Devoured Stars Over Dublin
Over the black sprawl of Dublin, the demons flapped their sore-puckered wings and screamed. Too high to lob a brick at, with nasty talons that’d take a chunk off your face if you tried. Best leave them shriek and gibber across the boiling clouds, swooping and weaving between the pulsating slices in the sky. For my part, I was hungover as hell. I eldritched up Fishamble Street, the non-Euclidean road worsening the stomach situation. Dublin heaved and breathed underfoot, coiling alleys on top of each other, doubling over on lanes so you met yourself coming the other way. It’s hard to have a good time in a landscape like that, so generally there ‘ent much to do other than imbibe intoxicating substances and trip the light traumatic.
Everyone’s iffy on dates these days but firm on engaging in brain damage, so we all agreed we were roughly entitled to celebrate the centennial of the 1916 Rising, ascension of the True Gods from the unholy sea-depths. Tearing down the Roman Idol, our glorious betters slouched onto this plane of existence to show us the real meaning of awe, and to live under the black light of their rule. Engaging in commemorations, I’d spent the previous night gattin’ with some antediluvian arseholes, ossified on the cheap cider sold by the blind Augers of Clonmel. They started brewing ‘cos no one wants to know the future anymore, but people will pay to get fucken’ iridescent. Moloch’s balls, ‘twas hardly a smart move the night before a job.
Next morning, I was still half-cut and heading North, into normie-town and away from the fine houses of the antiquated South, passing the ever-smoking ruins of the sepulchre on Inns Quay and turning the corner onto Church Street. I’d been hoping a bit of perambulation would take the bile from my stomach and the pounding from my head, but no such luck. In the corner of the midday sky, a newly opened slice hung like an open sore. The pulse of its purple-green light got my guts lurching and set my teeth on edge. I kept the eyes averted as best I could and made my way to the Menagerie.
It had been a while since my last call, but ‘twas only a brain soaked in cider that’d forget the Menagerie was best visited on an empty stomach. As soon as I got the heavy doors open, I walked into a wall of smells. Rank fur and sour sweat. Bitter slime and acrid burning. There was an earthen floor underfoot, and wasn’t I thinking myself fucken’ blessed for fear I’d gawk my guts up.
“Brown bottle flu, is it?” Mags grunted, watching me bend double and breathe deep. She stepped out from behind the counter to heave a bucket of slops at some writhing underthings in a pen. “Hope you ‘ent drank your coin.”
I rubbed the back of my hand over my mouth, throat stinging from the tide of bile. “You’ve the look of a sale about you. Finally getting rid of them useless bodies down below?”
The Menagerie is built on the ruins of Saint Michan’s Church. Mags kept the crypt mummies when she took over the plot. It’s been a century, all pageantry of the Roman Idol abandoned, but people still cling to superstitions. We exist in a broken frame of meaningless street names and people curing sores with gravedirt.
Mags rolled up the sleeves on her meaty arms. She was a big woman, due to her willingness to eat the most tainted of wriggling things. “I know why you’re here, Mz. Reg Barry. And it ‘ent to buy some mummified knights.”
I grinned. “Someone put me wise to what you’ve got out back.”
Mags crossed her arms and looked hard. “Who?”
“They said you caught it falling out of a slice, ‘ent that some luck? And I thought to myself well, I’ve been so good to Mags over the years. Brought business her way. She’s surely waiting for me to take it off her hands.”
In a world where we’ve et most things with four legs, there’s money to be made in finding meat. Mags scavenged the twisted things that fell from slices, the tears in the fabric of reality. Like puckered sores in the sky, those festering wounds opened and closed without apparent cause, leaking in nasties from other dimensions. Some of which were good eating.
Point being, Mags was low level. Purely gizzards and green-meat. She hadn’t a clue what to do with a find like this, and I knew it. She wanted to sell it to the Upper-Classes for sure, but she hadn’t the contacts. Or the business acumen. Not like I did.
“Who told you?” she asked again.
I wouldn’t get further without sacrifice. “That oul’ wan on Whitefriar Street. She holds mass, tells stories about stars. Calls herself Saint Bridget. She said she had a vision.”
“S’pose she must’ve, so.” Her sweat-soaked ringlets hung limp against her cheeks. “C’mon then.” We walked behind a leather curtain, into a room that was hotter, closer. I swallowed down sick, focusing on what Mags was at. She walked over to a bulky shape covered in a blanket and whipped it away to reveal a wooden cage.
Inside was a normie, just like you or me… but its flesh was warm and pink. Its eyes were bright and scared, instead of sunken pits of despair. It had plump healthy bits like it lived under a yellow sun, and insides all red and healthsome, no doubt. It let out a noise of fear, and even that had more life than this city has seen in a century.
