Contents Pauline Greer – Two Blued Line Dan Mckenna – Sanctuary Bobby Harnett – Gurge Sam Noonan – Poem Liam Doyle – Good Time Greg Johnny Hird – The Befouling Hayley Thomas – Milo’s Wish Anna O’Reilly – Forgotten Fields: Part One - Diarmuid The Two Blued Line Pauline Greer 1,507 words George felt the familiar surge of discomfort when she took his hand in hers. Apart from the unease, he was aware that it was followed by several other threads of emotion; pain, frustration, hot burning anger, but also warmth; there was always that comforting warmth. Strange how one cold to the touch little hand could provoke such emotional mayhem in an instant. He stared silently ahead as they rambled along the pier, seeking that wonderful exact point where sea meets sky, where it all stops or starts; where everything beyond that can simply be invented at will, just as he wants it to be. He had been re-inventing it as far back as he could remember, since the very first time as a boy of three or four, when he had been taken by his mum and dad to watch the mail boat leave port in the early evening. It had become a daily routine thereafter. Dad would arrive home from work, mum would take off her flowery housecoat, then they would stroll to the bottom of Hague Terrace and wait on the little wall for the big red and black chimney to glide gradually across that two blued line, to the music of his parent’s laughter. On the way back home they would detour by the bowling green where he would skilfully jump from one of the great granite slabs along its border to another; then up the little hill they went hand in hand and home for dinner. Gradually the petulant childish chatter invaded George’s daydream; it grew increasingly demanding and raucous till he had no choice but to drop his memories like a ton of gravel on the doorstep of his childhood home and give the brewing tantrum his immediate attention. He tightened his grip on her hand and gently turned her to face him saying “okay, okay we’ll go home, come on we’ll go home then” the dread of what could come later filling him right up. Home, thought Anna oh goody goody. She couldn’t wait to get there; although she couldn’t really think why. Yes this was a nice man, he seemed kind and he had nice manners. She liked to hold his hand as they walked along but again she wasn’t quite sure why. The sea and sky were exactly where they should be yet something was terribly wrong; Anna just didn’t know what it was. She too had heard the demanding, childish wailing but couldn’t say for sure if she herself was the culprit. All Anna really knew for certain was that the iron railings along the sea front were black! How could this be? They’re meant to be blue, they were always blue, always had been blue. Home, home, home, the all-consuming urge to go home. George allowed his mind to wander back to the scene in the post office that morning when he had bumped into Mrs. Healy. “How’s your mum George? God she’s still a fine looking woman, she was a raving beauty you know, how old is she now? All that beautiful curly hair, jet black it was you know, jet black”. How old is she now? How old is she? He wanted to scream at the top of his voice. How the fuck would I know? She was fifty something yesterday, fifteen the day before, on Saturday she was thirty-three and about to give birth to me! He mumbled a quick “sixty-eight” and made his getaway. How old had she been when it started? How old was he when he had started to notice? Fourteen perhaps, maybe younger. It had begun with small things; coming home to no dinner, the house gradually descending into disarray, at times she no longer looked at him but right through him instead. Then there were the tantrums and constant ramblings into the past. Later came the physical attacks, the breakages, flying missiles all without any warning. Something she seemed to see or hear or feel would start it off; but he and Dad were clueless as to what it was. By the time he was eighteen it was no longer a secret. Shopkeepers, bank tellers, neighbours and at times the Police would contact him in work to report her whereabouts or activities. Job after job ended in disaster as the demands on him became more and more frequent. His father sat in morose silence when he was there which was less and less frequent; until one day he didn’t come back at all. Now where was it? It had to be here somewhere, Anna rummaged frantically through her wardrobe. Her powder blue dress was missing, the one with the little capped sleeves that made her waist look small. Oblivious to Nora’s pleading Anna continued to chuck every screed of clothing from the wardrobe on to the bed. Again she had that moment of something being wrong and right at the same time. The clock told her it was seven thirty p.m. and William would be here in half an hour to take her to the dance, he always took her dancing on Saturdays. Just as in a dream she had that gnawing feeling of control slipping away to the point where she would be more outside than inside herself. They’re not my clothes she roared surprised at the sound of her own voice and English accent that was much stronger when she was angry. “What have you done with my clothes you bitch? Why do you keep coming here and changing everything?” William would be so upset if she weren’t ready on time. The sudden urge to strangle the bitch overwhelmed Anna and she launched herself over the mish-mash of clothing on the bed, crashing into Nora while her hand darted up to the bitch’s throat “give me back my dress you thieving cow”. There, there, there, that was better all that commotion was over, Anna felt exhausted all of a sudden, she lay on the bed and allowed sleep to engulf her. George gazed nonchalantly at the television, his eye drifting to the photo of his mother in a powder blue dress; she couldn’t have been more than twenty years old in it. She was small, a little heavy but very shapely and extremely pretty. Her smile much more than a facial expression, it crawled into you like a sip of whiskey from a hip flask on a cold day warming from the middle out. “Where the bloody hell is Nora?” He wanted to go to bed. The guilt started to creep around the inside of his skull, looking for any gap that was wide enough to sneak through to his brain. NO, NO, NO, he wouldn’t have it. Hiring Nora to take care of mum mornings and evenings five days a week, had allowed him to remain sane and sober for the last five years. As for his moving into the basement and removing himself from the craziness upstairs, he couldn’t quite put words to that. Distance, room to breathe properly, the ability to put down his weapons of mass self-destruction. He was even starting to lose some weight. “Okay eleven fifteen, where the hell is Nora?” George moved quickly now, panic rising like a tidal wave in the pit of his stomach. He took the front steps two at a time, key at the ready, he let himself in. The silence was deafening as he tore up the stairs to her bedroom and flung the door open. Anna was sleeping peacefully on the bed, but the state of the room did nothing to calm him. Every drawer and closet was open and bare, the contents strewn from one end of the room to the other. Then he saw her. First only her feet could be seen jutting out from under a pile of sweaters and cardigans, then he saw her bloodied face as he frantically threw the clothing left and right. “Oh sweet Jesus; what the fuck had she done now?” Please, please let her be breathing he prayed; “Nora, Nora it’s me George, are you alright? Nora?” As George watched the ambulance disappear down the street; closely followed by his resolve and the years of promises to himself that he would never ever put her in a nursing home, he could already feel his heart and body lighten as the relief washed over him. The time had come, it was no longer a choice to be made or a frightening thought that got shoved into the attic of his mind; it was here, now and very real; a necessity that just had to be dealt with. Thankfully Nora’s injuries weren’t life threatening, she should be home tomorrow morning. The following afternoon saw them stroll hand in hand along the pier; George felt no surge of discomfort now, just the healing warmth of his mother’s hand. Anna; his beautiful Anna could always be conjured up at will, laughing and lovely as she sailed her two blued line. Sanctuary Dan McKenna 3,489 words I awoke to the desperate beating of a knock at 7am. Unacceptable. Completely fucking unacceptable. There are lads out there just home from a 10 hour shift in the factories. 