I’m fucking dying here! Not for the first time this thought screamed inside Peter Murrays head. He felt his life was rapidly going down the tubes. Endless days of unemployed boredom followed by soul destroying evenings of grind in his part time caretaker’s job at a local primary school. If I don’t get free of this situation my fucking sanity will desert me. I’m going to end up a fucking basket case just like the endless parade of disturbed people that filled the daily papers and news bulletins with tales of their sordid actions, he thought.
Peter stood on the door step and stared out at the grey wet January day as he smoked another hand rolled cancer stick. The street was practically empty the town seemed to have died since this recession had started to bite. It was as if the people were being abducted from the town and everywhere an air of doom and gloom pervaded. It’s like a fucking ghost town he thought. The cigarette butt arced through the air into the street and landed in a puddle to immediately fizzle out. Just like my life he thought as he headed back inside.
Peter pulled his coat collar tighter around his neck and pushed his hands deep in pockets. Looking around him as he shuffled along, he was faintly uncomfortably at the banter and muffled laughter. That could be heard from the crowd as they walked behind the hearse. He mentally counted off name’s in his head and thought this must be the tenth funeral I have attended in the last twelve months.
Up ahead in the crowd he caught a glimpse of his friend Mark and picking up the pace he fell in alongside him.” Well kid what’s the story he asked?” “Oh you know! Same shit different day ” came the reply. When they got to the grave side silence fell over the crowd and he watched the family looking fragile. The old priest shivered in his vestments as he prepared to give the final service. It all felt like a macabre circus and again Peter thought is this all we have to look forward to.
“Are you going for a pint Mark enquired ” as they left the graveyard. “Yeah why not!” Peter replied as he wondered just how much he had in his wallet. They were greeted by a blast of heat as they entered the pub door. “What are you having?” Mark asked as he made his way to the bar.
“Who’s your one with the big tits?” asked Mark?. By this stage the drink had begun to kick in and both were more than a little tipsy. Peter tried to focus in on the woman through a whiskey haze. “Over there by the end of the counter near the fire place, ” Mark insisted in a loud stage whisper.
Peter stared at the woman, she was of indeterminable age and looked vaguely middle eastern. She was strikingly good looking in an exotic way. The way she held herself appeared aloof and she seemed oblivious to the people who thronged the bar. Peter noticed that a tall stranger stood by her shoulder. The stranger was dressed in a charcoal grey suit that looked very expensive , his dark eyes scanned the bar and the people continuously. A minder and a dangerous one at that, thought Peter. “Never seen her before kid, fine bit of gear, but that guy with her looks like he would rip your fucking heart out”
Later that night as Peter stumbled home his mind raced with thoughts of the woman and her strange partner and he wondered what had brought these people to his small town.
The huge Raven perched on the top most branch of the big beech tree. He watched intently the activity in the court yard far below. His dark eyes stared unblinking as the men scurried to and fro unloading the packing cases. Carrying them from the removal truck into the big old house. The boxes the men carried were heavy and well-sealed. Inside these cases were many old and dusty books. Books that were rare and hard to find and many that were far older than the big old house. They had been written in a time when the land that the house stood on was just forest and rocks.
The big black car pulled into court yard. The raven watched a tall sinister looking man step from the driver’s seat and open the back door. He stood back and a striking dark haired lady stepped from the car. She immediately started issuing instructions to the work party unloading the removal trucks.
The raven spread its great dark wings and glided down to the eve of the old house. The raven instinctively knew as did generations of its breed since time began, that this day would come. When he and others would be entrusted with the task of watching over the events that this strange dark lady would shortly put in motion. Perhaps events that would have far reaching consequences, not only for this little corner of the world, But for the future of mankind.
The raven observed as the removal trucks were emptied and left the court yard. He watched as another truck arrived. No dust old books this time but brand new computer and satellite hardware. The dark haired lady had long since gone inside the house. But the tall stranger remained outside and urged the driver and his helper to hasten the unloading of the new cargo.