“Came right through a slice,” Mags told me, jerking her head in the direction of whatever pulsing rip in reality she meant. “Fell out, screaming and shrieking.”
If they knew it was here, all innocent and untainted by writhing horrors, the Old Ones would descend quicker’n you could snap a phalange. Only the combined psychic mammering of all the wyrd beasts in the building kept it hidden. I eldritched closer and twisted my comprehension to have a proper look at the noisome monkey-thing.
“Minds intact n’all.” Mags was proud. “The one you flogged before,’ ‘twas a bit brain-broken, wasn’t it?”
She was referring to ten years ago, and the only other inter-dimensional normie I’d crossed paths with.
Fhtagn hell, the coin I made off that.
“Nah, just had a stammer.” I straightened, picking my teeth with a nail, figures tumbling through my brain. “Thirty percent of the sale,” I proffered. “A steal at my own personal risk.”
“Hundred’n fifty coin, and the tip of your tongue. Up front.”
“Up front?” I clutched my heart, play-acting affronted.
Mags nodded. I came to the unfortunate realisation that she was not entirely dearth of acumen. “I know you’ve sold to them before, but that ‘ent much by way of insurance. The Royals are as likely to rip yer throat out as buy it. I’ll be taking my cut up front.”
A hundred’n fifty was a good deal. Only one hefty problem with it, being that I didn’t have a hundred’n fifty, did I? I suspected this’d be the set up, but a hundred and fifty? Moloch’s balls. Niamh was meeting me with the funds, but I was definitely short coin.
Niamh was my ostensible eerie, my derelict darling and uncharted star of my heart. But that wasn’t a solid state of affairs. It’s difficult to keep tabs on another person in Dublin, and most of our Stygian trysts happened when we were two bottles deep, after popping a couple of Eltdown shards. Like I said, there ‘ent much to do round here, and what you are doing barely cuts through the black. You might as well try and be iridescent while you’re at it.
But back to business. I kept picking my teeth, a bit of loathsome meat stuck between my molars. I was already cursing myself for splashing out to get them sharpened. What can I say? I’m vain sometimes. “When d’you want paying?”
“If you’re not back by midnight, I’ll strip it for parts,” Mags replied, the dimples on her elbows deepening as she crossed her arms. “They’ll fetch well, and I won’t have to worry about getting my head et.”
She wanted to be rid of it. Understandable. It was a royal delicacy, and no one wants the Old Ones darkening their door. If it stayed too long, they’d sense it and converge. Bear down to eat away its sanity like peach flesh sucked from the pit.
I nodded, a jerk of my chin, and she held out her hand. Before either of us could seal the deal, the otherworld monkey-thing spoke.
“Please,” it said, its fingers wrapping round the bars of its cage as it leaned in on its haunches. Saltwater leaked from eyes undulled by the blood red moon. “Where am I? Please, help me.”
I dropped to my own haunch, tilting my head to comprehend it proper. It jerked away, scrabbling to the back of the cage like it thought I might bite.
They’re good teeth.
“Dublin,” I told the pretty thing. So like a normie, but plump and fresh and lacking the bones pressed against skin. Well-fed and bred under a blue sky and a yellow sun. “You’re in Dublin, baby blasphemy, how’s she cuttin’?”
“This isn’t Dublin,” it gasped and gawped, lunging and gripping the bars. “I live in Dublin, this isn’t Dublin.”
“It is here.” I turned back to Mags. “Clothes not included, no?”
She sniffed. “I’ll be keeping them for meself.”
“Effulgent.” I reached a hand to its shining, thick hair. It jerked back with a cry.
“Stop acting the maggot.” Mags’ voice was lit with annoyance. “We in accord?”
“We are, yeah,” I told her, standing. She held out her hand again, and I ran my tongue round my sharp teeth before gripping the tip and biting down. My mouth filled with the tin taste of my own blood, and I spat a piece of me into Mag’s open palm. The lump sat in the centre of her hand, surrounded by spatters of bubbled blood-spit.
Mags grunted her approval and put my deposit into her apron pocket.
“You got until midnight,” she reminded me.
I tilted my head and waggled my brows. “Sure, ‘tis that you’re dying to meet again, ‘ent it Mags? You can’t be having with the thought of weeks between seeing me.”
That earned nothing but rolled eyes and Mags’ exit from the room, as she went back to tend the squirming things in the rest of the oddly bent cages.
