Tir na nÒg, the Land of the Young

1848, Liverpool

The Erin’s Queen was moored in the seething port of Liverpool. Cargo of every shape and vibrant colour heaved from vessel to quay. Sounds assaulted the senses. It was easy to be lost in the cacophony of barked orders from old-men to young-boys, creaking ropes on overworked pulleys and the persistent famished screeching of circling gulls.

The mass migration from Éire had brought news of exploitation, death and unseaworthy coffin ships. Of course I’d heard such things, but there were no choices. Our farm had been seized and notice had been served. Prison awaited, unless our landlord paid for our deportation, which he did in a manner that implied we should be grateful to him.

We had little time to gather belongings and we were told the hold of the ship didn’t have space, yet Aoife insisted on changing into what passed for her Sunday best. “We might have nothing in Quebec, but we don’t need family, or money, or even a job,” she said, lit by the struggling morning rise. “We have each other. We have faith. When we first set foot on new soil we will have excitement and pride and hope. We’ll be reborn. We’ll learn. We’ll thrive, my love.”

When she said such things, I forgot the hardships of toiling the lands and remembered why I married her. I could look into her eyes of blue hope and allow myself to dream, even with my ragged clothes and blooded hands.

Before sail, I held Padraig tightly. My precious boy, my gossoon. Although he was five, he looked like a toddler. Sometimes I feared I would crush him in my embrace. “The journey will be hard, son. You mustn’t cry, whatever you see. It is a long way and we would do best not to upset anyone. Can you do that for me, Padraig, my little man?” To this he grinned and nodded.

The dockland skies were gunmetal grey and clouds pregnant with overdue rain. The moon hung in the morning heavens, a caught trespasser in the dawn. It was only as the ship set sail that I realised the vastness of the anthracite sea. Approaching the harbour walls, a solitary tree jutted out of the stonework, all twisted convex and concave limbs, black and very dead—it stood like a guardian between the worlds.

Before twenty days had passed, we were no longer repulsed by stench of spilled stomachs, other smells filled the air—sickness, disease, the stink of humanity turning on itself to fight for scraps of mouldy bread.

We lost the first one on day twenty-five. An old woman, Josephine. She started the journey with eyes of empathy and wisdom. In my great shame, I was relieved when I no longer had to look at her unfocused and lifeless stare. Once the rattle of the death in her lungs had left her, I could once again hear the churn and crack of the angry ocean. Her family pushed her up, through the square of blinding light. We heard the splash a moment later. No prayer was said.

By day thirty, sharks followed the boat, they say.

On day thirty-three, it was a jumble of bodies, insects and madness. Departed relatives were pushed aside, survivors refused to touch them and the captain paid one sovereign for each body recovered and jettisoned. We watched the boat-hooks descend into darkness and grab what they could—hoisting, dragging—it mattered not, the treatment the dead.

By day forty, Padraig had succumbed. His fever not tempered by his mother’s touch, his discomfort barely eased by the tales of Tír na nÓg, the land of the young. I did not tell him the tales of Oisín and Niamh, but of a forever-gossoon named Padraig.

When he passed, no tears left his eyes.

We would not allow him to be touched, or hooked. When others talked of the disease he would bring, Aoife made inhuman screams and I threatened consequences.

Weeks passed. No words. No mourning.

Stepping ashore the new lands, she straightened her dress and held her head high, carrying our rag-doll gossoon in her arms.

I recall these events for you, my precious girl, for there is hope in everything. Even when enduring a day, minute or second feels impossible, there is a fragment of hope. For you were the first born in these lands and the world is yours. With your first breath, we found purpose.

Follow Mark A. King on Twitter: @Making_Fiction

Let Me Tell You My Story, To Help Us Pass the Time by David Shakes

Squealing brakes, glittering glass and concertinaed metal took my babies from me. Cold in the ground they lay and I, in my grief, wept freely into that consecrated soil.

* ‘There are no accidents,’ say the children. *

What had I done for them to be taken so young? It’ wasn’t right and I cursed the man who took them. He still lived, still walked the earth while my babies were buried in it. They didn’t even take his job.

* ‘No event has a life of its own,’ chorus the girls. *

‘Take up their bones and head for the hill where a single tree grows,’ Maman told me. ‘Wait there, don’t matter how long, wait – wait until the last leaf has fallen of its own accord.’

* ‘There exists a sacred cycle between the living and the dead,’ say the children. *

‘There is a price child, always a price.’ Maman said.

I said I would pay it. I didn’t have to think. I walked the hill and sat beneath the skeletal tree. My broken nails were caked in dirt. I picked them clean like the bones of my children that lay beside me – bleached white by the moonlight.

* ‘The serpent eats its own tale,’ chant the girls, giggling. *

‘When the bare limbs part the clouds and you see the stars, slip them bones in the water. Then tell Xevisio of the great harm done to you and yours. If your cause be just, He will ask Agbe what can be done.’

* ‘What you do unto another, you do unto you. We are all one,’ say the children. *

The sons of Mawu took pity on me, and my babies came back, swimming up from the murky depths. I blessed those Vodun and then bit my lips. Behind my babies’ eyes, old souls stared back – hungry souls.

* ‘We are the vehicles for the expression of the serpent’s power,’ say the girls, their voices deep and serious. *

First a voice from the waters said, ‘Your babies still slumber – they cannot be sullied by this deed.’
And then came a voice from the tree, ‘The Loa will do what must now be done.’
Finally, a voice from the sky said, ‘There’s always a price my child, always a price.’

* ‘We act for the He who made the trees and the ropes,’ say the children. *

So we walked down from the hill. I held their hands in mine, these babies who were not completely mine. We walked down the hill and met the road. We walked the road to the same stop where it happened.