10 stolen hours of pure misery. There are others with an inherent sense of idleness, which is equally deserving of your credence. Some people don’t have the heart for this hour of the morning. The beating continued steadily. A relentless, constant thump. The fucker had stamina anyway. After what seemed like days trapped within a fugue rage, the thumping of the knock was joined in equal measure with the flat palmed smack of the hall window. A long single paned narrow window, installed by charletons in the late 1970’s. Alright fucking Phil Collins, give it a rest there t’fuck, I’m coming down now. For weeks, maybe even months, clawing my way out of bed came with the promise of a swift return. I rarely napped, but I could convince myself most mornings that this would be the day. It’s hard to get out of the bed when you’ve nothing you want to do. Things had been pretty frosty and I’d been alone in the house for nearly a week. Having slept in my clothes, I threw on a dressing gown for dramatic effect, indicating to the fucking zealot, that someone was in bed. The room smelt awful. I thrudded down the stairs, each step a violent declaration of my discontentment. The futility of man. The morning light hurt my eyes. I always thought there was something strange about it. Not that it was the brightest light of the day but the whitest light of the day, if that makes any sense. The only reason that anyone could impose themselves on someone like this was if they wanted something, and wanted it badly, and they weren’t fucking getting it. There would be no church roof, no raffles won, no sponsored fuckin walks, and no community clean up. Secondly, I won’t move my car, I won’t cut my grass, I won’t clean or move my bins and I won’t listen to any fucker that bangs down my door like a fucking junjung at 7 o’clock in the morning. I kicked the toys at the bottom of the stairs in a sweeping motion to one side and I opened the door. All of my enmity and planned acrimony were immediately eased by the frayed figure of a familiar friend. Stood before me was the Little Lord himself, short of breath, hair matted and sweat soaking all the way through his floral shirt and yellow tweed jacket. His clothes looked painted on and he was holding a suitcase. What the fuck was all that about? What happened to you? He was struggling to catch his breath and he made his way straight through to the kitchen and helped himself to a glass of water. After taking a few deep glugs and 2 big blasts of Ventolin he relented. Phone’s dead, I’m sorry man, have you not heard from the other fella? I was in the fucking hay man, the nightmares aren’t going to have themselves. I don’t have a clue where he is! Ah fuck he’s caught, they fucking caught him What do you mean they caught him? Who caught him? What’s in your fucking suitcase? What’s going on man? The little lord buried his head in one hand and took another deep blast of Ventolin. He looked very uncomfortable and he couldn’t meet my eye. The suitcase was for cans, he said. This is very fucking bad man. He continued to focus on his breathing and take big glugs of water. I had well and truly been jolted into the day before my time and I put a pot of coffee on. Take your time man and tell me what happened to you. Myself and the other fella were in the lane for most of last night until a massive fight broke out. Between who? Was the Other Fella fighting again? No! Between some fucking Mick or Dave and one of those lane rats that plays the djembe all night in the lane. I fucking hate those lads. Yeah they’re the worst. So Mick or Dave is in the middle of telling some first class fucking zinger to all of his shit mates and all the lane rats start pounding on their Djembes. A few lads were coming up like a bastard and they were really laying into the drums. They were so fucked, every moment not spent hitting those drums seemed to cause them physical pain. So Mick or Dave has the jape of night, maybe the jape of his life absolutely fucking ruined on him and he see’s red. He runs over to the lane rats and starts screaming at these nut tripping djembefola, calling them a bunch of losers and then pouring his fucking pint over them. Fuck me, who hurt you Dave? That was just the start of it. They were so fucked they hardly even noticed this was going. They didn’t stop drumming for a second. Mick or Dave thinks he’s losing his mind so he singles out the Alpha. King Krusty. And he kicks him in the head. Jesus fucking Christ, was there no bouncer? Nah they can’t afford one mid-week. This got the lane rats attention but a kick in the head is absolutely nothing to one of these fellas. Fuckers have probably been kicked in the head every day of their lives. We both had a good laugh at that. The little lord had caught his breath and seemed a bit calmer about everything now, which put me at ease. I poured 2 cups of coffee and left him to sugar his own. I was wide awake now and happy to be up and about and talking to someone. It always took so long to get here in the mornings. It was one of the biggest things I hated about myself. The coffee should kick in within 15 minutes. The little lord doesn’t know that and his veins are pulsing with big placebo energy after just 2 sups. He’s enjoying telling the story now. So this fella hops up and straight away he’s after blood. Chap thought he was in mortal combat or something. Mick or Dave lands a few early digs but he wasn’t exactly fighting some pensioner outside a league of Ireland game. This fella was nuts and out of his mind. I’m not too sure how it happened, but after a few minutes King Krustry was bollock naked and charging for your man. Bollock naked in the lane? Absolutely starkers man. Mick or Dave was afraid to touch him and King Krusty started boxing the fuckin head off him. Why was he afraid to touch him? I dunno man, he probably thought it’d make him fucking gay or something. You know what those lads are like. That is so Mick or Dave. I realised how dark the kitchen was at this hour of the morning and I opened the curtains in the extension to let some light cut through. This was the worst room in the house. The little lord was propped up on the kitchen counter, sitting on the draining board of the sink. It was the only place with a height advantage that wasn’t covered in crap. He always liked to sit high when he was telling a story. I think he thought it made people listen more. It probably did. He took out a cigarette and put it in his mouth, but he didn’t light it. The guards came eventually and everyone scuppered off, but the naked lad got arrested. He was so fucked that he just stood in the middle of the lane on his own, off his face, covered in someone else's blood and staring at the garda car. He was crying when they put him in the back of the car though, poor fucker. There were a few of us around the corner sculling cans at Hasbeen Chic after that and then we followed Mr Hollywood up to the Canal. Is he living up there? Nah but he was floating around the lane all night, doing his man of the world routine. When the bars closed there was a gang of people following him up to the Canal, about 40 of them, so we tagged along. What were you doing? Standing on the Paddy Kavanagh statue, reciting poems and singing Dubliners tunes. People in the Barges were losing their minds and throwing shapes at us. The Dada Brigade reigning middle class terror upon the bargees. What was it George Harrison said about all that fucking art music John Lennon was into? Avant Garde a clue. That’s very funny. It is yeah. I knew things were on a fierce downswing when they sang the auld triangle for the second time and there’s only so much talk about the Matterhorn I can stomach, so myself and the other fella did a little sneak off to Portobello. Who lives in Portobello? The Big Fella has a place there. Well it’s his missus’, but she’s away over in Malta. What’s she doing in Malta without him? Fighting off sexual predators with a bat I’d say. The Big Fellas nerves are shot. We got there around half 3 and things were pretty scorpy already. Lads drinking cans of Hackenberg and sharing bottles of cooking wine. A few heads in the corner on acid, pissing themselves laughing at a lighter. The usual suspects, real grim shit. At this point in the night it was obvious who had gak in the room because they were like fucking celebrities. Nightmare. Complete nightmare. Myself and the Other Fella steered clear of the bag but the night got pretty weird all the same. It was a small little flat, with one jacks and whatever beak they all had was clearly cut with some sort of laxative. Everyone needed to shit basically the entire time. It was all anyone could talk about. Literal shite talk, I said, laughing even though I didn’t think it was funny. The Little Lord laughed as well but you could tell he didn’t mean it and resented my interruption. The sun now poured in through both rear windows and the blinding white morning light had gone. I needed to go myself, said the Little Lord, throwing his hands. However, I lacked the sense of urgency that the laxative imbued. I was queuing up and talking nonsense with all of these Dave the Rave’s the big fella picked up at the Dice bar. Nobody being too prickish, but a little bit too much peace and love for my tastes. I don’t care how sound you think I am man, just try not to shit yourself. A nameless space cadet had been in the toilet for about 20 minutes. People were starting to panic and we waited so long that everyone stopped talking. There was so much sphincter centric concentration going on, that nobody had the mental capacity for talking nonsense and making plans they’d never honour. I started to think to myself that this cunt had fallen asleep and maybe I should start