Birthright

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Summary

Londoner Hollie Montgomery receives a phone call from Ireland. Her great-uncle, Malachy - a man whom she's never met - has passed away, leaving his estate in Ireland to her. Dogged by strange visions related to the land of her ancestors since she was a child, Hollie decides to travel to the Emerald Isle to discover more about her heritage. However, on her arrival, a series of strange encounters and events suggest that she has inherited far more than her uncle's farm.

Genre:
Horror / Mystery
Author:
Richard
Status:
Excerpt
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

Birthright Excerpt

by Cara and Richard

Hollie picked up the six-pack of Evian water. She made her way to the check-out when her phone started to buzz. She ignored it for a few moments as she withdrew her card from her handbag. She had been out all night with friends, now on her way home from a party, and was feeling exhausted and more than a little tipsy. She smiled politely at the checkout girl who scanned her water and named her price as the phone continued to buzz. Finally, Hollie fished out and glanced at the screen as she presented her card.

It was a +353 number. Where that was indigenous to she had no clue and she answered, rather irritated as she departed the supermarket.

“Hello?!” The phone’s other end held silence for several more repetitions of the increasingly annoyed greeting: “Hello?! Hello?!!” She pulled the phone from her face and looked at the screen again. Anxiety rose as she stared at the unfamiliar number. Just before she could press the end call button with her thumb, a man’s voice filled her ear.

“Hello? Is that Hollie Montgomery?”

The voice was unfamiliar; Hollie stalled on the pavement for a few moments, as though the question posed some kind of threat and she feared continuing the walk back to her apartment.

“This is she. Who is this?”

“Hollie, my name is Desmond Dunbar. I’m calling from Ireland. I have some news related to your great-uncle Malachy. Malachy Hegarty?”

“Malachy Hegarty?” The name sounded like a nonsense phrase in a nursery rhyme. It took Hollie several moments to place the name Hegarty and make the connection to the speaker’s Irish accent. Hollie had no living relatives that she knew of, but was aware that her Irish grandmother’s maiden name was Hegarty. “How can I help you?” she finally asked.

“I am afraid I have some sorry news about your great uncle. He passed away somewhere between Monday night and the early hours of Tuesday morning this week. I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“Well…” Hollie took a deep breath, and set off again back towards her flat with the water in her arms and the phone nestled between shoulder and head. “No need to be sorry. Mr Dunbar, is it?”

“Yes,” he said.

“I have very few memories of my grandmother, all of them preceding my grandfather’s passing back – well – I must have been ten years old. I don’t ever recall meeting a great uncle Malachy. I do appreciate your sympathies though.” Hollie had been a precocious ten-year-old when she had last seen anyone she was related to, aside from her father Patrick. Hollie’s Irish father had died in 2007. She never knew her mother. Drawing her thoughts sharply back to the present, Hollie addressed the Irishman on the other end of the phone: “How can I help you anyway?” she said. “Is there anything more you need to tell me? I mean, where did you get my contact number? And not to be rude but I am surprised you would hunt me down. I was not a part of Mr Hegarty’s life, therefore I’m not sure I should have anything to do with his death?”

“Well his funeral will be held this Friday. If you have an email address, I can forward you details of the service, along with details of the other matter of his estate.”

“His estate?”

“Records show you are Mr Hegarty’s only surviving relative and he has bestowed his estate in Corludy, County Kilkenny, to you. That is namely his property the farm house and all furniture and some money and a chest of some sort that has been named as particularly important which he solemnly requested you gave consideration to.”

Hollie didn’t really know what to say...she was actually surprised her great uncle had been still alive – he must have been in his nineties. She found herself giving her email address to the gentleman without really thinking straight. This was all a bit uncomfortable, she felt, and she wasn’t quite sure of the right way to respond to such a call. She asked the man if she could make a cup of tea and read the email and get back to him later that day. After an agreement from the voice on the other end of the phone there was a mutual goodbye and Hollie opened her hall door and made her way through the hallway into the kitchen past her Persian cats to flick the kettle on and collect her thoughts. She opened her phone and read through the email, which had arrived as promptly as Desmond Dunbar had promised.

Weary, Hollie got home, sipped down a half bottle of water, and climbed into bed for a few hours. Prone to visions from an early age, one of the dreams she had on that morning was very vivid, although she didn’t feature in it – she was an objective presence, or non-presence, if you will. As the curtain opened on this troubling vision, an authoritative but seductive female voice appeared to whisper in her ear, rasping:

“This is how it was…”

One week earlier…

Ninety-seven year old Malachy Hegarty’s back pain had been so pronounced that by the fifth day of it, he spent twelve hours in bed. Snatching what little sleep he could, he came around after a fifteen minute bout of dozing, as it grew dark, to find an apple resting on his bedside cabinet.