I stood, mouth sore and skull pounding. I needed a drink to set my entrails right after last night’s foolishness. But aside from business there ‘ent much else to do in Dublin but be foolish. It’s all survive or die, so we grab at whatever bit of living we can.
“Please.” A whisper, but musical for its lack of croaking, gibbering or generally damned undertones. “My name is Elaine. Please help me.”
I glanced back at the blasphemy, the creature of another dimension. Its eyes were watery, fingers gripping and flexing all panicked at its cage. I held up my own hand, comparing the grey of my skin to the health of its own.
“Errah sure, I’ll be seeing you again.” It looked at me with big, watery eyes. “You’ve time to kill. If t’were me, I’d spend it ruminating on the word godforsaken.”
Having expended the extent of my convivial advice for the day, I eldritched out of the dank stink of the Menagerie, onto the streets of Dublin.
Noxious fumes wafted up from the River Liffey, and the breeze carried a hint of distant screams. Head pounding, the taste of blood in my mouth, I stalked over the slick roads. Frightened eyes peeked at me through sackcloth-covered windows. Other normies hunched past with their shoulders high and their heads low. The North might be our part of the city, but the city is theirs and we know it. The whole fucken’ plane of existence is, come to that.
‘Twas only a couple of years ago that Saint Bridget came from the underground. We all gawped and stared as her and her ilk handed out food to the starved, talking incendiary words about freedom and stars. Making trouble. Fucken’ eejits. They were back below quick enough, in the face of thrown stones and the Displeasure of the Upper Classes. She still lurks about Whitefrier, offering blessings and being a nuisance.
I cut through May Lane, to the corner of the old distillery. There was life rousing from the slums within, as a crowd gathered on the road to watch a Cyclopean Ghast and a Daemoniac Thing With Waving Tentacles snarl and lash at each other on the side of the building, contravening the laws of gravity. They were a constant around here, a stone’s throw from the Christchurch Crypts.
I found a streetlamp still standing and leaned against it, watching the show. The tide of bile was back, a Black Sea pushing up from my middle. I was hot and sweating, so I pulled off my coat and dropped it to the ground.
“Reg!” Niamh swanned up, all red hair and eyes like storm-tossed seas. “What’s the craic?”
Niamh is a performer. She accompanies the cultists when they need a bit of flash and ultraviolet for their Southside house-calls. In the age of the easily expendable and endless choice, panache is a prerequisite for unholy services. If the priests want the proper antiquarian gold-leaf gigs, they need a bit of gilt. Niamh sings in black and evil tongues for the Upper Crusted Scabs, while they feed on the chanting ululations of the properly qualified. And of course, flogging to nerve-wracked, pre-performance cultists is always a lazy way to make coin quick. If Niamh turns up with Reg Barry right beforehand, her coat full of unholy artefacts and snortable substances… well. ‘Ent that good luck for everyone?
“Is it true?” she asked, eyes darting. “Was it there?”
“Aye, ‘twas.” I fished my hand into the pocket of my trousers and pulled out a copper. “I’ve a mouth on me, go fetch us a pie willya?”
“And what’ll I get out of that?” She’s an absolute ride, my Niamh, but she can be a fucken’ weapon when she’s in the mood. She snapped the peeking strap of my bra, and I slapped away her hand.
“Fuck off,” I told her. “Did you bring the bag?”
She nodded, all cheek quashed under the weight of the small sack she pulled from her dress. There was a hundred’n twenty coin in there, more money than she’d seen in her life. Not that lifespans round here were anything boastable. “How much is Mags wanting?”
“Hundred’n fifty by midnight. I aim to nab it well before that, so I need some hungering cultists, quick.” Mind tripping, working. What could I hawk that was worth thirty coin?
Niamh was wearing something that used to be white but was now a stained yellow, like a sheer funeral shroud. I could see the freckles on her shoulders, like echoes of old stories about constellations. Some miracle of modern tailoring made it so there was barely a bulge in the fabric when she pocketed the leather bag. “I got a gig tonight.”
“Where’s it at?”
She didn’t answer, and instead reached into some secret fold of her diaphanous dress, producing a bona fide coffin nail and putting it between her lips. I pulled a pack of matches from my pocket and shook one out, lighting it with a scrape of my thumbnail. She likes being fussed, does Niamh. As I lit her cigarette, the green flame flickered in an evening breeze carrying a smell of blood and raw meat from somewhere else in the city.
“Stop acting the maggot,” I told her, shaking out the match. “Fester up.”
She took a long drag, the burning tip of the cigarette casting a glow against the line of her cheekbones. “Don’t see why I should,” she said on the exhale. “Nothing in it for me, like.”