The tall man strode across the courtyard as soon as the last delivery van left and closed and locked the huge wooden doors. Satisfied that the house and grounds were secured from intruders and the outside world. He entered the old house via the back door. The raven stood watch deep into the night until all the lights in the house had been extinguished. Then he flew cold and hungry to his hidden roost in the grounds of the nearby church overlooking the house. The raven had seen many cold and dark winters from his perch on high. He had avoided many dangers and hard times. As he settled into his roost on the cold January night, he knew that there were bad times coming from which nothing might escape.
The old parochial house echoed to the clanking and clattering of the antiquated heating as it struggled to life. Father Murphy sat huddled in the armchair in front of an open fire that had yet to properly generate any heat. As he gazed into the fledgling flames, he wondered how much longer he could maintain his service to the parish and its dwindling congregation. At 73 years of age he no longer had the stamina and if the truth be known the dedication the job called for. The church, his church had been his sole concern for going on the last half century. Ah! But times have changed, he thought to himself and not for the better. The young people no longer had time for prayer and even some of the old stalwarts had started to turn their backs on the mother church too much scandal, lies and deceit. Rome had long since lost any pretence of reform and was content to retreat into the safe haven of conservatism.
However the tired old priest still dragged his weary body to the pulpit and did his best to minister to his parishioners. Father Murphy was drawn from his pondering by Bridget O’ Dea as she entered the room bringing a breakfast tray. “There you go Michael, eat it up while it’s hot. Its bitter cold out there and we had some snow last night.” Bridget smiled fondly at him then left the room. How long? has Bridget been with me, he thought. If things were different we could be man and wife. The fact that he would end his time in a church run retirement home weighed heavy on his mind.
What would become of Bridget? Did she donate the best part of her life to him and the church, only to be thrown on the scrap heap at the twilight of her years? Bitterness crept into his mind that someone he loved could be treated like this, and for what? For man’s word not the word of god!
The sleet and wind beat relentlessly against the umbrella father Murphy struggled with as he made his way across the lane to the church for morning service. The chill of the February morning seeped into his bones. The sound of the big black car was silenced by the howling wind. The priest was unaware of its approach until it passed quickly by, soaking his pants with water and slush from the pot hole on the lane. He shivered as the icy blast stung his legs, things aren’t getting much better he thought as he made his way to the sacristy door.
Bridget fussed around the sacristy preparing the vestments for the service. The door opened admitting a freezing blast of air.” For God’s sake Michael your dripping wet. What happened to you? You’ll catch your death.” “I got splashed by a car” he replied. Bridget Insisted he delay mass and donned her coat and went directly to the parochial house and returned with dry clothes.
Michael stood behind the pulpit and gazed out at the sad little group of people that had braved the weather to pray to a god that increasingly Michael thought, had stopped listening. Bridget sat on the pew at the very back of the church and gazed fondly at Michael. In her eyes, Michael was still the tall dark and handsome man she had first come to work for thirty years before. She pondered on an increasingly disturbing feeling that somehow Michael was troubled by something these days. He was becoming more withdrawn in himself and the sparkle had dimmed in his eyes. A sense of foreboding weighed heavily on her and she shivered. Church or no church, she thought. He is my man and I will protect him to my last breath!
Laura hurried about as she got ready to go out for the night. “Who are you going to the cinema with?” Peter asked. “Antoinette and Marie” she replied. “Listen why don’t you go for a game of darts or something. You’ve been moping about the house with a face on you, like a slapped arse” she gently scolded Peter, as she went out the front door.
The pub was practically empty when Peter walked in. He spotted Mark in the corner by the Juke box and made a bee line over to him. “This place is like a fucking morgue. Does anyone go out anymore?” he remarked to Mark. It’s the recession kid; no one has the shillings anymore. The pubs are fucked for good and for all. Most people think their winning now if they can pay the electric bill” Mark replied. Peter and Mark spent the rest of the night playing pool and the juke box.
