The Spirits of All Hallow’s Eve–A “Psalms of the Arcana” Short Story

Introduction

I wrote this story years ago as a prequel to my novel The Prodigal’s Foole.” It was published back in 2015 as a part of Tim Marquitz’s short story collection called Tales of Magic and Misery.

This explains how the main character in TPF, Symon Bryson, got to Ireland for his self imposed exile before his return to Boston at the start of the first book.

I present it to you for free as a distraction from the dystopian nightmare that 2020 has become. I hope you enjoy the read.

R. B. Wood

18 March 2020 Boston, MA


THE SPIRITS OF ALL HALLOWS EVE

30 OCTOBER 1994

Dublin, Ireland

I know it’s a cliché, but I’m living proof that there are ghosts all around us.

Not necessarily the ones written about in Dickens or played in the movies by the likes of Patrick Swayze. Ghosts of the past. Hauntings from bad decisions or life experiences we wish we could do over or change, but can’t.

See, once you’ve made a decision to enter the world of demons, angels and all the weird shit in between, you can never go back. Blue pill. Red pill. It’s that simple.

But unlike The Matrix, the credits don’t roll after two hours.

I made my decision to become a practitioner of magic with the help of the Catholic Church when I was ten years old. People I respected told me it was the right thing to do. I’d be one of God’s soldiers. I’d fight the darkness with power I’d been blessed with since birth. I’d learn to wield magic. I’d fight evil. I’d be a hero.

No one mentioned the ghosts.

It’s the ghosts that keep me awake at night.

On the rare occasions when I do sleep, my dreams are filled with mistakes of the past. I’ve killed people. I’ve let people die.

So I don’t do the magic shit anymore.

I ran from the people and places I’d known all my life, ran as far away as I could from Boston– with the help of a similarly disillusioned friend who had the good sense to leave before I did. I made it all the way to Ireland.

I hoped—prayed (even though God and I aren’t on speaking terms anymore)—that I could just make it all go away.

Blue pill. Red pill. In the end, it doesn’t matter because the fucking ghosts are still there. Including the Dickens-esque ones.

* * *

I never even saw the lorry that hit us.

Cillian was thrown against me and my head slammed into the side window in the back of the taxi, shattering it. I must have blacked out momentarily because the next thing I remembered was being covered in blood and being hauled out of the car by a member of the fire brigade.

It was only later in the ambulance that I realized most of the blood that soaked my clothes belonged to Cillian.

After an hour or so of being prodded and poked by doctors, I took my concussion and bruised shoulder out of the ER and went looking for news of my friend. I found Cillian comatose in the intensive care ward. A large machine was breathing for him and plastic tubes and wires were connected all over his shattered body.

A doctor spoke to me using carefully thought-out words such as ‘massive head trauma’ and ‘induced coma,’ he then left me alone.

Emotions seethed and churned and I closed my eyes and focused on control. If I lost it here, at the very least my power would probably destroy the equipment keeping Cillian alive. I put my arm gently on his right shoulder–the one part of him that didn’t seem broken, bruised or connected to machines and said quietly, “Jesus mate, you look awful.”

“Look who’s talkin’,” said a voice from behind me.

I swung around and came face-to-face with…Cillian.

He looked exactly as I’d seen him before the accident. Except his outline was slightly blurred and his eyes glowed slightly with some unknown inner light. I looked back at the body in the hospital bed breathing in time with the machines, then back at the slightly opaque doppelgänger leaning against the wall.

Fucking ghosts.

“Cillian, you…” I couldn’t think of an insult nasty enough.

The ghost burst out laughing. “I never thought I’d see the day when tha’ great Symon Bryson would be speechless. Keep your gob closed for a minute more and listen.”

Cillian’s weirdly-glowing eyes took on a somber look. “I’m done for, but I need your help. Alannah needs your help.”

Alannah was Cillian’s half-sister. That’s a story in itself for another time. Along with being related to my now comatose friend, Alannah, until recently, had been my occasional bedmate. Really, the only woman I’d been with since I came to Ireland. She was also a troublemaker, even more than I’d been. We’d been on our way to see her when the accident happened.

I guess I should have been a bit freaked out by Cillian’s shade chatting with me in a hospital ward, but I’d seen far worse in my day. The world of magic held horrors and wonders that would paralyze the mind of someone not trained as a practitioner as I’d been. Like Cillian had been as well. The difference is that I swore off anything to do with magic years before, although the beast still churned within me, looking for release when my emotions got the better of me. I fought those urges. Cillian didn’t. He still dabbled in magic when the need arose, or when it suited him. Or when there was money involved.

So instead of shrieking in terror and sprinting out of the hospital room, I quickly regained my composure faced the phantom with a scowl on my face.

“You never told me why we were rushing off in a taxi.”