“How’d that get there?” he whispered to himself. He stretched out with immense difficulty, and – realising how hungry he was – snatched the red fruit off the cabinet. He turned the apple in his hand and finally sank his teeth into it. The juice wept out down his chin; the apple was the sweetest he’d ever tasted. He ate the whole thing over the course of a minute, including the butt. Immediately, he felt refreshed. His pain had left him. He thrust himself out of the bed with the agility of someone half his age or more.

“I’ve to get to the mound,” he said to himself. He checked his phone and he saw three missed calls from the parish priest – his good friend, Father Ultan Kelly. He slipped his long coat over his night shirt, and donned a hat, stepping out through first the door to his bedroom, and then the door to his house. He fished his car keys out of his coat pocket and slammed the front door shut, hurrying across the driveway in the evening light towards the shed that held his car. The Mini Metro awaited him as he pulled open the vast double doors of the shed that had once stored wheat, decades earlier, before Malachy Hegarty retired. His phone went off in his pocket as he got into the car.

“Hello? Padre?”

“Malachy? I was about to call up to you. I’m very concerned,” the priest’s voice came down the line, and Malachy could tell from his tone that the man had been drinking heavily.

“Ultan: You’ve been at the holy water again – and I don’t mean the holy water.”

“I’ve had a few whiskeys. What of it, my friend?”

“You’re not fit to drive tonight. And you’d only call over to avail yourself of my own stash of spirits!” Malachy snatched his Bluetooth earphones off his dashboard and placed them in his ears as he started the car.

“You’re in the car?” Father Kelly heard the souped-up engine of Malachy’s notoriously pimped-up Mini Metro throbbing to life at the other end of the line.

“I am.”

“And how’s your back?”

“The pain’s gone. I’m going to drive over to give thanks to the fair folk.”

“You are in your barney.” Ultan Kelly gasped audibly and coughed in disbelief. “You’re going to the fairy mound?” He caught his breath, still rasping down the line. “Don’t do it. It wasn’t the fair folk who saved you, Malachy.”

“Who was it then? They left an apple for me, beside the bed,” Malachy declared. “It cured me.”

“An apple?”

“An apple!”

“I don’t know who left an apple for you, Malachy, but it wasn’t the fairies. And it didn’t cure you.”

Malachy passed through the gates of his estate and sped off down the road, the horizon before him filled with an aweing purple and red sunset. “I’m not driving and chatting, Ultan. I’m going to go. I will talk to you later.” He tapped the headset on his ear and ended the call.

Minutes later, he screeched to a halt on a deserted stretch of narrow road. He had neglected to use his headlights on the drive down to the fairy mound, but now he switched them on as he left the engine idling, and got out. Slamming the door shut, he turned to face the gap in the hedge through which he could access the field where the locally famous fairy mound was. It was then that he first saw a young woman at the side of the road, lit up by his headlights beneath the star-peppered gloaming. She was in what appeared to be a nightie, clutching it around the collar in the increasingly cold evening, as the dress billowed around her ankles.

“Did you cure my sciatica?” Malachy asked the young woman.

“I’m looking for my baby.” Her eyes scanned the surroundings before they fell on him. “Have you seen my baby?”

Malachy pulled off his long overcoat and wrapped it around her.

“You’ll catch a chill,” he said. Then he recognised the woman – far too young to be who she appeared to be. His brow furrowed and he stepped back. A pointing finger emerged from beneath the coat he had just given her. The arm extended and the finger became a crook once, twice, three times. Follow me, was the implication, as the young woman turned on her heels and went through the gap in the hedge that led to the fairy mound. Malachy stepped forward, trying to match her pace, but as he went through the hedgerow, he was met with an empty field. The young woman – an anachronism from his distant past – was gone. He walked up to the fairy mound and stood before it.

“Who…who cured my sciatica?” he said quietly, and then repeated the question, much louder.

The wind whipped up – a momentary, fierce gale – and knocked Malachy onto his back. It abated as quickly, but the old man was in extreme pain again as the familiar ache shot down from his hip to his lower leg like an electric shock.

“Oh…shit,” he said. A less familiar pain gripped his chest, and he wheezed. The shock of the fall caused him to die where he lay, as Father Ultan Kelly’s car pulled up behind Malachy’s. The priest emerged from the car with a flashlight in hand as the darkness of evening was now complete.

