frustration and worry. The wildness of the landscape pulses through her, making her heart beat blood into her numb fingertips and her sore calves, reminding her of her whole human body that is ready to take flight. She starts to laugh.

            She'll need this strength when she returns to America, to home. But home is 3,000 miles away from here -- that is, if this isn't the edge of the world. How it looks now, it very well could be. And if she made her way to the world's edge, perhaps Hannah can make it anywhere.

Differences by Andrew Merrill

DIFFERENCES

by

Andrew Merrill 

Eamon's eyes are tired from the long flight over from America.  He sits on the whiskey and flower-print loveseat his grandmother picked up off the streets of Dublin; back when she was attending Trinity College.  Eamon scratches away at a stain on the right pant leg of his jeans.  The stain is crusted over yellow, like mustard, from a week's wear and no washing. 

He turns his head to a door creaking and opening a few inches less than shoulders width. His mother and her two sisters compress their organs as they try and squeeze through the gap. Blood gargling coughs echo through the doorway and out into the rest of the house.  The boy hears a glass shatter and his grandfather's ear wrenching old Irish scream, "Go fuck yourselves ya fucking whores.  Don't come near me with that bloody poison!  Ya hear me?  Where's me wife?" 

His mother cries, "Dad, stop.  Please!" 

Fighting erupts- between an old man whose history erases itself every time the sun rises- and the rest of the family.  The door slams shut again and their voices dissipate through the walls.  Eamon lets out a sigh of relief seeing the door close.  He does not wish to get any closer to his grandfather than he already is. 

Eamon turns his eyes away from the door and towards the coffee table where hours ago his mother and her sisters were shuffling through old photos; laughing the laughs of the little girls who once grew up together on this farm.  He reaches down to the coffee table and opens up the photo album.  Aged photos capturing more than familiar faces: the farm flourishing; his mother, a mere child of six, riding a horse through the lush rolling hills of Coolie; his grandmother by the barn reading, smiling, under the ancient Fairy Tree; his aunts swimming with the Sullivan boys; and his grandfather, always with a drink in his hand and blood in his eyes. 

Eamon stands up and looks out the window.  His eyes glaze over as his lids slant to half open stances.  Straight ahead, a splintered junk shed with three walls and half a roof balances like a house of cards. Broken down, time rusted farm equipment and a fire red tractor are scattered across the dirt floor.  It is all that remains of the barn.  He looks to the left.  The luscious crop fields have turned into burnt out dust bowls guarded over by a dilapidated scarecrow.  He looks back past the barn; stumps of trees cut to the bone and a river of rocks and mud. 

Eamon sits back down.  He flips to the back of the album where a pile a newer photos are tucked away.  He starts going through them.  He stops on one and smiles.  It is of him, sitting on his grandfather's lap at his fifth birthday party.  That was right after his dad went away. 

In the photo, his grandfather's left hand is wrapped around Eamon's waist holding him tight.  The other hand, of course, is being seduced by a glass of Jameson.  They are both smiling that big Cheshire cat grin all McConnells have.  He thinks back to his grandfather's words that he whispered in his ear right after the photo was taken.

"Someday you'll be the only one strong enough to run this farm me lad.  And you'll do a better job than anyone ever could, that's for sure"

As a child, he wanted nothing more than to work on his grandfather's farm.  He spent afternoons during the spring helping him plant crops.  But, shortly after that birthday party he and his mother had to leave for the states.  They left everything behind, barely packing a suitcase full.  The move had something to do with his father's old drinking buddies coming around and asking his mother for some favors.  They were never very friendly about it and whenever he would ask his mother what they wanted she would break down crying.  He gave up trying to ask about his father a few years ago.  It seemed to be for the best.   

The boy slides the photo album back onto the table as the door to his grandfather's room opens.  His aunt Joanne, the oldest of the sisters, emerges from the blinding bright white room.  She slowly walks up to him, wiping tears from her eyes.  She stands above him, her silver hair reflecting in the sun.  Her defined brow gives away that there is something on her mind.

"Eamon, how are you holding up?" his aunt asks.

"Fine Aunt Joanne, how about yourself?"

Aunt Joanne lets out a sigh that weighs more than her sick father.

"I'm ok Eamon, thanks for asking.  Eamon, how old are ya now?  Fourteen?    Fifteen?"

"I'm seventeen Aunt Joanne"

Aunt Joanne's eyes dilate as a look of surprise hits her face.  She motions for Eamon to scoot over on the couch.  He does so and she sits next to him.