“Feck, get off your high-horse for a minute and hear me out, will ya?” The ghost of my friend began to pace. “Yeah, right. Problems. You need to just listen for a few minutes and not interrupt. I was working a score with the Monk…”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Cillian!” I couldn’t help myself. Michael “the Monk” O’Conner was one of the biggest mob bosses in Ireland. He had his fingers in everything: imports, technology businesses, travel. Hell, he even owned the biggest Christmas tree company in the country. Many bodies that eventually washed up on the coastline were a direct result of a falling out with the Monk. He was powerful, dangerous, and, if rumors were true, completely around the bend, mental-wise.

“I know you couldn’t keep your gob shut,” Cillian snorted. “Anyway, there was this archeology dig down near the Ring of Kerry, uncovered a lot of Church artifacts and stuff. The Monk wanted it.”

“So why didn’t he just take it?”

“He did, just with my help, see. It was all loaded into this big shipping container and was gonna be hauled up to the dockyard in Dublin and shipped off to the Vatican.”

“Ok, since the Monk basically owns the docks, I’ll repeat my question. Why didn’t he just take it?”

“It needed to disappear before it got to Dublin. If he nicked it at the docks, everyone would’ve known it was him.”

“They’ll probably suspect him anyway.”

“Sure, but suspect and know are very different.” The ghost licked its lips.

Do lips dry out when you’re a ghost?

“What does that have to do with Alannah?”

“I’m getting to that mate. The Monk wasn’t the only one interested in the artifacts. There’s this Shadow-world demon named Vetis who was very keen on something the diggers discovered.”

“Oh fuck.”

“Yeah. I made a deal with Vetis. I needed some extra power for some spell work to be able to grab the container. I shrunk it down and encased it in a crystal globe. Travel sized it, if you will.”

“You idiot.”

“Yeah, well it’s stuff you could’ve done easily. But I knew you wouldn’t help me.”

“Damn straight.”

“Well, I was supposed to hand over the goods to The Monk at the pub tonight. Vetis was gonna be there as well. Double the payment, see?”

I shook my head. The greedy bastard got in over his head. Deals with demons never went well. If the mob didn’t kill him, this Vetis—

“Wait,” I said. “What was the deal?”

Cillian hung his head and refused to meet my gaze.

“Your soul? Again? Your soul isn’t a gold watch you throw into some poker pot when you think you have a winning hand, ya gobshite!” I screamed at him.

“It’s worse tha’ you imagine, mate,” he responded quietly. “Alannah’s soul is in the balance too. See, family can sign fo’ one another. And if I’m not at the pub with the orb at midnight tonight, all will be lost.”

* * *

I found the crystal ball with the little shipping container embedded inside Cillian’s things stacked on the night table next to his hospital bed. With a last glance at the shattered body of my friend and his brooding ghost, I left the hospital and headed straight to Alannah’s shared flat. I knew if I stayed any longer, anger at what Cillian had done would awaken my magic which would make things a hundred times worse. So I focused on Alannah and finding her. Even after the breakup and the situation being what it was, thoughts of her calmed me down. No monster swirled beneath my skin, just worry about a former lover.

Alannah lived with her brother in a converted estate that now housed four apartments overlooking the sea in Sandymount. I grabbed the DART from town and got off five stops later.

The overcast fall skies finally opened up and I pulled my collar up against the driving, chilly October rain that pelted me from nearly a horizontal angle.

The big house had been decorated for Halloween, and when I opened the gate from the street into the small garden, a sopping wet sheet with eyes cut into it lifted off the ground via a pulley system. A recorded voice called out “Happy All Hallow’s Eve!” in a thick north side accent. One of Cillian’s flatmates was an engineer and apparently had too much time on his hands.

I reached the large front door and hit the buzzer for Alanah and Cillian’s flat. There was no answer. I proceeded to ring all the other flats until I heard the telltale “click” of someone buzzing open the front door.

I entered the foyer and headed for the massive mahogany staircase. Theirs was the topmost flat.

I took the steps two at a time, leaving puddles of water as I went and found the door to Alannah’s rooms slightly ajar.

I quietly eased the door open and poked my head inside. The sitting room was dark.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” I muttered.

I slowly entered the flat. That’s when I heard it, quiet sobbing coming from one of the bedrooms.

“Hello!” I called. “Alannah, love. Are you here?”

The sobbing continued.

I turned on the lights in the sitting room. Nothing seemed out of place from the last time I’d visited. I walked back to Alannah’s room, turning on lights as I went to tone down the creepy-factor.

I found Alannah in her room, kneeling by her bed quietly crying to herself.

“Darling, what’s wrong?”

I moved into the room and put my hand on her shoulder, or at least I tried too.

My hand went right through her.

“Oh God damn it!” I fell back, literally landing on my bum. I stared in shock as the ghost of my girlfriend continued to cry, seemingly oblivious to the world around her.

* * *

“She can’t hear you mate.”