“Malachy!” he called, stepping through the gap in the hedges. “Malachy?” He swayed in the darkness, drunk from an evening of excess. The beam of his light fell on Malachy’s supine body, its glassy eyes blazing red under the intensity of the torch. Fr Kelly immediately sobered and ran towards his friend. Breathlessly, he checked his pulse, and put an ear to his chest. He performed compressions against his rib cage for a full minute, his knees sinking into the grass as he pumped. Finally he fell back, exhausted. He lay perpendicular to Malachy for another minute, whispering the Last Rites into the clear air as he stared at the stars. Finally, Father Kelly got up and – with some difficulty – picked up Malachy’s body. He dragged it across the field, placing the still warm corpse into the passenger side of his car.

He looked at Malachy’s pasty pallor under the brightness of the car’s indoor courtesy light.

“Dear Lord forgive me,” he said. There was no way he was going to allow Malachy’s passing to be sullied by a visit to the godless fairy mound.

He fetched his torch from the field, and drove back to his old friend’s farmhouse. He dragged the body into the living room, having used the keys he found in Malachy’s trouser pocket to gain access to the house. He hauled him into his bedroom. He carefully changed his friend’s pyjamas – his nightshirt having been streaked with grass stains – took off his pants, and put him into his bed. He returned to the living room and poured himself a glass of poitín. He took a long draught, and gasped.

It would take him most of the night to walk back to Malachy’s car and return it to his shed. But he was determined to do it before dawn.

That afternoon a freshly-showered and fresher-brained Hollie sat down and messaged her friend Connell. She opened with:

“How are you?”

She had read through the email and immediately thought to mull the situation over with Connell.

“Grand. Yourself?” The reply came back moments later.

“I’m in a bit of a bind. Can you take a call? X”

For one, Connell was her Irish friend. He lived over in Dublin but more importantly he was someone who she had known for many years. She trusted him and he knew a little about her family life. Hollie’s phone rang. Connell was calling her from Dublin. She answered.

“How are you doing? Everything okay?” His voice indicated concern.

Hollie took a deep breath.

“You know how I value your moral compass in delicate situations?” she asked.

“Hollie, c’mon. Don’t leave me in the dark here. What’s up?”

She told him everything. Together they concluded the right thing to do was to attend the funeral service at least and curiosity if nothing more also had them interested in what may be the contents of this old chest that was said to have required special consideration. Plans were made between them both for Hollie to fly over to Dublin where Connell would collect her at the airport and host her a night or two before driving with her to Kilkenny to attend her estranged uncle’s funeral.

“Let me know your flight details,” Connell said. “Talk to you soon.”

She had never felt it her business to get to know her grandparents’ family whilst her dad was alive (or indeed after her dad passed) as her father was estranged from any and all relatives and had told Hollie from a young age many shocking, saddening and strangely mysterious stories that didn’t paint him as anyone she needed to go about getting acquainted with. Hollie was very close to her father and she trusted his judgement. She figured he had his reasons for cutting them off.

*

Hollie’s flight was coming in to Dublin airport at midday – 11.55 am to be exact – and Connell was running late. His apartment a fifteen minute drive from the airport, he stepped out of the shower at 12.03 and checked his phone. Hollie had not yet tried to call. He scrambled into first underpants, then jeans, put on socks and his tee-shirt, and grabbed his jacket before searching frantically for his shoes when his phone whooshed its vibrating tone with a message.

“Oh shit oh shit,” he stammered, glancing at the phone’s screen.

“Just touched down. x” The message from Hollie seemed promising. He wouldn’t be late after all.

“On the way. xx”, he messaged back, slipped the phone into his jacket, and – after putting on his shoes he found under the coffee table in his living room – went out the hall door. Outside his apartment building, standing by his car, the smell of what could have been sewerage struck his nostrils and he wondered as to its source. He wasn’t feeling nervous about meeting Hollie, but he touched his rear end to confirm that he hadn’t had an accident. He felt a lump there.

“What the…?” Reaching delicately into the jeans below the small of his back, he managed to pull out the underpants that he’d worn the day before – which he hadn’t removed from inside his jeans the previous night. “Phew!” he said, and climbed into his ten-year-old VW Golf.

Ten minutes later he was speeding up the motorway towards the airport. He pulled up to the Departures lounge – the only place at the airport he could park without having to pay for a spot.

“Come upstairs and meet outside Departures. X” he messaged Hollie. Five minutes passed before his phone rang.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi Con. Where are you? I’m outside.”

“Are you at Arrivals or Departures?”

“I’m at Arrivals. I just arrived.”

