Leaving Birds contains the adult folktales that inspired Laying Ghosts.
This extract is from “Peig’s Place”, a modern ghost story reimagined from an Irish folktale.
We were more than a little legless when Minnie got the idea. The Harp and Shamrock was still buzzing with the after-work crowd so she had to shout in my ear.
“How about a week in the country?” she said. “You know, good for the soul?”
We both knew what she really meant. We had to get away from the office. The new manager was doing our heads in.
The small Dublin-based publishing house where we worked had been bought by one of the big-five publishers, and instead of waiting to see how well our team functioned, they’d sent in a guy from the London office. He was keen on terms like ‘efficiency dividend’, hinting that one of us might have to be ‘sacrificed’ to the new structure. Maybe we were supposed to sleep with him but that wasn’t listed in the new ‘skill ecosystem’.
The next morning our commitment to the idea hadn’t wavered. We applied for leave.
“Let’s see how the eejit copes without us,” Minnie said.
It was pretty much the last minute so everything decent was already booked, but Minnie trawled the internet until she found the last rustic cottage on the south-west coast.
“Look, it’s on the Dingle Way, with views over Smerwick Harbour.”
“So why is it still available?” I asked.
“It’s totally historic,” she said, ignoring me. “And there’s a bedroom each upstairs.”
I looked over her shoulder at the screen. A stone building that might have been called a desirable residence a hundred years ago now had a derelict charm.
“Why isn’t there a photo of the kitchen?” I asked.
“Who cares? We’ll eat out. It’s a holiday, Faith. Loosen up.”
“It doesn’t look very close to anything.”
Sure enough we soon discovered that Street View didn’t go that far. Cafés and retail therapy would be good for my soul.
“It says: ‘walking distance from several restaurants along the cliff path’. And: ‘just a drive to a jetty where you can catch a boat to Great Blasket Island’.”
“I get seasick,” I said.
But I decided that with plenty of books and wine, we’d have a grand old time.
We were granted our leave, but two nights before we left Minnie fell off a step ladder and broke her leg. She was propped up on cushions on her mam’s sofa when I went over to sign her cast.
“We can still go,” I said “I’ll do the driving, and you can go up and down the stairs on your bum.”
“And hobble around the cliff on crutches? No way. Looks like this was meant to happen, Faith. A holiday on your own.”
“And do what?”
“Write a children’s book. Haven’t you always been threatening to, well now you can. And you need a break. Take your laptop. Knock out a first draft. When you get back you might not have a job, but you’ll have started your next career – as an author.”
It was tempting. I knew I could write better stories than most of the rubbish that came across my desk. And if I stayed in Dublin for the week, the usual distractions would keep me out drinking and partying. A break in the country would give me some perspective on my future – and a whole week to turn my dream into reality. A first draft.
It was late afternoon when I reached Ballyferriter – just a pub and not much more. I was exhausted and there was a key to collect from someone called Daniel living on the main road. No-one answered the door so I wandered around the back and found him in his garage working on an old car.
“I’ve been expecting ye,” he said, straightening up and wiping his oily hands on a rag. He met me in the doorway and nodded across the bay to a lonely house. “Staying up there on your own?”
He was a big, burly guy, mid thirties with a mop of chestnut hair. And something about the way he looked at me was too direct for comfort. He wasn’t undressing me with his eyes, but I didn’t want him to know I’d be alone.
“My friend will be joining me soon,” I said.
I don’t know why I lied. With the house in clear sight across the bay, my comings and goings would be visible to everyone, but I pulled out my phone and checked the time as if I really was expecting Minnie.
Daniel nodded and said, “There be no making calls out there, you know. But you’ll be fine with company to keep the ghosts at bay.”
Then he laughed and his face lit up, making me laugh too. Ghosts? Perhaps he was just a harmless fellow steeped in axle grease and superstition.
“And don’t you be worried if you hear a rattling in the roof.”
“W-why not?” Suddenly I was thinking … rats?
He laughed again. “That’ll just be an Atlantic breeze giving the rafters a tickle.”
With instructions to find the track that led to the cottage, I walked back to my car. Daniel waved as I pulled away, and in the rear view mirror I saw him watching me. Then it was a couple of miles around the harbour, and I managed to miss the turn off onto the headland. But finally I was way beyond civilisation, bumping along a boreen that must have been built for a horse and cart. Then the grey stone walls appeared, emerging from a copse of stunted trees.
For a moment I sat in the car gazing across the bay. The view was as sweeping as the internet had promised because the house was all alone just below the point. Then as I climbed out, I stopped. A wave of emotion swept over me and I was desperate not to be alone, longing for a lover to meet me here. What? Where did that come from?
Join Faith on an unexpected and spooky journey into murder and magic …
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This collection showcases the author’s ability to write in different styles … an altogether fascinating read. Keith G.