Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Special: Caoineadh

A cool gust breathed wetly down Centre Street, carrying with it damp, crumpled sheets of newspaper and rolling empty bottles along the stagnant gutters. Wash pulled his thin coat more tightly around his shoulders and hunched over against the foul-smelling exhalation of the mist, keeping his shotgun firmly settled across his shoulders with one hand. The night was chilly, and heavy tatters of mist rolled down the mostly empty street from the sodden remnant of the Collect Pond at the far end. Wash glanced around uneasily, searching for movement down the mostly empty roadway that passed by the prison.

Sod you, Conner, where the devil are you?

It wouldn’t be the first time Connor had failed to show up when he was supposed to. Drinking at the Red Door, sure, the wanker. A puddle of slimy water, milky in the sickly glow from the street lamp, gave the deserted roadway an oily sheen and Wash carefully stepped around it. If I run into the trouble on me own tonight, Connor Baoth Monahan, you howling, sodding eedjit, you’d best pray they kill me dead. Because I’ll be taking it out of your sorry hide if they don’t, so I will. This ain’t a night to be arsing around, the Bowery Boys are out for blood. Wash was angry, so angry he was shaking. He was angry because there was work to be done and his brother was nowhere to be found. He was angry because he’d just been in a terrible brawl with that same brother. He was angry because he now found himself alone in a bad place with the blue stripes on his trousers marking him as a Roach Guard. Mostly, thought, he was angry at what Connor had said about Dorcas.

And Conner was angry at him, angrier than he’s ever been. Angrier than even Wash had ever seen his brother. Wash had long suspected that Connor had figured out what was going on, had known that Wash had been stealing away every chance he could to spend time with Dorcas, the fiddler from Pete William’s place. The fact that Wash had been spending time in a negro dance hall had been enough to anger Connor to the point of obsession. And now this...Jaysus. Now that he knows I love her, that she’s not just some colored girl I’m getting me oats with. That I mean to marry her, if she’ll have the likes of me...

He hadn’t known how long Connor had been standing there, had no idea what he’d seen and heard. But he knew Connor had seen him kiss Dorcas, seen him hold her in his arms as she had snuggled her face against his chest and laughed softly as she called him Jargie Fecking Washington in the shadows behind the Old Brewery. Connor’s face had been a twisted mask of hate and accusing betrayal and his shouted words echoing up the alley. Wash had laid hands on him, shaking him, reminding him that they had work that night, that they had a whiskey shipment to defend, and they couldn’t do it if they were all banjaxed up. Put it aside, boyo, he’d said, we’ve got work to do. We’re going to get killed if we don’t pull it together tonight. We’ll settle this later. Connor had taken one last clumsy swing at him and had stalked off, spitting oaths and brutal threats as he went.

It occurred to Wash that Connor, in his drunkenness and his rage and his resentment, might be angry enough to leave him to the Bowery Boys. He stopped in the street, sighing and pressing his fingers to his eyes. Bollocks. How am I going to fix this?

Echoing faintly down the street, down the increasingly soggy road that was quickly turning into jumbled and broken stone and then to stinking, rotting mud, he heard a sighing howl of anguish hanging in the thick miasma curling up past the dark hulk of the prison. Some poor sod lamenting his fate in the Tombs. They lose their minds in there, so they do, locked away in the dark and damp with the prison itself slowly sinking into the swamp like some awful fecking ghost ship. He shivered, and hurried on his way. You’d best be there when I get there, you tosser. We’ll finish this shite later, but till then, you’ll be doing your job, so you will.

He passed the prison, and stopped, listening. There it is again. The moaning cry of a lone voice somewhere in the darkness of the stinking, swampy morass before him. Icy spiders feathered their way up his spine. that...? “Connor?” Forgetting his rage, he quickened his pace, breaking into a jog and swinging the shotgun off his shoulder and into his hands. “Connor! Lad!”

He glanced around wildly in the dark, guttering streetlamps throwing long, eerie shadows to writhe at his feet. The street had turned to slimy, greasy mud, slowing his feet and seeping into the cracked soles of his boots. He heard it again, throbbing in deep, primal pain, and his breath caught in his throat. Ah, Jaysus, that’s a woman. Panic began to crawl out of the deep, locked box inside him, and his heart began to pound as he broke into a dead run. He’s gone after her.  “Dorcas!”

He saw her ahead, kneeling in the muddy water in the pool of light cast by the last streetlamp. She was hunched over, ignoring his approach and his frantic calls, rocking back and forth with wild, guttural weeping as she bent over the sodden bundle she twisted in her hands.

He stopped, his boots sliding, his gaze darting desperately across the shadows flicking across the swampy ground. She had her back to him, her hair unbound and rolling like a billowing black cloud across her shaking shoulders, her chemise torn and stained with mud and filthy water. He gasped, his strength draining from him in a rush.

His knees went weak with fear and horror. “Dorcas...?”

The bundle she held unfurled in her hands, and he saw a shirt, unbleached and pale, garish splotches and rivers of red staining nearly half of it. She worried the fabric, wringing it as the water and blood ran over her squeezing fingers and she threw back her head and howled, her voice an otherworldly, keening cry of anguish and loss.

He felt his heart squeeze in his chest, felt his pulse in his ears. The woman’s eyes were red, as if filled with blood. Tha’s not...Dorcas... He stumbled backwards, mud sucking at his boots and his skin tightening in gooseflesh. Oh...oh, sweet thunderin’ Jaysus..that...that’s not even a woman...

Lying crumpled in the mud beside her was a pair of familiar trousers, heavy bloodstains nearly obscuring the painted blue stripe down the right leg. His vision narrowed, and he focused on the knee of the garment, where a clumsily-stitched patch puckered the fabric. He sucked in a startled breath, his eyes darting to his own knee, and the sloppy patch he’d sewn there yesterday. For a long, agonizing moment, he forgot to breathe.

Far down the other end of Centre Street, he could hear the faint, soft sound of guns and angry, violent shouting. I’m going to die tonight. Sure, I knew that's always been a possibility, so I did. He sighed. A probability, more like. You've no right to be surprised, me boyo.  The faint whiff of smoke and ash floated to him on the fog, and he turned from the keening apparition in the muck and filth, walking grimly back towards the sound of brewing mayhem and chaos as the bean sidhe washed the blood from his clothes and wept for his passing.