“Yeah I know but I’m parked at Departures. Can you go back in and go upstairs, and come out and you’ll see me then? I don’t want to pay for parking. Hurry!” Connell nervously watched an Airport Police car pull up behind him. They were going to wave him on, he knew. He shouldn’t really have been there. He caught a stray hair sticking out of his eyebrow in the rearview mirror, and rubbed it back down. “I look like total shit,” he said to himself.

“Don’t worry about it. I don’t look the best either,” Hollie said.

“Are you still on the line?” he asked.

“Yes. I’m on the way up the escalator.”

“Okay. Okay. Okay.”

The police officer had got out of his car and now presented himself at Connell’s driver’s side window.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m waiting for a friend, officer,” Connell said with a courteous smile.

“You’ll have to move along. You can’t park here,” he said.

Hollie arrived, as if on cue, through the double doors that automatically parted as she came through lugging her wheeled suitcase.

“Heya Con!” she said.

“Okay officer, we’re on the way now.” Connell popped the boot open and got out of the car, helping Hollie with her luggage. They both got into the car and sped away.

“So this relative, this great uncle?” Connell said. “First of all, I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” Hollie checked her phone for messages as they drove.

“Was it your mother’s side or your father’s?”

“My father’s. I never knew my mum,” Hollie said, her sunglasses obscuring her eyes so that Connell couldn’t see her emotions. She put her phone into her handbag.

“How come?” he asked quietly.

“My mother was a little touched in the head, apparently. She ran off with a Spanish waiter on a family holiday when I was four…my father told me she had worked in the bar with said waiter until she left Spain to live with him somewhere in Colombia. She had contacted him to say she would be in touch but never had been.”

“Nuts. Must’ve driven your father mad.”

“He didn’t really talk about it beyond the facts.”

“So you were raised by a single dad?” Connell asked the question quietly.

Hollie nodded.

They were pulling into a redbrick housing estate, full of terraced houses and apartments. The stench of sewerage struck their nostrils as they drove towards Connell’s apartment.

“Oh yeah. The smell of sewerage. Sorry about that. This is where I live but I assure you that smell isn’t permanent – I only got it myself this morning.” He pulled up to the kerb and they got out.

They ascended to the second storey apartment – Connell dutifully carrying Hollie’s luggage – and walked in. Connell wheeled the suitcase to the spare room.

“This is your place,” he said. Two beds flanked the walls. A bedside lamp rested on a table between them.

“Lovely.” Hollie looked around. “Sparse but functional.”

“Excuse me? Sparse?” Connell held her glance with one of mock offence. She laughed.

“Will we have a cup of coffee?” he asked. “Or you want a beer?”

“Are you having a beer?”

“Not if I’m driving later. And we don’t know if I’m driving later.”

“Coffee sounds good. Thanks. Are we staying at yours for a bit before making the trip? How far from Dublin is Kilkenny?” Hollie asked Connell with her hand on her suitcase zip not sure how comfortable to make herself at his functional but cosy flat in Dublin.

“Oh it’s only an hour and a half in the car. We can go whenever you like,” said Connell.

“Okay. Well I’m quite tired,“ said Hollie with a wide yawn. “How about I have a nap after our coffee and we head out a bit later, or are you not a drive-in-the-dark kind of guy?”

Connell was already in the kitchen area making coffee and Hollie was chatting to him through the door of the bedroom he had shown her to.

“You know I’m an insomniac,” replied Connell. “I’d actually prefer to drive in the dark. It will give me something to do instead of being up climbing the walls all night. How do you like your coffee?”

“Strong and not too sweet,” replied Hollie as she walked into the room and sat at the chrome table and chairs in the corner waiting for her coffee.

Connell brought over a tray with coffee and some biscuits. “How are you feeling about all this now?” he asked as he sat down and passed her a cup of strong warm coffee. “Oh I meant to ask you if you wanted decaf…?”

She glanced at the cup. “Is it decaf?” she asked.

“No but it’s no trouble to make another.”

She shook her head. “Coffee doesn’t really stop me sleeping.”

“So how are you feeling about the trip?”

“I don’t know really. I don’t particularly want to see a dead person. And I know that’s the norm. Over here will it be an open casket right? And I will be expected to go and see him?”

“Probably so,” answered Connell. “But you don’t have to do anything you aren’t comfortable with. You never met the man, right?”

“Not that I recall.”

“No harm then, either way.”

“It’s a tradition to wake the dead in Ireland, right? To send them on their way?”

Connell shrugged.