I was still recovering from shock when the specter of my friend appeared, crouching next to me on the carpet.

“What happened?”

“Heroin. I thought she’d turned a corner after she met you, Sy. I thought she kicked it. About a week ago, after that fight you two had, well, she disappeared.”

“I thought she just went to clear her head…you told me she just needed space!”

“Yeah, well, I was trying to fix it between you, wasn’t I? Do you think me saying ‘by the way, my sister who you’ve been shagging is a recovering smack whore’ would have helped you guys make up?”

Cillian stood and went over to his still sobbing sister. His hand didn’t pass through her when he stroked her hair. He stood like that, back to me for a minute, maybe two.

“I needed to do this job for The Monk. I could’ve paid for an expensive rehab in London. Maybe gotten her clean for good. Maybe even convinced you to get back with her.”

“When?”

“Last night, I think. I’ve been calling her for days, trying to find her. Some ‘friend’ of hers finally called back using her mobile about two this morning. Said she was in trouble. That’s why I grabbed you–to go get her. And then we got hit by that bloody lorry.”

“So she’s dead?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Might just be in a coma in some drug den.”

“So I need to go find her…her body,” I choked out.

“No, before you shot out of the hospital in a fit of self-righteous rage, I tried to tell you. That demon knew about Alannah, knew why I was working for the Monk. It told me he could make it easy for me and that he’d be able to help Alannah too–just needed to give him the container.” Cillian put his head in his hands.

“What happened?”

“For fuck’s sake, what do you think happened? I knew if I failed to get the Monk the container, I’d be dead. But I wanted the cash, and I needed power to do it. So I arranged for the Monk and Vetis to meet at the pub tonight. I figured the mob would try and take it, Vetis would kill ‘em, I get the cash, the demon gets his relics, and I could get on with my life. And fix Alannah’s.”

“So you put your soul—both your souls on the line.”

“Aye.”

I tried to grab Cillian by the throat. I wanted to throttle him. I stumbled right through his ghost—and let me tell you it was not the most pleasant experience. I felt like I’d gone swimming in the North Atlantic at Christmas time.

“Get a hold of yourself, mate. That’s why I need your help.”

“If it were just you, I’d tell you to go fuck yourself.”

“Yeah, I know.”

I looked over at the shadow still weeping. The last time I saw her—the flesh and blood her—we’d made love, then fought over “commitment” and my significant number of issues with that word and all it implied. My problem was that I loved Alannah, but wasn’t “in love” with her. There was only one woman who I’d felt like that for. But she was married now and a lifetime away.

“Okay. What do I need to do?” I sighed.

“You need to make the drop as planned tonight. Let Vetis sort out the Monk then give the demon the orb. Once that obligation is met, I’ll– we’ll– be free.”

“Sounds simple enough.”

“Oh, it’s not, mate. They’re both expecting me. You’ll have to change their expectations.”

“So that means I have to contact a demon.”

“Yep. And something far worse. You’ll have to call Gerry.”

* * *

I left the spirits of Cillian and Alannah in their flat and made my way back to the Goat’s Head where the deal would be going down tonight. Another trip on the DART brought me within a five-minute walk in the driving rain back to the pub. As I made my way through the miserable weather, I tried to formulate a plan to save the souls of my friends. Sure, just handing over the globe with the Church artifacts in a miniature container sounded easy enough. And if that was all there was to it I’d just be done with the job at midnight.

But two things worried me. One, of course, was Gerry Coogan. He’s a damn good bounty hunter who works not only in the mortal world for the Monk, but also in the world of magic. He hunts humans and creatures alike for profit. I’ve seen him take down demons. He is the Chuck Norris of the world I used to be a part of.

He also hates me with a passion.

Gerry and the Monk might decide that killing me was an awesome way to get the goods early. So I’d have to come up with a plan to put them off until the appointed hour.

The second thing that bothered me was this Vetis character. What was in the container that was so important to it? Whatever it was, it was probably a bad idea to let Vetis have the damn thing. Cillian saw only cash—cash he could’ve used to save Alannah. My heart lurched at the thought of her.

An idea of sorts formed in my head. A crazy idea.

But first, I had to make contact with both interested parties.

“’Ello Barb,” I called when I walked into the Goat’s Head.

“Where in bloody hell have you been?” came the cheery reply. Barb Walley is fifty-ish (never ask her about her age) and never married. She’s the chef at the pub. Barb also bartends, cleans up and does the books. Cillian was the owner and I was the pub manager. But in reality, the Goat’s Head ran because Barb was around.

I went behind the bar and grabbed Cillian’s little black book. I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and asked her to make sure things ran smooth. “I’m helping Cillian out of a jam,” I said by way of explanation at her disapproving scowl.

“What’s he done now?”

“You know him,” I shrugged. “Just take care of the place while I sort it all out, okay?”

I went into the tiny back office, flipped through Cillian’s address book until I found the right number and picked up the phone.