banging the door down. Next thing all we could hear was this chap screaming from the other side of the door. Was he in the horrors? Much worse. The Big Fellas missus has the flat in a bad way. The folks have her living there rent free and she doesn’t really give a shit about the place. The Big Fella does be a little bit embarrassed about it and he gutted the place while she was away. He was in bad shape by the time we got there, but he just kept telling anyone who would listen all the things he did to the flat. He was stuck on a bit of a loop. So there's no ventilation in his missus’ jacks, and there's that blotchy, black, plague mould all over the skirting and showerside wall. We have the same here, It’s a killer. Well when he was cleaning the jacks he noticed that a full mushroom had spawned out of the mould on the bathroom skirting board. A mushroom? A fucking mushroom. Some lad was screaming because he saw a mushroom? Will you let me tell you what fucking happened. The Big Fella said enough was enough and he got the mildew blaster and the strong bleach and he sorted out the mushroom and scrubbed the black mould. Said he got sick from looking at the mushroom for too long. Rotten. Why was this lad screaming? The Big Fella only had one sponge left, and he wanted to keep it for the glasses from the session. This poor screaming lad, ran out of toilet paper and being of poor cognitive ability, reached into the waste bin and wiped his arse with bleach soaked tissue. Fuck off. I swear to you. The lad was spooning large clumps of the Big Fellas bleach directly into his arsehole. He was screaming so bad that me and the other fella kicked the door in and Head the Ball had his arse hung over the sink, splashing cold water up it. My jaw opened and locked, myself and the Little Lord locked eyes and then broke into an awkward laughter. We laughed too man, we fucking erupted into laughter out of pure awkwardness. It was surreal. Though there was still no sign of the Other Fella, we were both now really enjoying ourselves. You could almost let yourself forget the dramatic subtext to the exchange, but neither of us did. Now seemed like as good a time as any to have a cigarette and the Little Lord dropped the lever on the toaster to light one. Since there was nobody here except the two of us, I had one too, for a treat. Just as I asked who it was that was chasing them, both myself and the Little Lord Jumped with another furious knocking on the door. The Little Lord hopped off the draining board of the sink and his shoes made a great clacking on the checkered lino floor. I’d say that’s him now, I’ll let him tell us the rest. Little fucking social welfare knock on him all the same, doesn’t he? Yeah it’s unbelievable. Has me spooked to bits half of the time. I could see the Other Fella through the glass on the door. Big burst mattress head on him, wouldn’t be easy for him to blend into a crowd. He came in, wild eyed, walking straight past me up to the little lord to embrace him. It was like the final scene in Lord of the Rings, only with drugs and bleach and nothing being wrapped up. I returned to the kitchen, now exhausted through my vicarious nature. I asked the Other Fella what happened to him. Ah jaysus me heart. Myself and Lordy were in the lane last night. Heard all that. Lad just shoved bleach up his arse, what happened next? Where the fuck where you until now? The Other Fella took a seat at the kitchen table and I followed suit. The Little Lord sat on the table itself. The table was for serious talk. We had to walk home from Portobello. They kicked us all out before the buses started because everyone was laughing at your man and The Big Fella’s missus’ door was fucked. It took nearly 3 hours to get here. We cut across the Dunnes car park and you could smell the bread rolls from the delivery bay. I was Hank Marvin and we both got a goo on us for a chicken fillet roll but we hadn’t a red rex between us. Never stopped you before. Exactly yeah, so myself and himself went in to do the auld whiparoo in the ethnic food aisle. Two years earlier the Other Fella had discovered that there was no CCTV in the ethnic food aisle of Dunnes Stores. If you wanted to avail of any fine produce in times of negative cash flow, this is where you seal the deal. It got to the stage where the other fella was saving money on food by robbing 3 chicken fillet rolls a day. If he wanted to make extra money, he’d rob chicken fillet rolls for other people and charge them half the retail price. Walking through the estate became a game of the Other Fella pointing to random lads and saying what they get on their rolls. Right well you went into the ethnic food aisle and you stole 2 chicken fillet rolls, then what happened? Ah it all went fuckin tits up man. I’ve been robbing at least one chicken fillet roll every single day from that Dunnes for about 2 years. They must have followed us because of the hack of us. The little lord stood up from his seat on the table and interjected. I was very nervous for some reason and I didn’t really want to do it. My Ma’s gaff is just around the corner and it’s full of food it just seemed a bit stupid but the other fella was full sure it would be ok. When we left the etnic food aisle he turned to me and said ‘relax man, I could walk up and slap that bitch in the face with this roll and we still wouldn’t get caught’. The 3 of us had a big laugh at that one. Quotability is very important for a story's longevity with our shower and it already seems like this story is going to get better with age. The Little Lord continued. We had strolled through a checkout, rolls in our jackets and we said howeya to the bullet proof aul one. She was half asleep. We were walking past the ATM at the cafe side and we just heard this voice from behind us saying ‘Excuse me’, and this prick just took off. He went out and turned left at the trolly bay, I knew he was running towards here. I turned right, arms flailing and ran down the steps into the church ground, screaming sanctuary the entire time. Then I cut through the gap, crossed the G.A.A field and came straight here. What happened to you? That lad fucking caught me by the neck and dragged me into the back office. I knew they couldn’t keep me because it was under a tenner so the guards wouldn’t come. They just wanted to put the shits up me, dragging me in there. So what did they say? We were all sitting around the table at this stage. The Other Fella sparked up a cigarette and Myself and the Little Lord followed suit. They said that they see us here all the time and that we’re barred for life. Barred for life? Yeah, they said me and my stupid mate with the fuckin suitcase are barred for life. Did you at least get the rolls? I tried, but they told me to fuck off. You did not. I did yeah, I just asked if they were going in the bin and they weren’t a bit impressed. Barred from fucking Dunnes lads, I said. Barred from the local shop is low. It’s about as low as it gets. With the Other Fella’s return, a complete calm had washed over the Little Lord. It could have been much worse. I’ve to get my fucking dole in there, he says. Don’t we fucking all. I heard a key turn in the door and I became paralyzed with dread. The house was very bad. There were an additional two bewildered knockabouts in the kitchen. The three of us sat guiltily with a cloud of smoke pressing heavily upon us from above. She didn’t say anything and neither could I. I couldn’t meet her eyes. This scene was not as it appeared. There was a time the Little Lord and the Other Fella could regale her too with their nonsense, but not now. She could laugh louder than the three of us combined, but not now. I never looked up and I never made a sound. After the silence there were footsteps in the hall, each striking miniature blows to my head and stomach. My head spinned and I searched for the words that could make all of this ok, but they never came. Drowned out by the battle cry of a djembe pounding gutter rat, by drunken verses of Shancoduff on the Grand Canal, and by the bleach induced screaming of a sore-arsed stranger that I’d never meet. I didn’t say a word. The door closed and there was a great silence amongst the three of us. I knew I hadn’t long left here. I wished I was still in bed. I went to Dunne’s and I bought 3 chicken fillet rolls. Gurge Bobby Harnett 329 words I don't know what colour my shirt is. I'm not blind or anything like that, I've just become so apathetic that my senses don't seem to register. I go for a walk. Or a run. Maybe a drive with the windows down, I don't know. I think I can smell manure. Maybe it's roses. Can't discern. People, they could be, say hi. Or maybe it's the sound of the engine if I'm driving, maybe I'm listening to music or dialogue. Possibly I'm still at home. The lunchtime news comes on at nine. Maybe. Gofuckyourselfgofuckyourselfgofuckyourself gofuckyourselfgofuckyourselfgofuckyourselfis the main story. When was it wasn't? My knees start crying. Or elbows. Or someone else's. I can't unnot hear predictable, cheap carpet beneath "my" feet so where are my shoulders? That's not a question for you, I