“Not just in Ireland, far as I know. We’re not the only bibulous drunkards on the planet. We have other traditions, too. I think they light a candle or a lamp in the window, too, of the deceased’s house. Just one example. But that’s a very old tradition.”

“You don’t believe, do you?” Hollie asked, and with a nod, Connell confirmed his atheism.

“And you’re a beautiful lunatic,” Connell replied, and Hollie chuckled.

“Yes, I’m a Mass-goer. I went to Mass every Sunday with my father. I should go more often now but life gets in the way.”

“Life?”

“Modern society. Living in a world city like London. I went to a Catholic school growing up too.” She sipped her coffee.

“Too late now for excuses,” Connell quipped, but this time Hollie didn’t laugh. “Something wrong?” he asked, noting that she had fallen deep in thought.

“I had one of my dreams last night, and then dozing, on the flight.”

“One of your dreams?” he prompted.

“I have premonitions or whatever they are sometimes. Vivid dreams, since I was a little girl. I dreamt of the farm house last night but my dream was disturbed by the alarm waking me up for the flight.”

“Which farmhouse?”

“My grandparents’ farmhouse, the family home, passed on from generation to generation. It’s funny, it’s the house I always imagined.”

“Yeah but you don’t even know yet if it’s the same house. Maybe you’re imagining something entirely different?”

“Of course. I have never been there but I would picture the farmhouse when my dad told me of how they would tell scary stories in that village when he was small and it would terrorise all the children.”

“So you have a picture in your noggin of what it’s like?”

“More than a picture, Con. It is damp and smells of wood and it has a staircase made of dark wood like bog wood and there is a fire place – a big one – that warms most of the house and kitchen made from the same wood. I believe my great grandad built that house, you know, and I feel funny about going in as I heard so many stories about it and none of them were nice to say the least.”

“What kind of stories?”

“My great grandfather and great grandmother were struggling farm workers who kept having kids they couldn’t afford. Apparently when my grandmother was born they decided not to feed her and just left her there crying for a couple of days and nights they said she lived longer than they were expecting so they eventually fed the baby.”

“Whoah,” Connell said.

“It was a mixture of poverty, ignorance and cruelty, I suppose.”

“True.”

“They didn’t believe in contraception as that was a sin but it wasn’t a sin if the baby was just left apparently…scarily hypocritical huh?”

“That’s your Church teaching, Hollie.”

“Don’t pin that one on the Church, Connell. Yes, there’s a wealth of sins in the Catholic Church, but abandoning babies like that wasn’t one of them.”

“They brutalised kids, Hollie. There are mass graves of kids all over the country near orphanages and mother-and-baby homes.”

“Stop it.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“No. I do. That’s the problem.” A chill ran up Hollie’s spine. “And you know, I think it’s going to be haunted. The farmhouse. I know a lot of things like this happened. She probably wasn’t the only baby to be left like that. Maybe she’s just the one that survived to tell the tale.”

“Do you believe in ghosts and haunting and the like?” Connell asked.

“Yes. Very much so.” Hollie nodded. “I think to believe in my faith then essentially I accept the concept of a soul and a life ever after. So yes I do believe there is something more than the material world we live in.”

There was a moment’s silence.

“Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” Connell sang, tapping his index finger off the side of his head.

“You think I’m nuts?”

“Nah, I’m just kidding. My philosophy is that there’s more than one road to enlightenment. If you do a raindance and it rains, then do a bloody raindance. You know what I mean?”

“I wish I had finished my dream you know,” said Hollie thoughtfully, dipping a rich tea biscuit into her coffee. It broke off and plopped into the cup.

They both chuckled.

“I dropped off again for a moment on the plane but one of those beyond rude trolley dollies from Ryan Air woke me up to try and extort money off me for an over-priced tiny soft drink that wouldn’t quench the thirst of a mouse.”

Connell laughed again.

“No budget airlines have to make their money somehow,” he said. “Scamming rip-off merchant bastards!”

She laughed at his mock indignation.

“So what happened in the dream?” Connell asked.

“Nothing,” she said. “I just was in the house on my own, looking around it. I felt a presence though, and I think it was downstairs and there was also an outline – a lady on the stairs in a long cotton night dress. I have seen her before, this lady. I don’t know who she is but I have been dreaming of her since I was a little girl. I used to think she was my mum but she looks nothing like the photos I have seen of my mum. She was scared – not for herself, but for me. She was putting her hand to her lips as if you say shh be quiet and come upstairs. It was all telepathic, no words were said I just knew what was going on. I sensed she was trying to get me away from who or whatever was going on downstairs…that’s when I woke up to the alarm. When I dropped off on the plane I was where I started about to walk into the farm house door when the air hostess woke me. Perhaps when I have a nap now I will pick up where I left off but it doesn’t always work like that.”