After only a one ring, a voice on the other end said “Yeah?”

“Gerry, it’s Symon.”

“Wha’ the feck you want?”

“The deal the Monk has with Cillian.”

“Whatsit to ya?”

“Cillian won’t make the meet. He’s asked me to do it instead.”

“Chickened out did he? Never would have expected it from him. I assume the place and the time are the same?”

“Yeah,” I said, thinking furiously. Time for a little gambling. “There’s a complication, though.”

“There always is with you Bryson. What’s the problem?”

“There’s another interested party.”

“That’s gonna piss off the boss.”

“I know. Sorry. I’m just the messenger here. Merchandise will be delivered at midnight and then we’ll all bargain.”

“You don’t have it with ya?”

“Nope. Cillian won’t let it out of his sight. He’s having it dropped off.”

“Hmph. Cillian’s lettin’ ye take the fall. Clever. I’ll let the boss know and get back to ye.”

The line went dead.

I had no doubt that Gerry would get back to me, and I knew what the Monk’s reaction would be. I counted on it.

I checked my watch. It was a quarter to seven in the evening. Just over five hours left. I had one more call to make, and this connection would be an expensive one.

* * *

Chatting with a demon is not like phoning the front desk of Hell and being transferred to the “Office of Soul Collection and Eternal Damnation.” It takes a lot of preparation, cunning, and magic.

Magic is something I refused to use, which made the summoning that much harder, that much more dangerous as I wouldn’t be using a binding spell to keep the thing contained. The beast within me whispered tempting thoughts. I fought to keep my magic at bay.

I looked up Vetis and found out he was one of those creatures attracted by corruption of the spirit and holy artifacts of significant spiritual value. It’s amazing what you can find on the Internet if you know where to look.

I needed a blessed item—and not just something as simple as a glass of holy water or a copy of the Bible. It needed to be something good to get the creature’s attention. Cillian was a collector of sorts. His own practitioner abilities were weaker than mine had been, so he enhanced his skill by finding and hoarding magical talismans and trinkets.

In the storage cellar of the pub, behind where the kegs were stacked was a door that always remained locked. Only Cillian and I knew where the key was. And of course, more importantly, what the key was.

My friend had a habit of collecting coins imbued with various magical abilities depending on the country of origin and the denominations. He kept them in an old mechanical cash register in the corner of the basement.

I opened the register and looked for the coin I needed. It was a 1922 Irish scillinge, a one-of-a-kind in Cillian’s collection. I picked up the brass colored coin with a picture of a bull and brought it to the locked door. I placed it near the knob and heard a ‘click.’

The door, despite its worn look, opened soundlessly, as if on freshly greased hinges. With trepidation, I slowly made my way inside and flicked on the solitary bare bulb in the room.

That’s when my phone beeped, nearly inducing an involuntary and total bladder release. I looked at the screen.  It was a text—three words from a blocked number:

Boss says fine.

That sorted one party.  Now for the demon.

The twelve-foot square space was lined with storage shelves on three walls; each series of wooden shelving contained various sized Tupperware containers labeled with those old red with white raised lettered stickers. I needed something to tempt Vetis with and I was hoping to find just the ticket amongst Cillian’s things.

It took thirty minutes of rooting around and cursing, but I finally found something both holy and unique to get the demon’s attention. It was a small container, behind a much larger one labeled “Death pendant – DO NOT TOUCH WITH BARE SKIN”

The small box, the only thing I found inside a wooden vessel—wasn’t labeled as the other items in the collection were. There was just a crudely carved depiction of a cross on top.

I opened it and found an ancient iron nail caked with blood. I knew immediately what it was.

“You’re not really gonna give that beastie one of the original nails of the cross, are ya?” said a voice behind me.

“I was wondering when you’d show up,” I said to Cillian’s shadow. “Yeah, I am. It’s the only way to get Vetis’ attention without conjuring it up using magic.” There was a churning desire in my belly. I ignored it.

“It’s a bad idea,” said Cillian. “It’s a powerful object.”

“Okay, then,” I snarled. “Let’s hear a better idea then.”

“Use your power.”

Yes screamed the beast within me.

“No,” I said. “If you’ve got nothing else in here I can use or another idea to chat with Vetis, then piss off. I have work to do.”

When I turned to leave, the storage container closed, Cillian’s ghost was gone.

* * *

I drew a pentagram on the floor of the basement, a copy of Vetis’ sigil (thank you www.thingsyoushouldntfuckwith.com), a small circle in which I placed the nail and a much larger circle which I hoped would hold the demon long enough for our conversation.

I lit five black candles, which I placed at each point of the pentagram, then stepped back, careful not to break the chalk circle.

I hope this works, I thought. Aloud, I said, “Vetis, corruptor of all that is holy, I have a gift for you. We need to talk.”

For a minute or two, nothing happened.

