An Diabhal sa Fear Ciúin
Long ago, there lay a village at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne. A collection of drab, white-washed cottages topped with yellow and brown thatch, long since swallowed by the marshy earth and mists of time. One day a stranger rode into town on a tall black horse.
“The name’s Flanagan,” he said in an exotic Yankee drawl, as he stooped to enter a smoky hostelry. He had returned to the old country in search of his relatives, he told the assembled patrons. None had heard of any Flanagan’s living locally. Save for one old boy, but he kept his whist, drained his whiskey and slunk out the door.
He had a memory of a Flanagan alright, Mary Flanagan. He was but knee high to a grasshopper at the time, but he still remembered vividly the night they dragged her, spitting and cursing from her cottage. Witch and Devil’s harlot they called her. His face was pressed to his mother’s skirts, lest he witness the black deed done that day. But he still remembered her screams and the thick cloying scent of burning flesh in his nostrils.
“Can I buy you boys a drink,” the tall Yank asked three local lads.
“Aye, sir. That’d be grand.” The three supped the pints of porter and small balls of golden malt presented to them.
“Do ye like a game o’ chance?” they asked the stranger, winking at each other, for they had a quare way of dealing a hand of cards, in the shadow of the
. Mourne Mountains
“Why I like nothing better,” the stranger grinned, good naturedly, as he stroked grey, drooping whiskers.
With neither a curse nor a frown the strangers pile of Yankee dollars crossed the table, while the boys drunk his black ale and gut twisting whiskey. “Well you’ve plum cleaned me out, I’ll grant ya that. I’ve not a dime left.” he said.
The local lads had done well, but greed is an awful thing and the accumulation of wealth is as frustrating to a young man as chasing its tail is to a dog.
“Have ye nought left to wager, what about yer watch?” said one
“Or yer gold cufflinks?” said another.
“Well I do have one thing,” the stranger grinned, fishing a gold sovereign, thick as your thumb, from his waistcoat pocket. “What would you boys stake for this little ol’ thing?”
The three young men gawped, they’d never seen its like, doubted anyone within sight of the mountain, or the whole county even, save maybe the Lord Lieutenant, had cast their eyes on such a prize as was presented to them by the strange foreigner.
“Would you bet your immortal soul?” the man asked. The three boys, blinded by greed and coveting the treasure like nothing they had ever wanted before failed to notice the sly look cross the man’s dark eyes.
The old villager who ran from the inn reached his cottage just as a wind wailed across the rocky peaks, he shivered at remembered tales, from his youth, of banshees and malign spirits, ghosts of aggrieved ancestors riding the mountain winds.
The stranger put down his cards, four aces. The boys put down there’s one by one. All their cards were blank, not a mark, not a symbol. The man began to laugh, not the good natured rumble of before but a harsh, mocking cackle. The three young men of the village covered their ears with their hands, but nothing could drown the demonic howl.
The old man heard laughter in the air, a woman’s laughter. An image of Mary Flanagan’s dour, hard face came unbidden to his mind, sending a shiver of icy fear and feeling of doom piercing through him, chilling his veins.