“What were the stories they used to tell your dad when he was little there, Hollie?” asked Connell. “Do you think they influence or inspire your dreams?”

“Not really no. They were old folk tales and legends all about trolls, fairies and leprechauns. Silly really, but quite scary to a child who doesn’t know anything but what an adult tells them.”

“Fairies and leprechauns aren’t scary,” said Connell. “They are colourful and happy and kids love them.”

“Not these ones,” Hollie protested. “Apparently there are good fairies and bad ones and they live in a fairy kingdom, a place my dad named Ardy Dardy land because he couldn’t remember the Gaelic name the villagers would describe it as. I had always been a kid with a vivid imagination and my father was a writer so he would recount the stories to me with fascination, sometimes before bed. During the day, I used to go and sit in the airing cupboard for hours with my dolls. I would pretend they were fairies, and leave a note for my dad in the kitchen by the kettle:

“I’m in Ardy, Dardy land”

“He would get that note when he was making himself a cup of tea and would know he could find me in the airing cupboard.

“So this fairy kingdom, it has good fairies and bad fairies. It also has trolls, leprechauns and pixies. Little people so to speak. And there is a woman. She leads one of the groups of fairies. They call her the Banshee.” Hollie drained her cup into her mouth. She took the plate and cup and placed it at the sink. “And so to bed,” she whispered.

“Wait a sec,” Connell protested. “You’re gonna just throw the banshee into the mix and head off for a nap?”

“You know of the banshee?”

“She’s said to be a kind of angel of death – she appears before people before they’re about to die, or screams. You hear the scream, either you or someone close to you is going to die.”

Hollie waved her hand.

“Yeah, I know all that. Look we’ll catch up in an hour or two? I’m pooped.”

Hollie woke with a bolt of adrenaline, screaming, her heart pounding.

“Where am I?” All she could see for a moment was a dark, unfamiliar room. She raised her hand to her throat which felt strained she had been screaming in her sleep. It was a dream, she realised, as her mind began to quickly connect back to the conscious world.

I’m at Connell’s, she reminded herself. In his apartment, in Dublin.

She put her right hand out in front of her; she was trembling and felt shaken, her heart beating at an alarming rate. A few deep breaths calmed her down. She began to process the dream, slowly.

The dream had taken her back to the farm house in Kilkenny. She strained to haul open the huge heavy dark wooden door as she had stepped inside.

This time there was nobody there, no woman hovering on the stairs indicating to Hollie why she might be here or where she was supposed to go. The damp smell was strong and it felt very cold as Hollie gazed around the entrance porch which led to a split hallway between a living area and a large kitchen. There was a smell – an awful smell like something she had never smelt before and couldn’t place. There was a tinge of death about the stench, but there was also sewerage. She saw a trail of rose petals, which she followed, and she felt drawn to take a right into the kitchen area and – turning into it, still following the trail of petals – Hollie’s gaze fell to a bundle on a side table. Something was wrapped up in some sort of cloth brown sack like material. Hollie felt drawn to the bundle and walked over to it. She slowly unwrapped the bundle. As she was doing so, she seemed to disturb a nest of flies, which emerged from one of the folds and flitted out to buzz around in the miasma. Still undeterred Hollie kept unwrapping. She felt an unexplainable need to open the bundle. The unwrapping seemed to go on forever, almost like whatever it was had been bound with the intention of it never to be revealed again. With one final unravelling Hollie gasped in pure white horror – a scream from the very depths of her soul shot out from her as she gazed upon the rotting flesh of a little baby.

“What’s the matter?” said Connell, as he whipped the earbuds out of his ears. Seated at his desk on his lap top with his mouse in hand, he stared at her, concerned. “Didn’t you sleep well? I assumed you were sound as—”

“Yeah no. I’m fine. I did,” Hollie interrupted. “I’d best grab a shower and we will be on our way eh?”

She didn’t feel like passing on such a soiled image to Connell; it was an awful dream and one he probably didn’t need to have in his head just because she did.

Connell handed Hollie a large fluffy green towel and showed her to the bathroom. As the hot water ran down Hollie’s face and hair she mentally imagined the dream being washed away from her mind’s eye.

“It was just a dream. I am over-tired and stressed,” she told herself over and over again as she tried to erase the ghastly image of the precious baby from her mind.

Connell and Hollie left soon after Hollie was washed and dressed.

They drove down the motorway, listening to the radio.