The flames of the candles flared, blinding me, and the horrendous smell of old garbage and rotting meat filled the room. When the light of the candles receded to their normal levels, I saw the creature standing in the center of its symbol.

It was tall—about 6’ 9”—had short white hair and a face that reminded me of Boris Karloff in The Mummy. It was dressed in an old-fashioned three-piece suit and held a clipboard. It looked almost human.

“Symon Bryson,” it said in a bored voice. “I heard you’d sworn off magic and the Shadow-world. Why have you interrupted my work?”

“We have business to discuss, Vetis. I have a gift for you that I give willingly.”

Vetis looked at the nail of the cross and licked its dusty lips.

“A worthy gift. I will listen to what you have to say, former practitioner.”

“You have a deal with Cillian Flinter for the appropriation of some church artifacts.”

Vetis looked down at its clipboard and flipped a few pages. “Ah yes, one in particular. Why does this matter interest you?”

“Because I am now in possession of said artifact.”

The creature raised a mummified eyebrow. “Interesting,” it licked its lips again. “You have a bargain you wish to make?”

“No. The deal is the same. Delivery midnight tonight and you release the souls you have on contract.”

The creature’s mouth twitched. “No problem. Is that all? Such a marvelous gift to present to me just to confirm what I already have in writing. You wish nothing else? Riches? Women? Power?”

At the word “power,” I felt an uncomfortable lurch from my innards.

“No, however, in good faith I must inform you that there is another interested party.”

“You would risk the soul of your friends like this? I don’t believe you. What is it you really want?”

“The release of my friends from all contracts. Both with you and this other party.”

“If such another party exists, I cannot unbind them from another demon’s contract.”

“It’s a human.”

“Oh, that is another story altogether then. I will take care of these humans for you and honor my end of the deal. Do we have an accord?”

“Yeah. That’ll do. Take your holy piece of iron and get out of here.”

“As you wish. I will return at five minutes to midnight this evening.”

The creature and the nail of the cross vanished.

* * *

“There’s been a big arse BMW sitting outside the pub for the last hour, Symon. What are Cillian and you up to?” asked Barb crossly ten minutes before closing time.

“Nothing to worry yourself about love,” I answered her in what I’d hoped was a jaunty tone. “However, we’ll have to close exactly at eleven tonight. And to make it up to you, I’ll clean up. You can knock off early if you want.”

She snorted. “I’m not your ‘love.’ I’d break a skinny twig-like you. But I’ll leave close out to you. I expect the pub to be spotless when I come in tomorrow.”

“Not a problem.”

“Spot. Less.,” she enunciated each syllable.

I waved my hand dismissively at her. Barb glowered at me, but grabbed her purse from behind the bar and set off into the night.

Halloween was usually a busy time for the Goat’s Head. I don’t know if there was something in the air that the regulars had picked up on or if the foul weather had kept them away, but there were only two patrons left. Two old men I was genuinely fond of. I started to clean up the bar and began to put chairs up on the tables to signal closing time. Both men looked at me with horrified expressions.

“Aww….give us one more f’ tha road, eh Symon? Be a good Yank.”

I was pulled away from my more maudlin thoughts regarding what was ahead. There’d be no collateral damage tonight if I could help it. Besides, I liked these two old coots. They reminded me of Irish versions of Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets.

“Nah Seamus,” I shook my head. “You’ve had enough already. You and Paddy go home to your wives.”

“Why do ye think we spend all our time ‘ere?” slurred Paddy.

“Shoo. Both of ya. It’s time–and you don’t want the Garda ta shut me down for staying open past eleven, do ya?” I said. “Where would you get your pints from then?”

“Happy ‘Alloweeeeeeen!” they both shouted as I shoved them into raw fall night.

I shut off the outside lights then locked the front door, sighing heavily.

That’s when the phone rang.

“Goat’s Head,” I answered.

“Do you have it?” asked a voice on the other end.

“What, no foreplay, Gerry?”

“You have no idea what you’re fucking with, Bryson. Is it in the pub?”

I looked at the crystal globe nestled between the expensive scotch bottles underneath the bar and said, “Not yet.”

“Text me when it arrives.” Gerry hung up.

Five past eleven. Fifty-five minutes until it all goes to hell, perhaps literally for Cillian and Alannah. I grabbed a napkin from the top of the bar to wipe the sweat from my brow.

“Getting nervous?”

Sitting on the corner stool, a pint already poured in front of him, was Cillian’s ghost. That, I had been expecting. What surprised me was that he wasn’t alone. Standing behind him was a red-headed woman smoking a cigarette. Strange that I could actually smell the burning tobacco. Alannah never went anywhere without her fags.

“Alannah,” I whispered.

“She still can’t hear you mate. Only the ghosts of practitioners can converse with the living. I, however, being all spookified myself can speak with her. I convinced her to walk with me so I can keep an eye on her.”