“Ah Niamh.” I threw out my arms in an expression of entreatment. “My effulgent eerie. A chuisle mo chroí. Y-syha’h lw’nafh. Be sound for once in your life, I’m in the horrors.”
She gave me a grin like a cat eating fresh carrion, smoke trickling from between her teeth. “Lurk it, right? I got a gig with the Church of Starry Wisdom on Waterloo Road.”
“Well, aren’t you the cute hoor?” No point playing furtive, that was an antiquarian gig. Old money to be had at that. Old, cold and pulled from Stygian depths. “You absolute wagon. How will that set you up?”
My brain mush was already working this to my advantage. What did I have for the cultists? Run of the mill religious artefacts. Glass tubes of essential salts to reanimate dead shades. The thumb of a bedlamite preserved in formaldehyde. A couple of joints of Arkham. The last might not appeal to priests but sure fuck it, you never know.
Sick of swallowing, I leaned sideways and spat mostly blood.
“What’re you after doing to yourself?” Sharp eyes on my Niamh, like glass shards under grey silk. She brought a hand to my face, the skin of her palm smooth and cool.
“Here,” I said, gesturing at the smouldering quarter of her cigarette. “Give us a stabber.” She acquiesced. I put it to my mouth and briefly tasted her, before it was all blue smoke.
Her thumb brushed my cheekbone. “Something gone areseways by you Reg?”
I huffed laughter at her concern. Things were bleak, but not the end of the world. After all, that already happened. “Swing by my digs tonight, about two hours after midnight. We’ll have a joint of Arkham and get demented, yeah?”
The hand withdrew. “After midnight?” Her brows pulled together. “But sure, I’ll be with you. I’ll take you to the cultists, and we can go on from there. C’mon Regina, what’s the plan? Where will we flog it?”
I stopped my mouth from twisting at the full name. Regina. Queen, in the old tongue. You could get into trouble with a handle like that. Mam had funny notions, it has to be said.
“We?” I asked. You could’ve cured meat in my words, I was that dry. “When did you become active in this operation?”
Niamh’s tiny, but full of razorblades. The shock on her face was gone quick. “Right, I get it. I see how it is,” she bit, voice low and hard. “You’ll fuck me on your mattress, then fuck me over when you’re done.”
“Last three of your operations were my doing, and I ‘ent seen a cut of the business yet.” Flashing eyes and acidic anger. This little thing from some wracked street where they ate rat for dinner. All bile and fire, skin smelling like a lily-wreath. “You’ve sold to the Royals before, everyone knows you can. Why are you getting all prideful? What are you looking to prove?”
I hadn’t a head on me for abuse. Not with my stomach in bits, the monkey-thing’s feathery pleading rattling round my brain, and a pervasive need to make cash quick. “Eerie, be gleeth. When are you meeting the cultists?”
“Are you foetid?” she gaped, all squamous with me now, like being mo grá, mo croí and my ultimate eerie doesn’t get her a little more healthsome living than most. “Fhtagn hell, you won’t work with me, but you want my work? I can do what you do Reg, it ‘ent as hard as you make out.”
“I ‘ent your fucken’ eerie, and I ‘ent telling you shit. Fuck off. Ululate all you like. Go down to Kilderry and piss in the moon-bog.”
A cry went up, and the crowd by the distillery scattered. The Ghast and the Daemon were out-and-out brawling now, with the Ghast wrapping a wrongly-jointed limb around its combatant, slamming it against the side of the building. I threw an arm around Niamh as bits of brick rained down, yanking her to me and turning my back against flying debris. Breaking free, the Daemon fled the attack, galloping on all fours across the face of the building before jumping and landing with a teeth-rattling thud, making its way back to the Christchurch crypts.
Throwing back its head and letting out an unearthly screech, the Ghast gave chase. As the monstrosity thudded and slammed its way in pursuit, bits of falling masonry gouged holes in the cobblestones below. The ground shook under my boots, and we both went down hard. Hard, and that was how my head hit the cobbles, purple lights flashing in front of my eyes and Niamh falling from my arms. “Reg!” she shrieked. “Mind!” and I turned and rolled as a black mass smashed into the street beside me, ricocheting stones cutting my skin.
After a minute or two, I uncurled and clambered to my feet. The street was silent, save for the settling dust and slow emergence of its occupants. At least no one got their face sucked off. Though to be fair, that’s the sole excitement you get round here. One thing about living in eternal damnation under the rule of unutterable gods is how fucken’ repetitive it is. You know things are rank when boredom outpaces terror.