“Are you hungry? I have to stop for petrol. Do you want to pick up something in there in case it’s too late when we get to the town?”

“I hate gas station food,” replied Hollie, “but if it’s our only option I will grab a sandwich or something.”

They turned into the next available services hoping to see a McDonald’s or something but no such luck. Connell said he would grab a selection of sandwiches and snacks and Hollie watched him fill up the VW with petrol and walk into the station.

Still pondering whether or not to share her anxieties about the farm house with Connell, Hollie also wanted to protect him from horrible images and notions. She knew from last experiences that her dreams always meant something and that they were usually a premonition of some kind of things that were going to unravel in one way or another. She then mentally reprimanded herself, reminding herself that not everyone – in fact hardly anyone – believed this kind of thing and that it wasn’t fair to freak Connell out and have him wondering about her sanity. Then again, as a philosophical materialist, perhaps Connell would just dismiss the ideas out of hand as nonsense. Hollie didn’t know which was worse, and she inwardly castigated herself for drinking the coffee earlier. Perhaps caffeinated dreams were not a good idea after all.

She decided to continue to keep her thoughts to herself and smiled at Connell and said thanks as he handed her a bag of snacks to choose from as he climbed back into the car.

It began to rain heavily about 10 minutes further into their journey. They lost daylight almost instantaneously. They had taken the exit as directed by the talking sat nav and were now on a long narrow road surrounded by nothing but farm land.

“Do you think we should pull over and let it stop?” Hollie asked Connell, worried about him having to drive in such conditions.

“If it doesn’t stop soon, maybe,” he answered, keen to press on. “Let’s see how it goes, as there aren’t really any spaces to park on these roads. They’re so narrow and if somebody else comes driving down we could cause an accident.” They carried on the drive, both of them staring out of the window through the heavy rain, wipers swiping frantically as they struggled to see.

Not going at all fast due to the conditions, suddenly a woman loomed into view, standing at the side of the road ahead of them.

It wasn’t hard to miss her.

“What is that lady doing”? Hollie asked Connell. “Is she ok?” Hollie looked back as they passed her, Connell staring through the rearview mirror. Her silhouette could still be seen in the red lights of the rear of the car.

The woman stood on the road, simply looking ahead through the rain like it wasn’t bothering her. She had on a man’s over coat and what appeared to be a long dress, soaked and clinging to her legs.

“We better stop and ask. Where’s her car? Perhaps she’s broken down,” Connell speculated. He stopped and reversed the car.

As they got closer they saw she wasn’t wearing any shoes.

Connell pulled over and asked the fair haired lady who must have been – on closer look – very young, a teen perhaps 19 or 20: “Are you okay?”

They both called out to her in unison winding down the windows and getting splashed in the eyes and face with rain. The girl looked straight through them, saying:

“I’m looking for my baby. Have you seen my baby?”

Hollie asked: “Baby? What do you mean? Where’s your car? Have you had an accident?”

“Are you travelling with a baby?” Connell said, his hand fumbling for the door handle in a move to assist this young woman in her plight.

“No,” she answered. Then louder: “No! No!”

“Maybe she’s in shock,” suggested Hollie. “Let’s get out and have a look?”

They both made moves to exit the car, the rain so thick it was hard to see a thing. The woman turned and ran away from the road, over a raised area of the field beyond. Connell and Hollie followed, expecting to see her lead them to a broken down vehicle but as they looked down from the raised hill area there was nothing but fields for miles.

“Where is she?” They both continued looking in all directions but couldn’t see the young woman anywhere.

The soft ground underfoot caused them to pace a little as they stared, so they didn’t get bogged down in the mud beneath the grass.

“I think I have a torch in the car,” said Connell, and he turned to get it.

Hollie turned on her phone’s torch and scanned the area ahead, scouting through her blinking wet eyes, her free hand in a saluting position trying to shield her vision somewhat. She continued to seek out the woman. A brighter, more powerful light shone from behind her from Connell’s torch as he descended the hill again to her position, moments later. Together they scanned the rolling, wet, dark fields as far as the eye could see. There was no car; there was no woman.

*

Neither one of them said much about the eerie experience with the lady looking for her baby. Connell brushed it off with a: “Well, someone must have had a car parked on the other side of the hill and got it started quick and before we got over the other side.”

Hollie said: “Hmm. I didn’t hear anything though?” But she dropped it as she sensed her cynical friend was more comfortable to rationalise it and leave it alone.

The Air B&B they arrived at was creepy – the attic room of an old closed down bakery. Hollie being a lover of listed and old buildings instantly regretted her choice when they arrived in the dark and walked down a cobble stone avenue to the old and weathered looking building in the night time rain. Charm and character seemed to have been replaced by old and haunted.