“Yeah, because you’ve taken good care of her soul up until now,” I spat.

Cillian looked pained. “I know I’ve fecked this all up Symon. I’m sorry mate. I really am. But it’ll be all put right tonight. Then we can move on.”

“Well once I’ve fixed your mess, I need to find her body. As you said maybe…”

“She’s lying in an abandoned warehouse in the northside. I’ll give you the address,” Cillian said quietly. “As soon as the deal is done tonight.”

“You bastard!”

The specter sipped his pint and said nothing more.

* * *

At five to midnight, the temperature in the pub dropped significantly. The stench of raw sewage-filled my nostrils. Vetis had arrived.

“It is almost time, Symon Bryson,”

At the sound of his dusty voice, I turned to see Vetis, looking exactly as he had before, standing in the pub. It glanced at Cillian and Alannah.

“I see you have also brought me the souls I am to collect this evening. How thoughtful.”

I reached behind the bar and lifted up the crystal orb with the container inside for the demon to see. “It’s here. There will be no souls for you to collect this evening. You have one thing to take care of for me, then you get your prize and we’re all square.”

“Indeed. Where are these humans?”

“Should be along shortly.” I picked up my mobile, typed IT’S HERE and clicked on send.

Ten seconds later, the front windows of the Goat’s Head exploded inward. Bullets from automatic weapons fire flew all around the pub, blasting bottles and furniture into tiny bits and I dove under the bar for cover.

After what seemed like an eternity, the gunfire ceased. I counted to ten then slowly raised my head over the lip of the bar.

Debris was everywhere and smoke and dust floated and swirled around the pub, blown around by the howling weather outside. What was left of the shattered door flew inward. Two men entered brandishing AK-47s, followed by a white-haired man dressed in expensive clothing chewing on a cigar.

He casually looked right, then left. His gaze then fixated on the demon still standing where it had appeared, unfazed by the destruction caused by the gunfire.

“You Vetis?” asked the Monk.

“How dare you try and take what’s mine,” said the demon matter-of-factly. “Such human insolence cannot be tolerated.”

Demons loved to hear the sound of their own voice.

Vetis lifted up a hand and the two goons with the machine guns burst into flame. They screamed and fell to ash on either side of the mob boss, who neither flinched nor sought cover. That scared the ever-loving crap out of me.

The biggest crime lord in Ireland…could use (or had access to)…magic.

“Well,” said the Monk calmly, looking at the piles of ash. “That was helpful. I was gonna retire those boys anyway. Don’t need ‘em anymore, see?”

Vetis looked…scared. There was no other way to describe it.

“What form of mortal deception is this?” croaked out the demon.

“The kind I need,” replied the gangster. “Gerry?”

From behind the Monk, Gerry Coogan appeared, brandishing a sword. His favorite weapon to use when dealing with dark creatures from the Shadow-world.

“Yes boss?”

“Kill it.”

“You got it.”

Vetis raised its hand once again. But Gerry was faster. Way too fast for a normal mortal. One moment the demon’s hand was outstretched ready to blast Gerry into a million pieces, the next thing I knew it was lying on the floor, twitching.

Before the demon could cry out or make any other sort of sound, Gerry’s blade flashed again and Vetis’ head bounced off the floor. Body parts of the demon immediately turned to ash.

“Now,” said the Monk turning to me. “I believe you have something of mine.”

In the background, church chimes sounded. It was midnight, All Hallows Eve. The souls of my friend were free and both had, I noticed, suddenly disappeared. Mission accomplished, I hoped.

Now I just needed to deal with a pissed-off mob boss who apparently could use magic.

* * *

“Can I kill Bryson now?”

“No, Gerry, I want to talk to the boy. But if he moves, feel free to remove his head.”

“Yes, boss.”

The Monk walked to the bar, wiped a bit of broken glass from one of the stools and sat down.

“You have any Laphroaig in this dump, son?”

I looked over at Gerry and didn’t move. “Yes.”

“Then pour me a double, slowly. Don’t worry. Gerry won’t kill you yet.”

For an Irish mob boss, the Monk’s accent was distinctly English—Oxford-esque.

I poured the man his drink. My hands only shook a little. I had no idea how I was going to survive the next few minutes.

He took a small sip from his scotch. “That’s a fine batch, eighteen years, obviously. You know there are actually five regions scotch come from, don’t you?”

“I…didn’t.”

“Tsk. Five regions and five types of whiskey. I only drink single malt from the Islay region. Nothing else will do.” He took another sip.

“So tell me why you’ve risked your life and my wrath this evening, Symon?”

The whole timbre of the conversation threw me. The Monk wasn’t what I expected. Fear worked almost as well as anger when it came to my magic. I wrestled to control my power while trying to think of a way out. I decided on something unconventional. I told him the truth.

The story spilled from me. It took all of five minutes. The Monk listened while all the while sipping from his tumbler.