cannot locate them. A paper bag from a chipper moors me somewhat. I know(ish) what that it's not guaranteed. I am. Sorry(ish), but that's not my fault. We might start a band. We might start a family. We might start a war. Maybe all of those things, I don't know who you are. You don't know who I am but that rarely matters. Eat your own knuckles. They will be cooked to your liking and served with chips and gravy. Where are we? The continuous tide. The apparently never ending influx/deluge/flood/fuckstorm/stulsh of more and new and new and more information and sensory flags. I don't know when time is. I can't tell if I'm hungry. I have eaten, once at least, I'm sure. Horology and nourishment; two languages I can hear but not interpret. Am I walking? I might be running in my car. I worry that I've started a war then I stop worrying that I've started a war. They seem to happen without my influence. My bank balance is my most reliable signifier. It knows I have paid for food. I accept this. I think I'm walking. Or running. Or driving. With taco chips. Roisin Dubh Sam Noonan -_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_- She stood casually in black anger, her old shell clung a little longer, the waves relentless the wind senseless, she steadies her breath takes off the mask, out in the open and in stealth, a journey to zero, an Róisín dubh in the land of hawks. 22 when she sang a song, a wild child didn't belong, 22 she left her grandmother, her story was good but needed another, packed her bags and left the labels and tags, unsettled in the laws, the land was Lord, she surrendered to the chains and used her sword. She sang drank and hoped for more bird calls, dealt certain cards which left scars, her ancestors’ workload her poetic spade work, an Roisin Dubh. Solid and white, vast indifferent spaces bright, dreamlike empty, spaces for dream entry. Good Time Greg Liam Doyle 2,470 The smile very rarely stays on their face after the brain shuts off, and this was one of those occasions where it did. That must be a comfort to the family. I fitted the goggles over his eyes at 6.23pm, fixed him with the serum two minutes later, and he passed away at 6.42pm That’s a solid twenty minutes of absolute pleasure, and a welcome €800 in my pocket. He died with a grin stretched across his wrinkled face, a few of his loved ones standing apart, but together in grief. When his eldest daughter rose up, having buried her head in his chest at the moment of death, she gently lifted the goggles from his eyes, which looked like they’d been smiling too. I’m somewhere between a clown and a nurse, but I’m paid much better than both. I offer absolute pleasure in your final moments, because a few moments of absolute pleasure are all you can afford. You can’t pay for healthcare, you don’t have the money to bid on a hospital bed, but your family can just about scrape together the price of a twenty-minute visit from Good Time Greg. She hands me back the goggles, which are flashing graphically with images of bare-breasted pirate women from a virtual reality where nobody is sick and everyone is swashbuckling. I offer a happy death, not an honourable one, so I take my money and leave them to their grief. If traffic is still bad on the N11, I’ll be late for my 8 o’clock. ’There have been 59 new deaths as a result of pest 1, with 452 new cases…’ The car radio hisses intermittently as I steer the Suzuki Swift further and further into a countryside where city transmissions no longer apply. Swathes of ash trees rouged by October flank me on both sides, and the green hills rising and falling in my window and rear- view are enough to confidently say I’m in the fucking schticks. I don’t understand why anyone would ever choose to live in the city, unless they’re trying to escape some adolescent plight they have in the countryside. Annoying parents, gossiping neighbours, or the wailing quiet. I’d trade my Townie worries with the worries of a culchie any day. The last time someone tried to rob the Chimera 360 from my apartment, I came at them with a hurling stick and nearly painted the tarmac with their brains. I gave it loud and large, of course, screaming ‘you little cunts!’ at them, but inside I was shitting myself that they’d return in greater numbers. They didn’t, but there’s still time yet. The Chimera 360 was top-of-the range virtual reality tech about six years ago. There were mini riots in the queues to get the commercial prototype, which were goofy, 3D-glasses compared to the 360. When Sato Electronics realised what they had going, they quickly took them off the market and began working on the 360 to sell exclusively to those who could afford the €60,000 price tag. The fucking thing puts you right there. Wherever that is. To lose that machine would be to lose my livelihood. People in my line of work are treated with the same respect as tradesmen, but I see it more as I’m charging people to take a dip in my swimming pool. The fact that I have this technology is entirely up to chance. No skill involved. I just hook them up and see it through. But who would turn down the money? People in my line of work are also much better off than I am. My offerings are fundamental to our industry. I offer a virtual reality experience with a supplementary narcotic high to make those last few moments as creamy as can be. I know other fundertakers that will suck the old fogey’s dick up with a hoover so he can spend his last moments feeling like he’s balls deep in whatever digital bride is flashing on his headset. I can’t compete with that yet. The glowing cat’s eyes roll under the hood of my car in quick succession while I choose some thick country vegetable radio station to tune into. Speed limits don’t matter much without Gardai to enforce them, which is great because I have some rich farmer to see off and if there’s anything I know about rich farmers – they’re stingey enough to dock you for tardiness. Rain begins to dot on the window as I turn left for my exit towards Rathnew, and what I’ve noticed about this whole journey is the loneliness of it. Since Kilmac, there’s been nothing but me, my Suzuki, and the golden glitter of lights far yonder. No transport lorries or service vehicles. Not even a pizza delivery chap. Then I remember it’s Good Friday. I think about the client now, his requests, and his true requests. I’m a carpet floor catholic with little experience outside my own circles, but I’ve a feeling this fella won’t appreciate my joke about him rising up on the Sunday. Maybe he would, but I’m not driving here to tell jokes. The family understand that I’m going to send him back to Tipperary, his place of birth. He’s going to lay on the grass a while, and take a walk down the sparkling Clashawley River on a summer’s day, terminating in a visit to the chapel he frequented as a boy and teenager. Then it’s game over. The truth of the matter is that he’s selected the Mermaid Princess scenario, one of the more perverse simulations available for the Chimera. I say ‘available’, but what I mean is; capable. The Mermaid Princess plugin is a hack designed by the computer geeks that make my job possible. These are the guys at the very top, or really, the bottom, who use their digital know-how to hack into and corrupt simulations until they’re unrecognizable and thoroughly perverted. It’s not unusual to see fundertakers get six years in Mount Joy for having corrupted simulations on their machines. Our industry is very young and still in its ‘wild west’ stages. I pair my simulations with a 30mg shot of pseudohemidrine, which I administer in vitro before we kick things off. Truth be told, there is no such thing as pseudohemidrine. The families often have certain reservations regarding hard drugs, so I spare them the shame by telling them it’s a chemical designed to help their loved one ‘dive into’ the simulation. In reality, it’s a basic speedball comprised of two-parts cocaine and one-part heroin. Yeehaaw. The satnav declares that I’m closing in on my destination, but I’m focused on the twin headlights glowing dimly on a road that shrivels in the forest-shrouded darkness all around. Muck, ditch, barbed wire, tees, and barely any room to move between them. ‘Do all prods have this much cash and land?’ I ask myself as I plunge deeper into the woods. I’m driving blindly for at least a minute before moonlight filters through the trees and my beat up car rolls out of the mucky depths. A gently undulating countryside opens out before me, jewelled by a large farmhouse manor at the end of the narrow dirt road. My name isn’t even Greg, by the way. I’m assuming it’s his wife who’s showing me through the hallway because she greeted me with ‘ah, you’re here for my Tom.’ She leads me down the hallway, which is decorated heavily with family photographs, statuettes, and various wall-hangings. I’m noticing a maritime theme going on. Lots of ships. Some shells. Some mermaids. ‘That’s his favourite one there,’ she points to a large ship’s wheel to the right of an ancient grandfather clock, ‘that’s off the RRS Hannah.’ ‘Tom was a bit of a sailor as well then was he?’ ‘Oh no, he’d only ever been on a cruise ship once. He just loved everything to do with all things nautical.’ ‘So he does.’ I grin as she pushes open the doors to the living room where his family, all dressed in black, are taking up everything that constitutes as a seat. I count eight of them, which is good. They may elect to stay in here rather than squeeze into the man’s bedroom while he’s trying to enjoy himself. ‘Will you have a drink, Gregory?’ Sip, sip, slug, smash, screaming, screaming, stop. Stop. ‘No thanks, I don’t partake.’ ‘You know, we were almost going to go with yer one, what as her name, Patrick?’ ‘Clarissa Dream.’ Says the youngest son, staring at his shoes. He’s my co-conspirator, and the only other person in the room who knows what’s really going down. He loves his da more than anyone else in this room, but there must be a shame in this. Sometimes true love means stretching your perception of decency. Clarissa Dream is my direct competition. She started out weeks before me and has double the amount of likes on Facebook. Some of the other boys told me she leap-frogged us all because she could offer the sick something the majority of the straight male-dominated industry couldn’t – hand jobs. I’d give a hand job but the price and situation would have to be right. Anyway, I know that isn’t the case with Clarissa Dream. She’s just got better fucking simulations than us, and she listens, and her clients feel listened to. She has emotional intelligence, as they say, which is more than our lot have. ‘Ah, well I’m glad you decided against her, Mrs. Bradley.” I say, ‘Clarissa Dream earned her reputation due to a willingness to fulfil the baser desires. I wouldn’t let her near your husband, or anyone else’s husband for that matter.’ Mrs. Bradly nods, smiling and assured. Patrick finally looks up from his black dress shoes and meets the eyes of his sister (?), who shrugs him off to throw more than a mouthful of wine back. Then he turns to meet mine. In a way, I’m family to the boy now. We’re bonded by this strange thing that nobody else knows about. Jesus, that makes me sound like a kiddie-fiddler. I swing my rucksack gently to the ground to fish out my tools, like a photographer at a wedding. My family were funeral directors in Clondalkin, so death was never something to shy away from when I was growing up. There was as much distance between my mother and her clients as there was between the two of us. Distance is required in that line of work. I suppose my ma didn’t really know when was an appropriate time to break that distance. I often wondered if she’d cry at my funeral or just go into work-mode and stare into the abyss. That’s what I do when my client is hooked in. They’re writhing around on the bed in anaesthetic euphoria, sent to a world of their dreams, and I just find a place on the wall to stare at. At this moment, I’m staring at a photo on his bedside locker. It’s himself and the wife and what I assume is their first child, the blonde sister. I’m staring vacantly, but I’m always cautiously aware of my client’s responses. They’re expecting him to die sometime very soon, perhaps even in my care, so as much as I respect his privacy – I feel obliged to document in some way his status before he kicks the bucket. He’s repeating the words ‘oooh, you’re lovely’ over and over again. I’ll edit that out in my story to the family. We’re exactly 5:23 seconds in when Tom Bradley’s moans begin to go quiet. The abrupt change in mood makes it appear as though he’s come to a realisation. Like terminating your speech mid-sentence to avoid embarrassment of some kind. In reality, Tom Bradley has died. Slipped off quietly into a fantasy he ordered via PayPal. Patrick is the only one who doesn’t shake my hand when I pack up and leave. I get that. My services are usually availed of by those too poor to extend their lifetimes. I work for people who throw their arms up and call it a day. That’s why I assume that Tom Bradley must have been well and truly fucked. An incurable case. I pulled out of that long driveway with €1,500 stuffed into the glove compartment, but you couldn’t tell me for a second that that family didn’t have the €20,000 to bid on a hallway hospital bed at least. Some people just accept death, and they want to go out feeling like they’re at their most alive. Repeat clients are rare in my industry, but not unheard of. Victor Boylan from Bliss Inc. has a regular client from Ranelagh. A former lawyer, a proud and furiously stubborn man, who is intent on spending his final moments getting his dick sucked on a beach in Mexico, or die trying. The chap refuses to go into the light without fulfilling that fantasy. If ghosts are the souls of those unable to make peace with their former lives, then I think of myself as a ghost buster. I’ve never had a poor review. Some new DJ on the radio announced that there were 59 deaths today, and I wonder how many of them were in the care of my competition. I can account for two of them, but there’s a whole lot more there. Did all 59 of them have a fun death, or just an honourable one? The countryside shrinks in my rear-view and bright lights begin to spread out from left to right like the two welcoming arms of the city. I’m happy to be received by them tonight. I can’t stand the fucking smell of shite out here. I turn the key in my door and gently tip it closed behind me, throwing my hat and coat on the newel of the staircase. It’s 11:20pm in the night, and that’s grand, I’ve nowhere to be in the morning. I haven’t a booking until tomorrow evening at 7:30, but it’s only Shankill, so I’m not expecting a big payoff like tonight. Slumping into my armchair, I fish my phone out to see the beginnings of a text from Patrick Bradley. ‘how did he die? I need to…’ I lay the phone face down on the coffee table, unzip my rucksack, and pull out the goggles. I pick up a VR cartridge from my bookshelf and slide it into the main port located above the right ear. There’s a satisfying ‘click’ when you switch cartridge on these things. Like a VHS player swallowing a tape. I’m throwing my leg up over a barstool in a place I know in Tallaght. The barman smiles cheekily at me. ‘Jaysus, I thought you’d gone off it’ he laughs, as he always does. ‘Not at all.’ ‘And it Good Friday as well.’ ‘So it is.’ I laugh. ‘The usual?’ ‘Yep.’ The Befouling Johnny Hird 2847 words Rob the publican slid a half-pint of Drambuie effortfully across the bar, through the sticky residual film of mank and ash that that had been congealing during the previous hours imbibements. There was an air of disgust and semi-resignation stemming from Rob towards his most loyal yet ambivalent patron. Ferrett was his own man, not vehemently hostile yet never quite pleasant either. Cynical to all ends yet got just jolly enough a humour out of his fermented life-support to narrowly avert the realm of blatant miserable bastardry. Quite cantankerous but a drunken poet nonetheless, a gregarious misanthrope - entertaining to no end if he happened to take a shine to ya. It’s approaching lunchtime and Ferret is 4 capillary bursting scoops deep. His regular daily brunch having satisfied his chemically ill-balanced bodies’ toxic requirements for the time being, he shuffles to the open front doorway of the Wilted Cock (from which he’s been housed all morning), sparks a Marlboro Red and contemplates his movements for the day. Just across the road on the corner of an alley off the High St he spots a bunch of young raggeds spouting jovial and engaging in general arseing about, the gregariousness switch upstairs was flickering so he decided to approach them to see what horseplay was afoot. He figured they were all wearing similarly urchinly clothes as he so they might be all on similar class/wavelength level, be it juvenile scallywag or late 20’s adult-ish slovenly drunkard chic. After detouring via the next door off-license for a belly calming scotch egg and an energy inducing can of White Lightning, Ferrett saunters across the road somehow semi-tripping over a squirrel in the process and then accoutremented by a mild shower of foamy spittle and rogue breadcrumbs enquires of the wee lads “What y’all tackers at of an afternoon? Fine day for a lark out eh?” “Just playing a bit of hookey” responds one of the four kids. “I’m all about ya rebelling the fucking system and skipping class but don’t go shitting that fucking Yankee slang out ya fucking gobs I must say”, “sorry kids, you’ll have to pardon me bloody French too”. Ferrett had been babysitting his niece the night prior and got roped into watching a fucking Full House marathon against all his wishes, alas even though he was well and truly comatose quite early on due to its lobotomising content, the dialogue can seep through into your conscience even whilst out for the count. He was only mildly more enthused to find out they weren’t referring to the stupid American etymological interpretation of ”Hookey”, rather the shitty game many of us endured to play as a child – throwing a flimsy rubber ring at a fucking square of chipboard with nails and numbers about it. A poor man’s Darts, or rather I’m guessing a far less dangerous version