I recognised the fallen black mass that almost ended Reg Barry: One of the Wingéd Victories, a giant black-bronze angel robbed from the monument on O’Connell’s street. She fell so hard her jagged wing cut into the cobblestone, like a hot knife through fat. How the denizens of the distillery managed to nick it and cart it to this side of town, I’d never know. The ropes around its neck and waist hinted that it was hung like some sort of ward, futile protection for the nights the Upper Classes came calling. The full size of the statue blocked off the alley. She had an axe in one hand and a bullet in her chest – a remnant of the Rising. I’d put coin on saying her mug mirrored my own.
“Piss’n yig on it,” I muttered, casting about for my coat before finding it and beating off bits of street. “Niamh? Where you at, love?”
No answer. For a split second my heart was in my mouth, but then I clocked her standing on the other side of the angel, a little way down the street.
The coin-filled leather bag in her hand.
“Cut me in on the job,” she called out. Voice calm, face pale and impassive. She shook the sack to set the coins clinking.
“I will in me fucken’ hole,” I spat, fury gripping my tongue before sense could. I took a step forward and she took one back. The wide wing of the Victory jutted into the sky between us.
‘Twas almost dark, the blood-moon creeping ever higher, but there was still light enough for me to see the sharp smile on my eerie’s mouth as she turned and ran. As soon as I saw her red hair flash, I put a boot in a fold of the angel’s robes and vaulted… but my bones rattled when I came down the other side. I stumbled and fell, head pounding and groaning from its previous meeting with ground. The world tilted, and black stains spread across my eyes.
When I managed to crack a lid, Niamh was well gone.
A lesson on the returns of giving trust in Dublin: Fuck all, and a head wound.
Back when I was a feral pup, I spent my time sitting on the ruins of the O’Connell monument, surrounded by the Wingéd Victories. All dirt and teeth, I’d bite you as soon as look at you, and thought nothing of running South of the Liffey just to gawp at the sky. Squinting at the black, hoping for a glimpse of shining, distant light. A stupid runt, who couldn’t cop that there’s no such things as stars anymore. The Angels never joined my search (last thing I needed was for them to go Gloon) and after a while I took a leaf out of their grimoire and quit looking up at all. No point, nothing happening up there. Keep the eyes straight. Keep awake.
Now I was back in the proper Pale, down South and patrolling Waterloo Road. The glow of the blood moon was smothered by thick clouds, and warm rain fell from the sky. Georgian monstrosities stood on either side of the street, guarded by regiments of aesthetically placed trees with stabbing black branches and curling tendrils. There were ornamental letter boxes that had the unutterable names of Old Gods calligrified in gold. The road underneath my feet shifted like it was sleep-breathing.
Niamh was the one who proffered the who and the where, all I was lacking was when. I’d been knocked out longer than I thought, but the angle of the moon told me there was still a couple of hours before midnight. We were just swinging in on prime-time for cultist house-calls. She’d show. She had clients to satisfy. In this gig-economy there’s few who can afford to let coin go.
Find the gig. Find Niamh who’s been yigging around the city with a hundred and twenty of my fucken’ coin. Shake her ‘til her teeth bleed. Sell to the cultists to make up the final thirty. Buy the monkey-thing for one-fifty. Wipe out my debt. Easy.
I stalked the cobbled streets, trying to get gleeth. Hard to say who I was readier to rend, Niamh or me. I never should’ve told her about the monkey-thing in the first place. She couldn’t be party to the deal I had going, the awful fucken’ geas on me, but I got langered and ran my mouth.
It’s always Niamh I want to tell things to, regardless of festered wounds between us.
There. Hunched pricks bedecked in black robes, heading up marble steps into a mansion. I broke into a gallop but missed the chance to catch her, reaching the gate as the last robed figure paused at the door.
“Mz. Barry,” sez the figure, all hizzing zzzz’s like he’s an insect of Shaggai himself. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
I tilted my head and clocked him proper, squinting my eyes against the tepid rain. I knew the geezer. Face like a craggy cliff, with carved lines from the edges of his mouth. He ‘ent got enough bile in his belly-sac to be proper disrespectful of me.
“Bishop Ronan,” sez I, laying on smarm. “What a mutually beneficial state of affairs.”
The post-postulant prick was pustulant. He let out a stenchly sigh, an indication of the festering sores on his insides. “How can I be of assistance?”
“Give us a robe and free entry. I’ll give you a discount when you want to get in a religious state of mind.” I would in me hole. I had thirty coin to make off this crowd. I’d have to wait til’ after the mass at this stage, but beggers who choose are corpses.
I watched him weigh the benefits of getting pissy and insisting that his beliefs, his worship, his fear of the True Gods, that’s what got him off, but he abandoned it and nodded, reaching into a leather sack at his side. I pulled on the cloak he tossed me. It reeked of spoiled meat and goat.
