by Lyda Morehouse
Art by Lee Seed
Some French pasture is the last place I should be doing my dying. It irks me especially to be dying for a foreign king...ah, still, it seems unavoidable. The shrapnel from the mortar bomb sliced clean through something major in my chest. Blood is everywhere. I can feel its warm, stickiness on the hard ground beneath me. I wouldn't be so worried, except the pain disappeared an hour or more ago. Now, all that's left is a sort of gut-wrenching, floating feeling. Off in the distance, beyond the artillery fire, I can hear some birds singing. Between their twittering and that warm breeze bringing the smell of sweetgrass, a guy could get to feeling peaceful.
Not that I'm going anywhere without a fight. As another wave of nausea ripples through my body, I dig my fists into the frost-lined grass. Hell, I figure I'm holding on to this earthly plane one way or the other. There'll none of this "may you be in heaven half an hour" crap for old Jack McCahey. If I'm going, the Devil himself is going to have to carry me away.
The way I've lived my life I hardly can expect a choir of angels, now can I? A more likely choice is the flying black hoard of the bogie on their thistle brooms. Anyway, from the stories I've heard the faerie are continually taunting the priests. Not a good track-record for the wee folk, I'm afraid. It's the Devil for me, then.
Besides which, I've never been crystal clear what God's opinion is of Republicans. In my Da's time, an IRA man could be pretty certain the Lord was on his side, all excepting the partition, of course. When I was a boy, the bad guys wore black and tan. The good guys were always in green, if you get my meaning.
Myself, I've been a good Catholic. Well, good enough to attend Mass every Sunday; not good enough to keep from spending my time in the church watching Fiona McCarthy bow her pretty head so fetchingly. That sight, my boys, was far more divine than anything coming out of the side of the mouth of Father O'Rourke. I can see how the wee folk get such pleasure out of teasing the likes of priests. Sure, and half what they say is nonsense. It's not proper Irish faith, at all.
Another wave racks through me, braking my reverie. My fists grasp uselessly at the crumbling dirt and shriveled grass between my fingers. I moan lowly. I wish I had the strength to curse. It's time for going, but I'm not ready yet.
A shadow blots out the sun. I focus on a tall figure standing over me. Sure, and doesn't it look like the dark angel himself. His eyes strike me most of all. They're a piercing sort of black. I think they stand out so much due to his pale, almost Irish complexion. I smile. I always knew the Devil was Black Irish, like me.
"So, you've come for me then?" I ask. My voice sounds strange to my ears, like it's coming from a long distance.
"I have." I'm disappointed not to hear a Donegal accent in his words.
He kneels beside me. Those dark, bewitching eyes flick over my wounds. I wonder for a moment if I haven't mistaken him. Perhaps he's a priest or a medic. Truth be told, he looks more like the Devil, with those eyes and that even blacker hair that seems to swallow the sunlight instead of reflecting it.
"I didn't know dying would be such a formal affair," I joke. I gesture at his clothes. He's wearing a tuxedo. It looks to me as though he was on his way to some grand ball, instead of kneeling in the gore of a spent battlefield. "If I'd have known, I'd worn my Sunday best."
"The uniform is more than acceptable." His tone is serious. "It's dress code in most black tie places, after all."
I get a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach suddenly. "I'd rather not go wearing the British uniform," I find myself protesting. "Could you arrange to hold things off until I get a proper one? I'd rather be wearing the green of Oglaigh na hÉireann. My own sainted Da would spit to see me in this."
His lips spread to a tight closed-mouth smile. "You should have thought of that before you got yourself in this pickle, my dear friend. But, it's not in my power to stop the inevitable, just ease your pain."
He opens his mouth, showing off pointed incisors, and draws nearer to me.
"Ah," I say, "I know you now. And, I wouldn't, if I were you."
He pauses to chuckle wickedly. He sneers. "Catholic blood isn't poison to me, fool."
In a swift movement, he plunges his fangs into my neck. The tearing pin-prick of pain is brief, and nothing compared to the pounding in my chest. He drinks greedily from me. The wet smacking sounds he makes sound distant. I can see the dark curtain's frayed edges now, fluttering like crow's wings.
He coughs, then sputters. Strangled choking sounds bring me briefly back to awareness. He tries to retch, struggles to rid himself of the poison of my ancient Irish forbearer's blood.
"Not Catholic," I murmur, though I doubt he can hear me, "Fey. I'm half-Faerie."