"Wow... Seventeen years old... Almost a man now are ya?  I can't believe it's been so long since you and mother left Ireland." Joanne starts, "When I was seventeen years old I met your uncle Allen.  He was a good man.  He always helped your grandfather with the farm.  No matter what nasty names your grandfather would call him for being Protestant, he would always be over here the next day with me working the farm.  Your grandfather was always too proud to accept help from anyone, never mind a Protestant."

Aunt Joanne pauses and looks out the window.

"Allen was a good man.  I just can't do it on my own.  With your mother in America and our sister Mary living in Dublin, it's all too much."

She looks back to Eamon who sits in silence.  A smile crosses her face.

"That's enough about that though.  How have you been?  Do you have a pretty Irish girl back home?"  Eamon laughs at the smirk he feels on his face.

"Well... I have a pretty girl back home...  But, she isn't a drop of Irish.  She is from Nigeria. She moved to America when she was-"

"Nigeria?" Aunt Joanne raises her voice alarmed.  The room goes silent for a minute.  Eamon plays with his hands and Aunt Joanne looks at her father's door.  She turns back to Eamon with sorry eyes and cheeks blushing red.

"Well... well that's wonderful... I'm sure she is a lovely lady.  I would love to meet her sometime."

Aunt Joanne stands up and looks back out the window.

"Listen Eamon... I need your help with something.  There are a few chickens outside by the coop.  I went out this morning to feed them and one is clearly on her way out.  If she doesn't get put down tonight, well, the rest are sure to catch ill also." 

Eamon looks at her confused as she continues, "There is a shovel by the backdoor and a hatchet by the wood pile.  Would you take care of it for me?  Allen normally tends to this kind of business."

Eamon's eyes widen the lengths of wooden whiskey barrels and his brow quickly flairs.  He looks over to the backdoor and then to his aunt.  His aunt stands brittle with swollen eyes teetering over him.  Tears start running down her cheeks.  Looking down, Eamon thinks back on his grandfather's words.  He swallows and mumbles, "Sure Aunt Joanne... Anything for you."

He stands up, now towering over his aunt.  She looks up at him smiling.  She wipes her eyes again and grabs his shoulders.

"You're growing into such a fine man Eamon," Joanne puts her hand on Eamon's left cheek, "I'm so proud of you...  I'll make you a cup of tea when you get back."

Aunt Joanne hugs Eamon then turns and walks down the hallway to her father's door.  She pauses at the door and looks over her shoulder into Eamon's eyes.  She looks back at the door, sighs, opens it and enters the room.  The door quickly shuts behind her and she disappears.   Eamon stares at the wooden door of his grandfather's room for a few seconds then shakes his head and turns towards the back door.

As Eamon slowly turns the handle of the back door, a gust of wind throws it open.  The door collides with the shovel throwing it down onto the cement porch.  Eamon jumps from the loud commotion.  Eamon looks back at his grandfather's door again.  While turning his head towards the backdoor, he spots his grandfather's liquor cabinet and walks over to it.  Through the glass window he sees a bunch of bottles filled with half finished business and broken promises.  He pushes aside a few of the finer bottles of scotches and whiskies and finally finds an unopened flask of Jameson.  His lips curl in devilish delight.  He reaches for it cautiously in fear of clinking bottles.  With the Jameson freed from the castle walls, he looks back at his Grandfather's door.

"Fuck it," Eamon protests under his breath.  He puts the flask into the back pocket of his jeans and heads for the backdoor.  As he steps out onto the porch he closes the shoddy door; rusted to a golden brown and barely on its hinges.  With the obstacle removed, he bends down and picks up the shovel and swings it up onto his shoulder.

From the porch, Eamon scans the horizon for the woodpile.  Off in the distance he spots an outline that looks like a small dog house.  As he squints his eyes, the dog house turns into an under-populated, under-worked woodpile.  Eamon slowly paces towards it.  At about the half-way mark, Eamon becomes coated with a fresh mist.  He stops and holds out his hand.  He looks up to watch the rain fall.  He is puzzled.  He cannot see the rain drops falling like in America.  It is if he has stumbled his way into a clear cloud.