for when potentially violent children get into physical arguments over score keeping disagreements, as opposed to a vicious dart, there’s fuck all you can do with a rubber ring you can barely fit around your wrist, not at that age anyway. Anywho... Ferret couldn’t give two arses about whether or not they were in school and gave less of a fuck about their tedious game of “Hookey” so, laying semantics by the wayside our bibulous hero rightfully decided that punching another Marlboro and White Lightening was exponentially more enlightening than the just aborted endeavour, whatever it was. Ferrett continued on down the High St spotting a TK Max sign in the distance. “That could be me homework for today” he mused within his inner monologue. “A spanking new pair of trousers is definitely in order”, the arse-numbingly windy blast cavorting its way through the wavering flap hanging out the arse of his best, last and only pair of trousers was providing enough grief for him to finally give up the game and upgrade. “Ah well, one more off-license on the way just before I get to the plaza, 1 more White Lightning for the trouble inside I guess” the inner monologue continued. Ferrett traversed on foot through the plaza carpark and successfully negated his way through to the entrance, bypassing gaggles of tracksuit-clad overweight parents herding their overweight tracksuit-clad progeny, whilst admirably restraining himself from outwardly expressing obnoxious judgement. Gasping another Marlboro at the big slidey doors and muttering to himself would suffice this time, sparing himself from potentially frictitous interaction with either security or the general public which is a far too oft an occurrence for the man himself. *** MINGEBURY PLAZA Thankfully Mingebury Plaza is a simple run of-the-mill suburban plaza – not too hard to get lost in. 3 levels high but thankfully conveniently condensed and user-friendly unlike the nightmarish multi-level, acre consuming webs of Stratfield and the like. The ground floor consists of the usually ubiquitous jobs – a WHS Smiths, Boots, Greggs, Pret-a-Manger, Costa and naturally 2 hair braiding salons doubling as stolen mobile phone resell stores for good measure. Our desired TK Max storefront resides in the 3rd floor, thus our bedraggled protagonist troops past these and carries on forth to the lift. Ferrett entered the lift with little expectation though encountered a baldman - a man replete with baldnesss, who seemed intent on giving guff, as is a baldman’s insecure want. Ferrett’s ambivalent expression drew the ire of the baldman. “Turn that frown upside down” said baldy cunt, bereft of self-awareness. “Who the fuck are you?” Ferrett fired back at the baldman. “I just want to see my fellow human smile” said the baldman as the lift jolted ta fuck and they came to realise the cunt shat itself and the both of them were trapped in a lift lockdown for the timebeing. They were now stuck, Ferrett pressed the emergency button and the cunts on the other end have been sparked into action, they may take a while to get there though…. For the mean time… “What are you about?” enquires the baldman. “You look a tad despondent”. Due to his unfortunate, permanently scowled facial expression and generally cynical demeanour, Ferret has had to negate this manner of query far too many times in recent times, much to his annoyance. “Do you ever get to smile?” said the baldman. “We’re stuck in a fucking elevator” retorted Ferrett. “you’ll have to excuse my cognisance good sir. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my ability to perceive, observe and distinguish the negatives and positives around me both introspectively and extrospectively spares me from living life at the mercy of delusion” he spits. “Wuh?” (Baldman) “The brains response mechanism kind of taps out once you’ve heard the same low-hanging fruit troped out for the umpteenth time, especially when followed by a confoundingly self- congratulatory belly chortle”. “What ye mean?” (Baldman) “Ignorance is bliss I guess, cunt.” “Which I guess I’d like to say I’m happy about, but we can reach a weird paradox where the deluded positivity creep is inherently far happier than the creatively inclined, less grounded mind for they’re unable to properly process the negatives” “What are you implying?” (Baldman) “I’m implying that you’re a fucking moron and I’d rather be fucking done with you, alas, here we are trapped together in a fucking lift still!” The baldman took umbrage and swang a wayward left hand towards Ferrett’s reddened face. Ferrett, well prepared for retaliation unto his cantankerous diatribes, stifled his piss poor left-armed swing and kneed him in the knackers sending him cowering to the lifts floor in the foetal position unable for response. Ferrett ransacked the disabled baldman’s pockets in search of some quid to no avail. The pricks wallet contained nothing but an Oystercard, 15 pence and an erstwhile empty arse bag of coke. He’s coat pocket brought forth a screwdriver into the equation though and after much fuck-arsery, arse- fuckery, effort and grief he managed to jimmy apart the lift doors and McGyver himself to freedom and back to civilisation leaving the baldman still foetally positioned, squints and grimaces akimbo… fuck him. Ferrett found his way to TK Max only to find they were in the process of moving premises. NO DICE! The bastards have shut up shop. The Plaza’s lavatories were still open so he availed himself of a slash then partook in the remnants from the scungy, erstwhile cokebag he procured from the baldman’s pockets earlier and enjoyed the brief numbing of the gums and it gave him a (subjectively interpretational) fantastic idea…- let’s get some fucking coke of a do-nothing afternoon! *** The Beshittening Ferrett checked himself in the plaza’s toilet’s mirror. For someone who dressed like an urchin he had a surprising pride when it came to his personal grooming. He loved his hair – carried a comb in his pocket ala the Fonz, for if a rogue gust of wind displaced any portion of his finely coiffured mullet it had to be immediately attended to. Daryl Hall would’ve been proud of this thing. Not too long – just above shoulder length, well kempt, like a suave, proud owl perched both menacingly and seductively upon his noggin, everything was in check – ready to roll. The only place he knew to get some reliable blow though was out the backarse of town. There were two twins out the caravan park, probably inbred, congenitally emaciated. Cartoonish stick figures basically. The locals referred to them as “the Arseless Chaps” due to their spaghettified and (of course) arseless physiques. As seems to be atypical of caravan park life they lived with their mother and she was the complete converse of her offspring – obscenely, morbidly obese and barely able to exercise any of life’s luxuries the rest of us take for granted, i.e.: walking, showering, general movement, arsewiping etc. After a pre-planned phone call/arrangement buzz Ferrett took the train then walked for a good half hour down to the caravan park to meet the inbred arseless chaps. Four further cans of White Lightning for a the uneventful mid-afternoon hour-long trek cut the mustard. He knocked on the door… [Arseless Chap no.1] – “Who the devil be that?” [Ferret]- “Aye it just be me, the Devil” he joshed. Now these fellas had nae an arse nor a fucking brain cell between them ever and it didn’t help that their putrid, prolifically perspiring, porcine, petulant, pity-mongering, piss-bucket mother was also a religiously encaptured, vacuous fucking wetbrained dullard. As soon as she heard Ferret’s piss-taking words she shat herself – figuratively and literally. This announcement of the Devil’s arrival planted the fear of God into her swiss-cheesed, booze induced paranoid psychosis riddled god-both brain. With her mind maniacally dancing at a million miles an hour and her blobfish resembling body barely capable of a snail’s pace she did the closest she could achieve to leaping out of her ferociously deep giant arse-groove within the mouldy couch from which she lived. This was going to be a slow process, as she fatly grunted and groaned in the throes of physical torture attempting to manoeuvre herself into some semblance of an uprightly position, made all the more tricky due to the bestenched slippyness now occuring between her blubbery, cavernous arsecrack and the marquee-sized knickers that have been grossly affixed to her person for an unspeakable length of time, due to her recent involuntary fecal befoulment … In the mean time… “Just taking the piss ol’ mate, it’s Ferrett”. AC1 obligingly opens the door and welcomes him in. At the same time AC2 (who’s very much on the spectrum, the advent of which leads him to having a kind of beautifully enthusiastic rapport with our man) overhears and comes careering down the hallway* singing “Don’t pay the Ferret man, Don’t even fix a price, Don’t pay the Ferret man, till he gets you to the other siiide, duh duh duh duh!”