As peter made his way home at about 12.30 it had started to blow a storm and hail stones. I should have stayed in by the fire he thought, going out to empty pubs and paying inflated prices for a pint, didn’t exactly raise your spirits. Still one good thing had come from meeting Mark in the pub. Mark had told him that new owners had taken over the big old Monastery house and that they were looking for someone to do some work there. Old Walsh the news agent had told Mark that they had been in, enquiring about local workmen. “That’s not the best part Mark had said, guess who the new owner is? The good looking bird with the dark hair and the big tits, we saw in the pub that night after the funeral” he guffawed.
Peter got home and put the Kettle on. Laura was sitting up in bed reading a book. “How was the movie? “A chick flick wouldn’t be your cup of tea. Was there many in the pub?” “Shit” he replied. Peter made a hot Jameson for himself and settled down to watch the news headlines on Sky. I must make it my business in the Morning to quiz Walsh about the new people. It just might lead to a proper job, he thought. By the time he got to bed Laura was snoring so he read for a while. As he turned out the bed side light and settled down , he listened to Laura breathing heavily in her sleep and his last conscious thought was, that not so long ago they would have been at it like rabbits no matter how tired they were going to bed.
Old Jimmy Walsh sat on his usual stool behind the counter of the news agents as he had done for the past 40 years. Jimmy’s shop was a virtual legend in the area If you wanted to know anything about the area, the latest gossip or any new arrivals in the town, Jimmy was your man. An icy blast of wind ripped through the shop as Peter opened the door and walked in. “Bad one out there this morning Jim” remarked Peter as Jimmy looked up from the paper he was reading. “We are going to have this weather for at least another week according to the forecast “came the reply. Peter enquired about the new people that had brought the old monastery house. “Eastern European I’d say Jimmy went on, and the woman is a fine old mare too. She has been in to me most mornings since they moved in.”
" I heard they bought the house for small money compared to what the old colonel was offered back in the boom times. Then again he would never have sold at all only his health has gone downhill and he wants to move back to England to be near his son. I’d safely say there is no shortage of money with them either, well at least judging by the antique jewellery and the clothes she wears, drives a big fancy car too.” Peter stood patiently listening to Jimmy rambling on, as he waited for a chance to ask about the possibility of getting work on the house or grounds. Finally when Jimmy stopped for breath Peter butted in “Mark tells me their looking for someone to do a bit of work for them?” “That’s right” said Jimmy getting up and starting to root through a box under the counter.
" They asked me if I knew any handy men, and if I did to get them to ring her.” Jimmy handed Peter a white card with a name and phone number hand written in flowing script on the front. “Did she say what kind of work she needed doing? Just bits and pieces of maintenance I think. Mind you with a house and grounds of that size! A fellow could be lucky enough to get something fairly permanent there for a while”. Peter thanked Jimmy and slipped the card into his wallet.
Later that evening as Peter worked at the school, his mind was racing at the possibility of getting enough work at the big house to enable him to tell the principal to shove this job, where the sun don’t shine! He sat down and stared at the white card with the neat flowing script, as he tried to muster up the confidence to ring the number. Jesus this job is robbing me of all confidence he thought. Just ring the fucking number and get it over with he scolded himself!
Peter was just about to hang up, when the phone was answered. “Hello Monastery house, Tanya speaking” Peter cleared his throat and quickly introduced himself before launching into an unnecessarily long explanation as to the reason for the call. The pause after he stopped speaking made Peter think, fuck! I sound like a retard. She is going to hang up!
After what seemed like an eternity, Tanya replied in a soft and lilting voice. She explained that they had just recently bought the house and were looking for a person to maintain the grounds and do some painting etc. Peter felt his pulse quicken and he had cotton mouth as she went on to explain. That it would not be their main residence and long term they would be offering a fulltime position as a caretaker. Tanya arranged to meet Peter at the house to interview him on Saturday morning. After the phone call he sat for a while his mind racing with the possibility of finally having a decent job and getting out of this shithole of a school. The rest of the shift seemed to drag as he waited to get home and tell Laura the good news.