“So let me get this straight. You risked your life to save the souls of an ex-girlfriend and the owner of this establishment who fucked you over. Is that correct?”

“Mostly the ex-girlfriend, but yes.”

“You’re an idiot.”

I couldn’t argue the point. But Cillian and Alannah were both free. Do the right thing, even if no one sees you do it, was something that was pounded into me from my earliest days back in Boston.

“No one can sign over another’s soul, not even family. I’m new to this magic stuff and even I know that. You got played, kid.”

Fuck. Fuckity-fuck-fuck. The Monk was right. Cillian told me he’d signed over Alannah’s soul to Vetis as a part of his deal to gain enough power to steal the container. I’m so fucking stupid.

“He lied to me.”

“And you fell for it, because you wanted to be the ‘good guy’.”

I looked over at Gerry, and wondered if the bounty hunter would let me borrow his sword for a bit of hari kari.

“Look son. I’m gonna cut you a break tonight. Give me the container with the church artifacts, and I’ll let you live. In return, I’m going to occasionally ask you for a favor. Rumor has it that you’re pretty powerful with magic.”

“I don’t do magic anymore,” I said before my brain could stop my mouth from moving.

The Monk smiled. “Maybe that’s true. But I’ve been watching you. You want to do magic. I can read people. It’s one of the reasons I’m at the top of this game.”

I shook my head and started to protest.

“Don’t deny it. I’ve researched you, son. I know you better than you know yourself. Let’s just say, you can act as my advisor from time to time. It’s either that, or I let Gerry cut you into sausage.”

I looked at the Monk, then at Gerry and back again. I had a chance to get out of this jam tonight. It’d give me time to think of a way out of the new trouble I found. I maybe an idiot, but I’m not a complete moron.

“Deal.”

The Monk finished his scotch in one gulp than stood. “Good. Gerry, let’s get out of here. You can call the Garda now and tell them they can respond to all those calls about gunfire they received.”

“Yes, boss.”

As they walked out, the older gentleman turned to me and said “By the way, where’s my container?”

“Cillian hid it,” I lied.

He looked at me for a moment, his face unreadable. “Your first job is to get it for me. I’ll be back for it tomorrow. Noon.”

The two men left the shattered remains of the pub. I’d made a deal with a different kind of demon, but I’d live to see another day. Which was good, because I had one last thing I needed to do.

* * *

 I’d left the Goat’s Head right after the mob had and before the Garda could arrive. Alannah had waited long enough and the cops would be there later. I looked down at the scrap of paper with an address written on it that had been left on the bar stool where Cillian had been sitting, confirming I was at the right place.

I climbed the three steps to what was left of the front entrance. Before I entered, I felt, rather than saw the shade that had appeared behind me.

“You fucked me over, Cillian.” I said.

“Yeah, so I did mate. Didn’t think you’d help if it were just me in trouble, to be honest. But it all worked out.”

“For you maybe. But not for Alannah. And certainly not for me.”

“We can argue about this later, mate. She’s in there, but I don’t think you’ll be wanting to see her. Just call an ambulance and let them deal with it.”

“Fuck you,” I said and went inside.

It was the smell was that I noticed first. I knew that smell.

I found her in an old back office, lying on a dirty mattress, flies everywhere. Alannah’s grey-green body was naked from the waist down. Her right arm had been tied off; a scattering of old, used needles lay on the stained mattress and the floor around her corpse.

Her eyes were still open.  Flies were everywhere.

I looked back at Cillian’s ghost. Behind him, smoking away, was the spirit of Alannah. She looked toward her own body for a moment with a sad smile and both spirits faded from view.

For the first time in a very long while, I cried.

* * *

I watched as the ambulance with Alannah’s corpse slowly pulled away from the curb. An ‘anonymous tip’ let them know where to find her, called in from a seedy Esso station three doors down. I would head to the hospital to identify her and deal with the Garda later.

I took a cab back to the Goat’s Head, not really knowing where else to go. It was about four in the morning, but I arrived to find workmen already boarding up the windows. I can’t imagine anyone but the Monk who could have gotten workers out of bed to board up a bar in the wee hours of the morning. There were no police in sight, but a furious-looking Barb was there, barking orders at the workers. I was seriously considering telling the cabbie to change direction and drop me off at my flat in town, but thought better of it. While I figured out what to do next, and about my meeting with the Monk at noon, I figured at the very least I should get out and help Barb.

I braced myself for the wrath I was sure was coming, paid the driver and got out of the cab.

“Symon!”

I flinched. Barb crossed the street and threw me in a hug that may have cracked a few ribs.

“Thank God you’re all right! What happened?”

“Alannah is dead, Barb. Cillian’s in a coma down at the Rotunda. It’s a bloody mess.”

There were no harsh words, nor dirty looks. She just held me for a minute or so.