. Ferret nearly chokes on his cigarette laughing. He fucking hates Chris De Burgh but finds AC2’s confounding fixation with him somewhat endearing. “Everyone has to have a passion. As long as it’s creatively sourced, one can’t begrudge another regardless of differences in taste” he muses to AC1 as he staggers past a life-sized poster of the ferociously eye-browed Irish croon-bag. “Just as long as you don’t put fucking ‘Lady in Red’ on or I’ll fucking kill you” he jocularly slurs as he gives AC2 a compassionate hair-ruffling. Ferret plants his arse into one couch and the other two would’ve done the same if only they had arses, alas, they plant themselves regardless on the adjacent couch, AC1 cracks open some Bucky and pours everyone a nip. AC2 hits play on the stereo, Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’ starts bursting out of the speakers which sends Ferret into a manic heightened sense of being – “Fuck yes, I’ll give ya this one buddy, let’s get amongst it!” he shouts, almost frothing at the mouth with excitement. The days boozely intake combined with the prospective powdery business soon to ensue and the dulcet tones of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno et al working their way into his soul sparks our man into the most amiable of humours. All of this was about to be shat on (again, figuratively and literally) as the Chaps’ lardful mother dearest had gradually managed to gastropodically find her way into the sitting room where they were sat. Her eyes were glazed over, beady and black. The state of mania was the only thing in control of her actions and when she looked at Ferret she saw nothing but sin and evil and in her mind had no other option than to destroy his existence. The AC’s were pretty much too daft to perceive what was going on, AC1 was in the process of getting some delicious lines in order whilst AC2 was transfixed playing with a dodgy toy Transformer he received last Christmas that his uncle had bought him for 3 pound 10. Ferret sipped his tumbler of Buckfast and stared back at the maniacal eyes set upon him. There was about 4 feet in-between himself and the doorway currently accommodating the big bloated bastardly beast that was about to commit herself to ensuring his grizzly demise. He knew the prospects here weren’t looking particularly good and the only thing that could potentially salvage the situation was if the bastardly beasts’ children whom were hospitably indulging him, had the faintest hint of awareness about them, alas. Globs of shit were still cascading their way down her gelatinous legs and onto the horribly garish paisley carpet. She progressed closer. There was little room to move so Ferret downed the rest of his Bucky and threw the empty tumbler at the beast hitting her in the tit eliciting no reaction. By now she was merely two feet away. Still comfortably sat in the couch he flicked his cigarette at her, the lit end managing to wedge in between two of the flabby rolls flowing over her shit- covered lower body instantly startling her with immediate intolerable pain, her giant body reacting to move with more fluidity than ever before. With her body flailing in agonising conniptions and with faeces akimbo she slipped arse over tit in her own excrement, her behemoth mass toppling in slow motion down upon Ferret. With her 220kg mass compared to his 60kg this could only go one way but with what fraction of a moment he had to save himself he attempted to spindly manoeuvre out the way succeeding only in turning his body near 180 degrees as her massive person came crashing on top of him. The back and legs of the couch gave way immediately, the noise of everything finally causing the arseless chaps to rise to attention though there weren’t much they could fucking do. Her mountainous body flailing on its arse like a giant, goopy upturned turtle unable to right itself and from between her legs the head of our main man pokes out gasping for breath. His body has been pulverised, there’s no way out of this. The most ignominious of endings, literally choking to death on streams of shit whilst being crushed to death by the psychotic mother of some inbred feckless, arseless trailer trash. The bastardly beast is howling in deranged delight for her deed has been successful, no matter that it wasn’t the exact method planned (and she’s no idea how the fuck she’ll get back to her beloved couch from that position- but that can be figured out later). The AC’s sit there without a care in the world, the lack of cognisance is a boon for these chaps. They both have a rail of the powdery goodness, AC2 thwacks Alice Cooper’s Million Dollar Babies on the stereo and they set about extracting their mother from the grimmish position she’s found herself in. Ferret is left there for the time being, no need to rush getting rid of him – the mess of crushed bones, scowling face covered in shit and owl-ish coiffure can stay there for now. They join Mother dearest who is now back on the couch and all three proceed to get high and drunk and live happily ever after. Milo’s Wish Hayley Thomas 2059 words Milo has a good life. He has a roof over his head, a warm bed to sleep in and his water dish is regularly topped up with the freshest water… Milo is a golden retriever. He has lived with his people for 2 years now, ever since he left his mother and siblings at eight weeks old. He was sad when he first left but every dog knows that’s just the way of things. Milo loves his people, they are kind, caring, and they give good cuddles. They go for walks together daily, but on the weekends, they go walking up mountains or to the beach. Overall, Milo is pretty happy with his life and his people, but they have one flaw… every day they both leave for what seems to be the longest time. They call it work and they always come back of course, but Milo wished they wouldn’t leave all the same. “Please Dog, I don’t want my people to go to work tomorrow. I want them to stay home with me!” Marbles the cat However, loves when the people leave, she gets to break the rules and do things the people don’t let her do when they are home, like sitting on the counter, hang out of the curtains and knock things off the coffee table. Milo tries to tell her off but she never listens, Marbles has lived with the people longer than Milo and often teases him. “Still making that silly wish dog?” scoffed Marbles. “The people will never stay home forever! It will never happen!” Milo ignored her. Realistically, he knew they had to leave, but still, every night he will wish they didn’t. *** Milo’s morning routine ran like clockwork every day. He would wake up with the people at 6 am, the male would take him out to go to the bathroom while the female prepared Milo’s breakfast. After breakfast, the people would usually prepare themselves to leave the house. They’d wash themselves in the house waterfall, they call it the shower. People don’t have fur like dogs and cats do, so they put fake fur on to keep warm. They call them clothes. The people then leave at 8.30 am and usually return later that evening. The female is usually home first, Milo loves both his people of course but the female lets him up on the sofa for a cuddle before the male comes home, but when the male comes home he plays with Milo on the floor and gives him treats for doing tricks. Today was different though… His routine was the same, Wake up, toilet and breakfast. The people also followed their usual routine but when it came time for them to leave, they didn’t. They stayed at home… The male went into the home office, while the female sat down at the kitchen table and set up her tappy tap machine, Milo calls it that because of the sound it makes when the people tap it with their paws, they call it a laptop. Milo barked at the female and then looked to the door and back to her. “You are stuck with me for today Milo!” she smiled. “I’ll be home all the time now!” Home. All. The. Time. Milo barked excitedly. They aren’t leaving, they are staying here, at home, with Milo! He bounded up on the female’s lap and licked her face all over. He can’t remember a time when he was this happy! “Okay, Okay Milo! Down, silly, I still have to work.” Milo ran upstairs to the home office, he stopped at the door, he knew he wasn’t allowed in there. He barked at the male who was setting up his laptop too. “Oh, so you’ve heard the news, have you?” He laughed at Milo. Milo felt like a puppy again, he bowed to the male and gave him a playful growl. Then, Milo thought of Marbles. He wondered if she knew, he ran down to were she is usually perched. When he got to the sitting room, Marbles was sitting on the windowsill, she sat there to watch as the people would leave for work every morning. “What’s going on Milo? Why haven’t they left?” Marbles was confused. “They aren’t leaving! Marbles my wish finally came true, they’re finally staying at home forever!” “Wait, what? That’s impossible, surely this can’t be happening” Marbles sounded upset that the people were finally staying at home. Milo couldn’t understand it, the people were so good to them both but Marbles treated the people as though they were an inconvenience to her. But Milo knew deep down Marbles loved the people, occasionally she would “gift” them with a mouse