* ‘All this has happened before and will happen again,’ the girls whisper conspiratorially. *

We got on to ride and I met you and told you my story. They didn’t even take his job you see? He’s still driving the bus.

* ‘You’d better get off soon.’ say the children. ‘Real soon.’ *

Follow David Shakes on Twitter:@TheShakes72

The Wolf Moon by AV Laidlaw

The wolf moon and the winter constellations shone hard and cold behind the branches of the birch trees as John Summer led the gelding by its halter along the track. Hoof falls cracked the icy earth. The gelding snorted a cloud of ghost breath that dissipated slowly in the moonlight. Then there was silence among the snowdrifts and trees until the old man, slouched on the back of the gelding, silver streaks in his black beard and his eyes hidden under the rim of his hat, began to sing a soft lullaby. He was drunk and his wrists were tied together with knotted rope.

“Hush now,” Summer said. “You’ll only call the wolves on us.”

“I don’t fear ’em. The wolves ran with me up in the mountains.”

The old man continued to sing the same lullaby Summer had sung to his youngest as the boy slipped away into the cold and hunger of winter. Summer dropped his hand on the Smith and Wesson in its holster and thought he could finish that song now. But there was a way with these things, they had to be done properly as his father had shown him and as his grandfather had shown his father all the way back through the generations. He led the gelding onwards, even as it stumbled over the rutted track, towards the hill rising naked from the woods.

When the old man saw the blackened and lighten struck tree on the hill summit, he stopped singing and sobered. “You’re gonna do this, ain’t you?” He twisted his hands and shifted his weight in the saddle but John Summer knew how to tie ropes too well.

“There’s more whiskey, if you want.”

The old man said nothing and Summer shrugged. The gelding stood obediently under the thickest branch as Summer clambered up the trunk, hands scratched by the rough back but too cold to feel. He looped a rope over the branch and tied it hard as he could, then dropped the nose around the old man’s neck. The old man raised his hands as if in prayer but there was nobody a man like that could pray to.

The moon turned yellow as it sunk towards the horizon, glittering the ice crystals on the tree. Summer slapped the gelding’s rump and it bolted back down the track. It would find its own way back to the farm, even through the darkness.

Summer stood and looked at the figure that was once a man but no longer a man swaying at the end of the rope, its feet pointing down and its head lolling to one side, still wearing the hat that hid its eyes. This was a simple thing done in the night, deep in the woods. That was the way his father had taught him. He drank whiskey to keep himself warm as he watched the winter stars fade and the pale blue dawn break across the eastern sky.

Afterwards, he walked back down the track to the farm and full moon followed full moon rising copper coloured into the night. He planted corn in the fields under the sun that burnished his skin and turned the air thick and dusty. Mary swelled with child and he told her they would cope, they always did, although there was nothing that could replace what they had lost last winter. The corn turned golden and Summer sharpened his scythe on the whetstone, over and over until the blade shone as if it cleaved the sunlight itself. From time to time he glanced towards the white mountains rising in the distance and gripped the scythe handle more tightly.

On the eve of the harvest moon, he sat on his porch and watched a figure riding down the track from the mountains. Summer walked to the gate to greet the man. He was old, silver streaks in his black beard and his eyes hidden under the rim of his hat, and under his breath he sung the soft lullaby that Summer had not heard in seven months.

“You knew I was coming back,” the old man said.

“You don’t learn your lesson easy.”

“Neither do you, John Summer.” The old man dismounted. He stood for a moment with his thumbs in the pockets of his jacket, looking at the farm as if he meant to buy the place. Then he took a rope from his saddle.

Follow AV Laidlaw on Twitter: @AVLaidlaw

The Winter of Whimsy and Wyrdness II Winners!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our winter flash fiction contest! We had many whimsical and wyrd tales from which to choose. It was a difficult decision but here they are, the winners of the 2016 Winter of Whimsy and Wyrdness flash fiction contest:

Second Runner-up:
The Wolf Moon by AV Laidlaw

First Runner-up:
Let Me Tell You My Story, To Help Us Pass the Time by David Shakes

And the Winner:
Tir na nÒg, The Land of the Young by Mark A. King

Congratulations! LCP will feature the winning stories on our blog and Mark wins the entire LCP catalogue!

The Winter of Whimsy and Wyrdness II

Happy New Year!

Welcome to LCP’s second annual winter flash fiction contest!

Below are the photos to inspire your stories about REBIRTH. You have until midnight on January 31 (PST) to submit up to four stories of 100-750 words each. Post your stories in the reply section below. Be sure to include your name, Twitter handle or other contact information, and a word count at the top of your story. See the complete rules here.

We look forward to reading your stories!

winter tree

girlfriends

Image credit: Girlfriends by Angie Chung (Yellow Sky Photography) Flickr under CC 2.0 
Image has not been altered from its original form.

The Cedna is Out Today!

CednaMaster2EBP

Today marks the release of our second offering of the year, The Cedna, by Emily June Street. The Cedna is the second book in the Tales of Blood & Light fantasy series. Get it today at Amazon, or special order a signed print version directly through LCP.

Get Book One, The Gantean, here.

Every Cedna is born to die, paying the balance that keeps magic alive. One Cedna desires a different path, free from the pain that comes with the sacred duty. As Gante faces destruction at the hands of Lethemian raiders, she fights against her fate as a ritual sacrifice. Though dangers loom on every side, the Cedna travels south in a desperate diplomatic bid to protect the island. Ethnic prejudices, old animosities, and a handsome stranger who pulls on her with a magical bond quickly overturn her plans, leading the Cedna on a world-shattering adventure of love, heartbreak, and war.

Every choice is final.

Check our blog in the upcoming week for Emily’s in-depth look at the lead character of The Cedna and more information about The Tales of Blood & Light series.

Enjoy!