“Let’s get you out of this weather,” she said softly. “I’ll put a cuppa on and you can dry yourself off before you catch cold.”

The hot tea felt good. I was never a tea drinker myself. Coffee is my chosen form of caffeine infusion, but the warm mug felt good in my hands. Comforting somehow.

Barb had found some old clothes for me to wear and wrapped me in a blanket. The pub fireplace was lit and she’d cleared away debris from the booth nearest to the fire.

“I’ll sort out those boys,” she said as the hammering outside stopped for about a millisecond. “No taking breaks on my watch!”

I was thankful to be alone but it didn’t last long.

“Came to say goodbye, mate.”

I gazed up at the ghost of Cillian and noticed he was by himself.

“Where’s Alannah?” I asked.

The phantom shrugged. “Gone, mate. Moved on. When we left the warehouse I realized she was no longer by my side. Guess all she needed was for someone to find her body.”

“And you? Are you ‘moving on’ as well?”

“My body is alive, granted it’s kept that way by bloody machines. So I’m stuck until those machines stop working.”

“Want me to shut them down for ya?”

Cillian tilted his head for a moment, considering, then shook his head. “Nah. I figured I might wander around peeking into all-girls school locker rooms for a while. See what other mischief I could get up to. But I’m leaving and wanted to say goodbye. And sorry.”

I wanted to scream at him. But I was too tired. Even my power lay dormant, unusual to say the least.

“You were a lot alike, my sister and ye,” said Cillian.

“Maybe. I wish I’d known she was an addict. I could’ve helped her.”

“Nice words mate, but it’s not true and you know it.”

“Oh, why is that?”

“Addicts can’t help each other.”

“I don’t stick needles in my body.”

“That’s true, mate. But you’ve been here for five years, and I’ve watched you struggle day in and day out with your own addiction.”

“What, coffee?”

“Magic, Sy. You fucked up across the pond really good. You came here to hide and to never use magic again. I’ve watched you fight it.”

“It’s not a bloody addiction. It’s a fucking curse.

“Call it what you will. But you made a deal tonight to work magic with a powerful man. You jumped at the chance.”

You gave me no choice!”

“You had plenty of choices. You picked one that might get you back into the game. Look at me, I’ve been using magic since I left St. Ignatius years ago to suit my own needs. So I’m not one to talk. But think of how you found Alannah tonight. Death from her own addiction. And be very careful about what you do next.”

“You came in to say goodbye,” I spat. “You’ve done that. So feel free to fuck off now.”

“I’m going, mate. Remember what I said. Oh, and one more thing.”

“Fuck off.”

Cillian ignored me. “Behind the picture of the Irish National team is a safe. I’ve left you something inside. An apology of sorts. Combination is 3-3-7-9.”

I turned to scream another round of obscenities at him only to realize his ghost had finally left. See, the third of March 1979 was Alannah’s birthday.

I got up from the booth and went to the picture. The glass had been shattered by a bullet, but it still hung in place. I took what remained of the photo down to see a small safe with a tumble combination lock. I spun the dial, trying not to think about the fact that there would be no more birthdays for Alannah. When I’d dialed the last digit, I turned the small handle and the safe opened.

Inside was one thick envelope. I opened it to find a set of legal documents, inclusive of which was the deed for the Goat’s Head pub.

With my name typed neatly on the line that said “owner.”

“Son of a bitch,” I said.

* * *

At exactly noon the next day, Gerry Coogan walked into the bar.

Business was already brisk, as everyone had come into pub to hear the stories of gunfire and police that were circulating the town. I, of course, hadn’t slept. While Barb handled getting the pub ready, I’d been busy with other things. I had gone and claimed Alannah’s body for one and had it transferred to McConnnell’s funeral parlor in town.

The other thing I’d been doing was preparing for this meeting.

Gerry walked up to the bar. “Pint of Guinness if you don’t mind,” he said as if he’d never met me before. I poured his pint and placed it in front of him.

“Boss couldn’t make it, then?” I asked quietly.

“Too many people around,” Gerry said. “Sent me to pick up the item. And you better have it this time.”

I reached under the bar and pulled out a Crown Royal bag and gave it to the bounty hunter.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Open it.”

Gerry opened the bag and pulled out a small glass sphere. Inside was a matchbox-sized metal box.

“Is this some sort of joke?”

“No, mate. Cillian shrunk it down so he could carry it up from Kerry easier. It’s in there. I just haven’t figured how to get it out. I can try if you give it back to me for a while,” I said reaching for the globe.

Gerry yanked it out of my reach. “Naw. The boss has people who can work on this. He doesn’t want your hands on it.”

I shrugged. “Okay. No problem.”

Gerry put the globe back into the Crown Royal bag and shoved it into a pocket of his overcoat.

“Thanks for the pint. We’ll be in touch.”

He left, of course, without paying.

I suppressed a smile and watched him go in silence.

END

 

Writer of Things. Podcaster.