or a bird she caught in the garden. Although the people didn’t seem to enjoy these gifts. It’s the thought that counts though right? A few days have passed, every morning Milo would wait by the door to see if his people would leave but every day they stayed at home, Milo was beside himself with happiness. Although his walks were a little less adventurous than usual, they walked close to the house and the weekend walks to the mountains are no more but Milo was just happy to have his people at home. The people kept talking about something called a “virus”, Milo had no idea what it was but it didn’t sound good and the people seemed worried about it. He was determined to protect them from the virus, while they worked Milo stood post at the sitting room window watching intently in case the virus showed up. Milo didn’t know what this virus looked like but he figured he’d know it when he saw it, he stood by the window for hours, taking breaks only to go for his walk and take his afternoon nap. Milo remained diligent when he was brought out for his walk and kept a close eye out for the virus. He noticed that his neighbourhood was quieter than usual, the small people stopped going to the playground, there was less people out walking and if there was people out they were keeping well apart from each other, Milo thought this was very strange indeed. “I guess the people are really afraid of this virus, marbles. Everyone is staying at home.” “Ugh! I wish it would go away so I can go back to my normal life. The people are here way too much now, They haven’t left for so long.” Marbles whined. “I know… Isn’t it great?” sighed Milo. “You would think that, stupid dog…” muttered Marbles. *** It’s been a month now since Milo’s wish came true. This morning, over breakfast he overheard the people saying that they will probably be home all summer maybe longer if they can’t stop the virus. While Milo is worried about this elusive virus that everyone is so worried about, he can’t help feeling happy about his people being home all of the time. He wondered if all dogs were as happy as he was. “The Corona virus has taken a further 23 people.” claims the tiny man in the box. (TV) “Oh no!” thought Milo. “It’s taking people now!” Milo decided he needed to step up his game of protecting the people. As well as keeping watch at the sitting room window, he sat by the people making sure the virus can’t take them. He began thinking, what if his wish coming true is the reason for the virus. He wanted his people to stay home with him but not if it meant that other people would be taken away. “I know I wished that the people would stay home forever, but I didn’t wish for a virus to take others away! Do you think the virus is my fault Marbles?” “Yes.” Replied Marbles. Trying to be smart. “Oh, I am a bad dog! I am such a bad, bad dog!” Howled Milo. “Of course, it’s not your fault you silly mutt! It’s no bodies fault, these things just happen.” Milo felt a little comforted by Marbles words, even if she called him a mutt. The people seemed a little less worried about the virus too, they still left the house only to bring Milo for a walk or to go to the food shop, but they seemed more relaxed. But some people were being a little too relaxed, recently the weather has been good. The people were in the kitchen talking about others not taking the virus seriously. “I mean the slightest bit of sun and everyone flocks to the beach or the park for a few cans, no social distancing at all!” “I know it’s a joke really, a bit of cop on is definitely needed or we’ll be in lockdown a lot longer if they keep up!” sighed the male. Milo wished he could go to the beach again, he missed it, he loved swimming in the sea and jumping over the waves and the feeling of the sand under his paws. During the summer his people would buy him an ice cream after a day of swimming and lounging in the sun. They would laugh at how he ate the ice cream nearly in one swift movement, barely chewing. But he knew it was important to stay home where it was safe and protect his people from the virus, he knew that when the virus went away they would bring him to the beach and they would have the best fun. The beach will still be there when the virus has gone and he knew it would be worth the wait! The people must have known that Milo missed the beach, that weekend they bought a blow up paddling pool, they filled it with water and Milo jumped in immediately. The male fired up the barbeque and the female sat by the paddling pool, dipping her feet in and splashing at Milo. Marbles lay on the wall in her favourite sunspot, when the food was ready both Milo and Marbles were given some chicken and a half a burger each. Milo had never been happier! Good food, his very own pool and his people happy and healthy. Even Marbles was enjoying herself, after her fill of barbeque food she curled up on the male’s lap and permitted him to pet her while he drank a beer in the sun. That evening, the people did a “zoom” call to their friends on the tappy tap machine. Milo was a little confused, zoom to him meant the excited run he does after his bath or when he first gets out of the car. Nonetheless, he enjoyed the attention he received from the other people. Milo loved people, he loved getting pets from them out on his walks, when people came to visit and the fuss he got when he went to the groomers. But for now, virtual pets were good enough. “Today was a good day!” Yawned Milo, as he tucked himself into bed. “It was alright…” said Marbles indifferently. “I do wish they would go back to work though I’m over them being here all the time now. A cat needs her space you know.” “Don’t say that, it might come true!” laughed Milo. That night Milo dreamt about the day by the pool, the delicious sweet smell of barbeque meat, he felt the warmth of the summer sun on his back and the sound of his people laughing and chatting together, he loved that sound. He dreamt that the virus had gone, People were safe. He could explore the mountains again, feel the sea air in his fur and everyone gave him pets. It was a good dream… Despite the uncertainty of the virus and the fear surrounding it, Milo will cherish this time spent with his people and even Marbles. Time spent with loved ones should be celebrated, even if it is just a simple thing like sitting watching the tiny people in the box or a back garden barbeque, people should be more like dogs. Stop and smell the roses, live in the moment and nap often! *** “Good morning Milo! Well, its ground hog day again.” The male said, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “I think you mean ground dog day” chuckled Milo to himself. Forgotten Fields Chapter 1: Diarmuid Anna O’Reilly 6,312 words Diarmuid’s phone buzzed aggressively against his leg. He grabbed for it over his pocket to lessen the noise, quickly surveying the room to see if anyone had looked at him. Other people in the office often took out their phones to check texts but he wasn’t confident enough to do that here yet. Nobody seemed to have noticed the sound or his action to conceal it. No surprise there really. His manager was the only person who ever really talked to him at the company and Diarmuid knew he always took off at 4.00pm on Fridays. It was 4.28pm. Just over an hour left and Diarmuid could safely close down his pointless busy work, loosen his tie and leave his corporate façade for another week. He didn’t mind the job. It was the basic out-of-college, entry level accountancy job that most people endured for the first few years, before moving to a bigger firm or emigrating, having put in their years of “experience building”. He wasn’t sure which side he'd fall on yet. He’d only scraped his 2.1 in UCD after getting everything rechecked in his exams and felt that he was lucky to have landed the job. That’s what most of college had been like. Scraping by and making it through by the skin of his teeth. He'd liked to pretend that if he stopped going out so much and really sat down and put in the work he could’ve been, not near the top, but top end of average. He’d never know if this was true of course as going out, cramming and letting Xbox get in the way had been the easier, and for his pride’s sake, safer bet. He relaxed his grip on his phone as the buzzing of new messages ceased and gazed back at the collection of windows he had open on his computer. While deciding which one to mess around with next his phone began its loud vibration again. Except this time it was a call. The rapid double buzz for texts being replaced by one drawn out vibration. He slid the phone from his slacks pocket and tried to silence it. “Marcy” appeared on the phone’s cracked screen. He cancelled the call and put it on silent but not before seeing the notification for 73 unread messages from “Arse and Crafts”, the group chat he inhabited with his friends from home. He shut down his computer at 5.32pm, although he’d had everything but one window closed from 5.20pm and had been counting down the clock. He still wasn’t sure if there was an internal system of some kind which logged his activity on the computer, but for now better safe than sorry.