“Thanks be to God” cried Laura. “Maybe our luck is changing for the better, because up to now if we bought a grave yard no one would die.” Peter was now starting to feel a little apprehensive and secretly prayed that this was going to be his lucky break. At 52 years of age and the country in a very deep recession, Peter’s prospects were very, very limited. “ Well let’s just keep our fingers crossed, and don’t count our chickens before they hatch”
Later that night as Peter lay breathless in bed , after a vigour’s sex session he wondered if a lucky break was all that was needed to get their lives back on track. He finally slept praying that the job would come through. The following morning Peter awoke to a silent house. It was after eleven and Laura had long since departed for work.
Peter gazed out the kitchen window as he waited for the kettle to boil. He rolled a cigarette and mulled over the strange dreams that had haunted his sleep last night. He had dreamt that his long deceased parents were frantically trying to save him from some hidden or unknown danger. In his dream they had continuously pleaded with him to stay where he was and not to move and the look of urgency and terror on their faces had really disturbed him. No matter how long he analysed the dream he still could not make any sense of it. All he did know was that he like felt he hadn’t slept in a week and his nerves were on edge.
Saturday morning Peter woke early, it was a bright sunny day but with a biting north easterly wind that left temperatures struggling to rise above four degrees. He slipped quietly from bed in order not to wake Laura. The morning was spent smoking far too many cigs and continuously playing over the upcoming interview in his mind. At nine thirty Peter shaved and showered and put on his best casual clothes. He spent a long time grooming himself and found himself having a full blown conversation with an imaginary person in the mirror whom he captivated and enthralled with tales of his reliability, trustworthiness and work ethic. Jesus he thought as he snapped out of his trance “anyone would think I was a kid going for my first job.”
Peter looked at his watch as he passed the church. It was still only ten fifteen and he was not due to meet Tanya until eleven. Having time to kill he decided it couldn’t hurt to call into the church and light a few candles. Peter was not exactly a pillar of the church but he liked to think that god would look after even sinners if they asked him nicely! Peter put the money in the box and lit four candles and going to the front pew he knelt and pleaded to god, the saints and his mother to turn the interview in his favour. Buttoning up his good jacket he left the church and passed a very distracted looking Father Murphy in the church yard.
Old Murphy seems out of sorts he thought as the priest passed him without even acknowledging his presence. As Peter entered the inner gate at the big house he was forced to step quickly aside to prevent himself from being bowled over by Rev Samuel Black the church of Ireland dean as he came barrelling out through the gate looking very agitated . Bad day all round for the clergy he thought as he watched him storm off.
When he turned to enter he found Tanya standing behind him. He was startled by her presence as he had not heard her approach. “Peter I presume” she said in soft sexy voice with a faint lilting accent. Please come in, I am afraid I have upset the holy man”. Peter was completely taken aback by how stunning she looked at close range. She wore a short black dress cut low at the front, an antique gold chain from which an unusual greenish blue gem stone hung and nestled between her voluptuous milk white breasts.
He was momentarily left looking out of his mouth when she turned and sauntered towards the porch. As Peter followed her he was mesmerised by the sway of ass and the faint swish of her black stocking clad legs. He watched as she walked effortlessly on what looked like impossibly high shoes over the pea gravel path. She must be floating he thought or else she would break her neck on the gravel in those shoes. “Pull yourself together” a voice at the back of his mind scolded angrily “you’re here for a job not for a date”.
Tanya led him through the large porch and into the main hall of the old building. “Would you mind taking a seat through here in the living room, I just need to tend to something that has cropped up and needs urgent attention, it shouldn’t take long.” Peter looked around the huge living room as he waited it was not at all as dreary or dark as he expected for such an old house. In fact the room was brightly lit by two large windows at the front and a set of French doors gave a vista to a well-manicured lawn surrounded in a circle of flower beds.