“Twice tonight,” he sighed nonsensically, watching me pull up the hood. “Don’t do anything,” he added, like I was fucken’ feotid.
I scratched my lips with thumb and forefinger, like I was sewing them shut with a rusty needle.
We walked to the still-open door, where there was a butler with a bit of an Innsmouth look about him. The butler grimaced, his scabrous skin folding like warm wax, before nodding and letting out a low croak. He turned and walked down the dimly lit corridor while the doorframe warped towards us like a gaping mouth. The Bishop stepped in. Fervently wishing I had the foresight to pack a naggin, I followed.
Reg Barry in a Big House, did yiz ever think ye’d see the day? I’d never set foot in one, not even when selling the normie with the stammer. I conducted that unpleasant business in a wide open space, conducive to hasty getaways. The true green-bloods have mastered the art of social standing to mask their savagery, but put a juicy morsel in their midst and things get unspeakable.
Dáithí, it said its name was.
It lost the stammer when it screamed.
The carpet underfoot was lush and thick. It moved and pressed against my boots, the colours flowing and changing like a time lapse of rotting fruit. The light pouring from the lamps was oily. I pulled my paws inside my robes so none of that piss-yellow luminescence would touch my skin.
The batrachian butler turned around and peered at us through the gloom with bulbous wet eyes. He resumed his loping, bobbing walk down the corridor to where the cultists congregated. We followed him into a dainty drawing room with rippling green wallpaper and a flickering candle-laden chandelier that gave the illusion of being fathoms deep beneath a murky sea.
The robed parties were standing sombre and ready for their employers, their hoods rendering them faceless in the dim light. The butler bowed low, then left.
Somewhere above us, something thumped and scraped and then went still.
Despite being reminiscent of the dark oceanic abyss, the room howled luxury and fine living. There were strange twisted knick-knacks on fine thin tables that were good for nothing but showcasing ostentations. Framed daguerreotypes bedecked the walls (subjects best left unexamined) and the elegant furniture boasted such fripperies as throw-pillows and crochet. The cultists stood in a semi-circle facing a hunched and lumped divan that matched the wallpaper, its lace like dirty foam from some barren beach. ‘Twas surely there the Royalty lounged, while their devotees chanted and Niamh sang.
Could’ve been the décor, more likely it was the blood in my ears, but either way the sea crashed in my skull as I pushed through the robes, looking for the smallest one that smelled like lilies.
“Barry!” I heard Ronan hiss from a distance, but he could have been in R’lyeh for all the mind I paid him. “We wait in silence while they lie dreaming!”
There – a figure turning away, a red curl slipping from under their hood. Too quick for her, I grabbed Niamh and shook the bitch. “The fuck d’you think you’re at? Think you’re ultraviolet, is it? You little gobshite.”
Another thump from upstairs, this one loud enough to set the bloated chandelier tinkling. I barely copped it. I was too busy gripping my mot’s arm while she twisted and spat fire. “Fuck you,” Niamh panted, her breath caught in her throat. “I got the thirty coin, I snuck it here, and I’m doing the sale. You want to keep me under your heel, but I’ll make three times the coin back, and you know it!”
“What’re you-” I stopped, my brain catching up and my eyes landing on a shaking figure behind her. With creeping horror, I reached out and yanked off its hood. There it was. The filthy, tear-streaked face that had haunted me all day. “Niamh,” I said, tongue like lead. “What’ve you done?”
“She- she said she’d take me home,” Elaine stammered. Niamh had done her up in ashes and grease to take the health from her face and fool the cultists. The dirt and the stink of the Menagerie had done the rest. She tried to take a step back and almost tripped on the over-sized robe. “I just want to go home!”
“What’s going on?” Bishop Ronan appeared at my side, the agitated cultists moving in around us as though they could smother our offensive behaviour. “Mz. Barry, leave before-”
Upstairs, the thumping started. Heavy, rhythmic thumping that made its way across the ceiling and began to pick up speed. A noise then. A noise you wouldn’t expect to hear from a distance. Like the noise of someone rubbing their hands together, soft and slow. A whispered sound that made its way down the corridor. A skin sound. A hideous friction. A noise that sounded wet.
Niamh only knew them when they were sitting pretty and applauding her fine singing. She knew them from a distance, all carriages and fine suits and crinolines hiding the horrors.
I knew them otherwise.
As the thumping and slithering came closer and closer, the cultists raised their arms and began to chant black and guttural benedictions, in ecstasies at the approach of their Royals, their Gods, their Betters. I grabbed them both, my girl and my goal, and pulled them behind me as I ran.