Hollie, terrified of having nightmares there, strangely enough felt a sense of calm and order before she fell asleep. The only kind of weird “dream” was a woman’s whispering voice in her ear that woke her up saying “You are supposed to be here. You are back.” It didn’t make Hollie feel scared or uneasy. Instead, the woman’s voice filled her with a comforting and reassuring feeling.

Hollie and Connell ventured out the next day. The plan was to go to the funeral home. They were also meeting the parish priest with regards to her uncle’s funeral service. Hollie still had no idea how her uncle had passed but due to his age she suspected natural causes.

Walking along the cobbled path towards Connell’s car, the friends chatted about how they had slept and what was on the agenda today when a voice cut into their conversation from behind them. Turning to look, they saw a lady standing in the door way to an old shop. “She’s been waiting for you,” she said, staring off in the general direction of Hollie and Connell’s chit-chat. “She’s waited a long time. She looks for you, you know, always at night when it rains.”

“Are you talking to us?” Hollie asked the lady as nobody else seemed to be in ear or eyeshot.

“Yes, you. I have something for you. Come.”

Hollie looked at Connell who mumbled something about her probably being the Air B&B host, so they proceeded to the lady’s door-way.

It was a shop full of old fashioned dolls, all lined up in the windows mostly china or porcelain.

“It’s in here,” she said, beckoning the two further inside the cosy, cottage-like, low-ceiling shop. There was a fire going in its fireplace, in what appeared to be like a living room cum work shop with needle work and dolls and dolls’ clothing scattered around some books and an old fashioned grandfather clock, ticking biddably like a metronome.

The lady reached up to a shelf of dolls and began to feel the material on the dress of one particular doll. She seemed satisfied with what she felt and took the doll with her to a rocking chair in front of the cracking open fire.

“Here,” she said, “take it Róisín.”

She looked again in Connell and Hollie’s general direction.

She’s blind, the two realised simultaneously as the woman stared without blinking and felt around with her hand for a poker without looking.

“Are you in charge of the Air B&B?” asked Connell. “We are staying across the street.”

“I know,” replied the lady. She had the most beautiful clear blue eyes and long dark hair that fell to her waist. “No, I’m just here. I live here. This is for her, the lady next to you. I’ve kept this for some time.

“There must me some mistake,” Hollie addressed the lady. “I didn’t order a doll. I didn’t know there was a shop here or anything maybe you are expecting some body later?”

The lady became insistent and a little frustrated in her tone.

“I know who you are!” she said with vindication. “Malachy’s niece! This is for you!”

“Oh erm well that’s lovely of you,” said Hollie, making her way to take the doll from the beautiful blind lady’s outstretched hand. “How kind of you. Did you know my uncle?”

“I knew all of them,” she said, “and your mother too.”

“My mother? She has never been here,” Hollie said politely.

“Oh yes she has,” said the lady. “She’s never left.”

Looking at Connell in uncertainty Hollie thanked the woman again for the doll and – wondering if the woman was perhaps a little strange – made excuses to get going.

“Wait! You have the gift you know, I gave it to. Trust yourself and beware of the wail especially when it’s windy and raining. Don’t confuse your mother with the banshee! They trick you, you know, the fairies. Trust your gift Róisín!”

Walking out fast Hollie mumbled her thanks again, and made a bee line for Connell’s car noting he was following close behind her.

As soon as she shut and locked the door of the vehicle Hollie looked at Connell.

“What was that all about, it’s getting creepy here now! Why was she calling me that name sheen something?! And look it’s written on this doll’s dress.” Hollie drew Connell’s gaze to the sewn garment on the china doll.

The name Róisín had been hand stitched in to the doll’s dress next to a red rose.

“I don’t know,” said Connell, “Maybe she thinks that’s what you were named? As she seems to know who you are and why you are here, that’s not uncommon in a remote village in Ireland. People talk. It’s an Irish name, suits you actually, little Rose,” Connell said as he pulled off, dismissive of the eeriness Hollie seemed keen to explore, and headed on their journey to the funeral parlour which was about ten minutes down the road, according to the satellite navigation voice, which ordered them on their way.

After driving through the town, navigating around pedestrianised streets, they pulled into the car park of a funeral home. Gsaiborsky’s Public House and Funeral Parlour had a big sign atop a one-storey building. Hollie and Connell walked into a bar populated by what appeared to be a dozen or more tweed-wearing and woolly-sweatered locals. They stepped up to the barman.

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