By the time he reaches the woodpile, the mist has ended and the sun is back out, peeking through the clouds.  Eamon looks along the base of it for the hatchet to no avail.  He circles it a few times and then stops.  He turns around and there the hatchet is, buried into the stump of the chopping block.  The hatchet's blade shines gold; reflecting sunlight off the moisture left behind from the mist.  Eamon reaches for the handle of the hatchet.  In his palm the wet wooden handle feels slippery with some give every time he squeezes.  He gives a yank but, the hatchet sits still, laughing in his face.  He lets go of the hatchet and puts the shovel down onto the ground.  He wipes his hands off on his jeans and grabs the handle of the hatchet one more time.  With one foot pushing against the chopping block, he rips the hatchet out with all his might and stumbles backwards.  He looks down and touches the blade.  The cool metal sends chills down each vertebrate of his spine.  He bends down and reaches for the shovel.  Out of the corner of his eye, Eamon spots the chicken coop and shuffles towards it; barely moving forward with each step.  It feels like eternity as Eamon takes his time, stumbling over each step staring down at the blade.  Barely glancing away from the blade for a second, he spots the sick chicken his aunt spoke of and heads towards it.

The chicken sits half erect in between Eamon's legs, with its head wobbling in circles resembling that of an Irish drunkard.  Its neck constantly shakes as it turns its head as if to look at Eamon.  Eamon quickly turns away slamming his eyes shut.  He throws the shovel and hatchet onto the ground next to his feet and fiercely grabs for the Jameson as if it was water and he was stranded in a desert.  He takes a massive swig and puts the cap back on to the flask.  As he exhales the fumes, his hands stop trembling.  Looking down at the chicken, he puts the Jameson back in his pocket and reaches for the shovel.

The shovel cuts into the dirt a little less than a foot away from the chicken's head.  As he lifts with his knees to move the dirt aside, the ground makes a crunch.  The chicken's posture and dead daze do not stutter.  Eamon shoves the shovel into the dirt again and again, removing more and more dirt every time.  With each violent blow, the Earth's crunches echo louder and louder throughout Eamon's head.  The whole time the chicken just sits there wobbling in the wind, staring at him. 

Now, with the hole big enough for ten chickens, Eamon throws the shovel and sits down next to the chicken; hatchet in one hand, Jameson in the other.  Eamon opens the flask and takes another long swig.  Eamon looks up at the sky.  The clouds have completely blocked the sun out again as they whip around in the sky like the tri-color in the off the flimsy flag pole his father hung proudly.  Eamon looks back down at the chicken.  The chicken looks at Eamon one last time before folding in half, stretching its neck out along the dirt.  The chicken makes a noise.    

"Holy shit, did that chicken just cough?" Eamon blurts out loud startled by the noise. 

Drops of blood sloth out of its mouth and falls onto the ground.  It lays there.  Heavy deep breaths slowly expand and collapse its diaphragm.

Eamon has his arms wrapped around his knees as he stares at the chicken lying there.  The wind slams around him and picks up more and more as time goes on.  Eamon takes one last sip of Jameson before twisting the cap back onto the flask and dropping it on the ground.   He elevates himself to one knee never taking his eyes off the chicken.  Eamon raises the hatchet above his head.  He pauses for a second as he looks over at the other chickens.  They remain pecking away at the dirt by the coop; still living out their normal chicken lives.     

Eamon looks back at his target and comes down with the hatchet.  It cuts through the air and into the back of the chicken's neck like a guillotine.  Unfortunately for Eamon even perfected killing mechanisms have their off days.  Eamon gags as the chicken's body flops around like a bowling pin; its neck squirting out blood in all directions.

"FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!" Eamon panics repeatedly as he comes down with the hatchet again and again until the neck is severed from the body and a canyon forms two inches deep in the packed dirt.

The wind stops howling.  He looks back over at the other chickens; still pecking, unfazed by the departing, by the hack-job funeral.  The headless body no longer twitches at the base of Eamon's feet.  Eamon sits down and lets out a deep breath.  He reaches over for the flask of Jameson.  His eyes derail from the chicken to the flask as he checks to see how much is left.  The liquor level is just below that half way point.  As he unscrews the cap and takes a swig, he pushes the lifeless body with his feet.  It lands in the mass grave for one he dug out. 

He looks down at his pants.  He is covered in blood and dirt and feathers and scattered fragments of RNA and DNA and God knows what.  Standing up, he brushes off little pieces of matter from his shirt and pants.  He grabs the shovel and starts to bury the chicken.  Every shovelful of dirt helps the chicken disappear from his mind until it is all erased.  He slams the shovel into the ground as a marker incase his aunt wishes to know where it was buried. 

As he returns to his grandfather's, an older man carrying a doctors' bag walks out of the house with a blank stare on his face.  The man stares at Eamon for a second then gets into his car and drives away.  Eamon walks up to the front door and pauses before entering the house.  Off in another room, Eamon hears his mother and her two sisters cry and argue.  He makes his way to the kitchen and sits down at the table waiting for his cup of tea.  He takes out a picture of his girl friend and stares at it.  His grandfather's words roll around through his head.