We sprinted for the front door, but the bones of the house writhed and contorted around us, the opulent non-Euclidean architecture folding us into its depths. Instead of the street, we burst into a tenebrous bathroom with a wall of slimy, undulating pipes and a heaving bath of scummy water. The pounding in the walls and the sounds of slick twisting limbs followed us, underscored by ceaseless chanting, as we ran through the next door and the next. We ran across an attic crowded by still figures wrapped in stained white shrouds. Then we were in a pantry with swarms of fat flies and sweating jars of entrails floating in green brine. Again and we were in an ancient library choking on dust and a miasma of death and madness. Again and we were somewhere dark and cold and silent, and we had no hands or mouths or eyes, and then finally we were in a dining room with floral wallpaper that twisted into screaming faces, and wide windows facing out onto the street. Now the chanting changed, it warped into the terrible, brutal shrieking of torn vocal chords and broken minds, and it came from the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the chair I picked up and hefted in my hands.
“Reg, send it back to them.” Niamh’s voice was hoarse and frantic, her face bloodless. “They’re only chasing us ‘cos they want its head.”
Elaine just sobbed, hiding in the stained sleeve of her robe, mind wracked with terror and overblown with the incomprehensible.
I defenestrated the chair, the glass blowing outwards in sparkling shards, and for a split second my mind said Look. There. Stars.
“Jump,” I told Elaine, but merely as a nicety. I was already hoiking her up by the waist, pushing her to the windowsill. She’d get a bit of glass in her, but sure what harm. “They’re after you, so jump.”
She jumped. Not a second’s thought. Wise little monkey-thing.
“Why’d you save it?” Niamh was dead white and shaking. “They want it, Reg. You could’ve left it and we’d be out.”
“You’re next, come on.” I tried to jerk her towards the window but she stepped back, confusion and betrayal writ large on her face, mixing and mingling with hideous dread and rising madness. Thudding, slithering and screaming, all of it getting louder and louder, closer and closer. I made a grab for her again, and in that second I saw her mind crack as she stepped back towards the impermeable darkness of the house, eyes wide and locked on mine.
“You could’ve left it Reg, why did y
On my hands and knees in the dark, I vomited. I gripped slimy leaves between my fists, small stones digging into my palms, my nose filled with a hideous creamy burning. On a wet footpath under the blood-moon, I vomited my stinking guts up.
For a shining minute, I couldn’t think beyond that. For a glorious handful of seconds, getting sick on the side of the road was the most pertinent of my problems.
The fog cleared and I jerked onto my knees. I dug my fingers into my skull like I could crack it open and sieve through the wet chunks, to find the missing pieces of what just happened.
Before I could even begin to think, something screeching rose out of the darkness. The ghoul-thing threw itself on me, and I slammed against the wet footpath, jagged nails clawing and scratching at my eyes. Twisting my head, I balled a fist and hit hard beneath its hood. It crumpled and fell as I rolled and scrabbled to my feet, mind locked on keeping it down. When I stamped on its ribs something cracked, and the dark figure let out a normie-sounding moan. It was one of the robed cultists, crying and screaming and clawing. “Gone!” He shrieked, climbing hands and knees towards me, grabbing at my trousers. “Gone! Gone!”
The moon came out from behind a cloud and in the light I could see his eyes were empty sockets. His fingers dripped with blood and vitreous.
Then he launched, his hands around my throat, squeezing, crushing. I went down choking and kicking, while the cords stood out on his neck and tiny beads of blood formed where his clenched teeth met his gums.
The world started going thick velvet black, and all I could think was sure listen, how bad?
A crunching, wet sound.
The blind cultists’ features went slack. His fingers peeled from my skin and he crumpled to the ground, skull hitting the pavement with a sickly thud.
“Oh,” Elaine said in a small voice, as I coughed and gagged, bent double and seeing flashing lights. She was holding one of those fhtagn ornamental letter boxes in her hands. It was dented. “Oh fuck.”
“Aye yeah,” I agreed, head hung and croaking like I hailed from Innsmouth. “That about sums it up.”
The Olympia Theatre was all flaking gold and former glory. Theatrical endeavours are thin on the ground, and most plays focus on the wonderful ascension of our rulers from the sea’s frozen depths. ‘Ent much for hocking in a theatre, all the gold is paint and the gilt is brass, so it was easy enough to break inside.
In a glorious show of nationalism, patriotism and any other ism you care to lay hands on, the interior was bedecked with the Irish flag. Green for the royal blood of our rulers, white to represent the peace they‘ve brung to our land and gold for this glorious age we live in.
Éire, land of Saints and Scholars. Pity both are banned.
Elaine was shivering and shaking under the robe, but all my bones ached individually, so I can’t say I had much sympathy. A grip on her arm, I pulled her across dirty floorboards and over stained threadbare carpet to the back of the theatre, behind the stage. She watched as I fished around the dust and the dirt, finding a thick length of rope hidden in the gloom. Teeth gritted, I grabbed the loop of rope and pulled. Slowly, ponderously, a section of the floor lifted away, revealing an opening into the ground. Cold wind rushed up from the darkness, bringing the sound of running water.
“Go on,” I told Elaine, jerking my head at the rope ladder. She stared back. “I saved your sorry hide tonight. How about some benefit of the fucken’ doubt?”
She hesitated, and then started to climb down the rope ladder into the cold air. She was in bare feet so she took it slow, soles sore from traipsing the city. Then again, traipse probably ‘ent the word. You have to move fast to avoid amassing that pesky mental miasma.
Deep underneath the Olympia Theatre, the Poddle River flows. The story goes that a huge, black pool once lay at the meeting point of the Poddle and the Liffey. A Dubh Linn. That’s where this fair city came from, pushed and birthed from its depths.
Saint Bridget and her crew are the only ones who use the forgotten river. Last worshippers of the false Roman God, they got in and out of the city undetected through an artificial watercourse built long before the True Gods graced the earth.
The torches flickered as I reached the bottom of the rope ladder, limbs stiff and aching. Elaine was shivering on the narrow brick ledge beside the water, staring at this new crowd like she was deciding if this was a fire versus frying pan scenario.
“You’re late,” Bridget said, her hands on her hips and a thick grey plait hanging over one shoulder. She wore a white, stained robed, and was flanked by two priests of similar garb. A currach bobbed on the flowing water behind them. “You said before midnight.”
I spat into the river. “You didn’t have a vision about it, no?”
I shoved Elaine towards her. One of the priests, a black woman with silver beads in her hair, stepped forward and took the girl’s hands. She murmured something soft and soothing, and Elaine shuddered, eyes closed, before allowing herself to be folded into her arms. Together they made for the currach.
I didn’t watch them go.
Bridget held out a bag and shook it in a manner that set the coins clinking. “You’d have got a lot more from them above,” she said, a look on her face like she had the knowing of something.
“Errah,” I said, taking it. “Yiz’re easier on the eyes.”
Bridget insisted on blessing me before I left. Pure ráiméis, but sure lookit. What harm.
The Auger on the corner of Temple Bar had stained bandages around his eyes. His hand shook as I dropped a coin into his palm. “One more and I’ll tell you of time to come.” His thin reedy voice was cracked and broken. I didn’t take the offer. Don’t know anyone who does.
The pale sun struggled into the sky, thin light breaking through the grey clouds, cut here and there by the infected glow of newly opened slices. Who knew what horrors would be dropped on the city before the blood-moon rose. I drank my bottles on the Ha’penny Bridge as it swayed beneath me, weighed down with love-locks. The distant sounds of suicides rode the wind as they found a home in the Liffey.
When we die, we go in the dirt and the worms eat our eyes. We only get this life, and I reckon I’ve lived mine as well as I could.
Except once there was a boy with a stammer. And I shouldn’t have done that.
Under the Olympia, I asked Bridget whether we were square, her god and me. She couldn’t say. What good’s a god when you don’t know which way they’re leaning?
I drained the bottle of its contents, before lobbing it overarm into the Liffey. I watched it bob on the scummy surface for a second before a white polypous limb reached up and pulled it beneath.
When I pushed, I could pull visions of Niamh from the dark. Never as a whole, only in bits and pieces. Hoarded experiences. The colour of her hair when it caught the light. The soft, golden constellation of her freckles. Skin like cold silk beneath my fingertips. A whisper against my neck. Lilies.
I hoped she was dead.
I knew she wasn’t.
The sun finally reached the peak of its arc, the only star left uneaten by our benevolent betters. They let it shine onto this writhing, glistening city, crowded with giggers and scavengers and bones and blood and everyone eking out a bit of living without ever being alive.
I know them, the great Old Ones, perfidious Albion from the lightless place outside the universe.
I know them, but who am I?
About the Author
Méabh de Brún
Méabh de Brún is an award-winning Irish playwright and author. She specialises in weird tales, ghostly happenings and Hiberno-English. Her short fiction has featured in such publications as The Stinging Fly, Banshee Lit and Mysterion Magazine. She can be found waxing lyrical about the eerie in the everyday at @MeabhdeBrun.