© Eamon O'Leary
YouWriteOn offers publishing for writers to help them reach new readers who like their writing.
Click here to email us for details.
Three days before Christmas and Marjorie’s in full flow.
“It’s a ridiculous idea," she said serving the roast beef, gravy, and roasties, “a loony murderer escaped from the Central Mental Hospital and the forecast is terrible.”
“He escaped in Dublin Marj, a hundred and sixty miles away,” said Tom.
“I’m not happy with this.”
“Listen, love, we’re not talking about them climbing Kilimanjaro. All I’m saying is its time to let them stand on their own two feet. No big deal to let them go to the cottage a few hours ahead of us. David is going on fourteen and able to look after himself and who knows, maybe he’ll get to show Cathal things he’s learned in Scouts.”
“I don’t know, the forecast is awful. Lots of snow the…..”
“Will you forget the damn forecast? I’ll drop them to catch the first train and get Christy Looney, the hackney-man, to pick them up at the station and drop them out. I’ll finish early and we’ll be down in time for dinner.”
Full of excitement, the lads egged on their father Tom who, as per usual, won the argument.
A tiny cottage in the Black Valley, he’d inherited it from his dad. A military man, Tom wanted his family to enjoy and experience the “old way of living”. Few changes made other than essentials Marjorie insisted upon: a wood-burning stove, fridge, and electric shower. She grew to love the place and managed without the weekly hair-do and manicure when she and the boys went there during school holidays.
Part of the community, Tom joined the mountain rescue team.
Marj got it right. Snowflakes as big as leaves fell before they reached the station. Fields white, the sky ugly grey as trees danced in the strengthening wind.The lads, especially Cathal watched the snow cascade earthward, knee deep it appeared as cattle crunched their way to shelter by the ditches.
A long delay in Mallow before an announcement. The train would be an hour late reaching Killarney.
It limped into the station three hours behind schedule. Christy waited, wrapped in a shabby Crombie and a woolly hat pulled over his ears.
“’Tis something awful lads, never seem the like in all me life. I’ll do me best to get ye out but most of the roads are closed already. God knows what they’ll be like out by The Gap.”
True to his word, he reached the end of the narrow road before admitting defeat.
“Lads, I can’t take a chance on going up the boreen. Will ye be ok from here?”
“We’ll be fine Mr Looney, thanks”, said David hopping out and watched his legs disappear. Although only two pm, it was eerie. Dark, despite the snow. No wonder 'tis called the Black Valley, he thought. Cathal followed and struggled. Almost three years younger and scrawny, but with a great sense of humour. He wore thick glasses and when David got wind of bullying at school, he sorted it. Cathal idolised his older brother.
They trudged up the long boreen, guided by naked whitethorn trees in the ditches. A tough trek, thankfully they'd no gear. Up before dawn, Marj had prepared a lunch. Sausage and crispy rasher sandwiches and baked oatmeal cookies. A bottle of Coke each. They'd scoffed the lot before Killarney.
“Phone as soon as you get there,” she’d said.
They made it. David carried Cathal on his back for the last hundred metres.
Pushing the door open, David flicked the light switch. Nothing.
“Brilliant,” he said. “The electricity’s gone. Quick, rummage around and find dad’s torch and the box of big matches. I’ll get the stove going. You see if you can text mum and tell her we’ve arrived.”
But Cathal had no success. The mobile signals had gone with the electricity.
“She’ll freak out when we don’t get in touch.”
David got the stove going using the logs that Dad had stacked in military fashion on either side of the fireplace. Ornamental and not intended for use. Instead, supplies hauled from the shed as required.
“We’ll replace these logs later. Now, let’s turn on the water.”
A few lazy squeaks and groans but the tap released not a drop.
“Pipes all frozen," declared David. “We’ll check later after the place heats.”
“I hope it comes back soon ‘cos I need to do a poo,” said Cathal.
“Well, hang on to it.”
“I’m kinda hungry too.”
“You’re a beauty”, we’re here with no electricity or water, the only light is from the fire, the storm is getting worse and your only worries are your top and bottom ends.”
They laughed and high-fived.
“Get the transistor from mum and dad’s bedroom, at least we can listen to music and get the news.”
The stove warmed the room, the glow making for a comfy feel.
“Cool. This is cool, isn’t it Dave?”
“Yep, sure is, now turn on the radio ‘til we see what’s happening.”
This is the news at 5 pm. The Government this afternoon declared a state of emergency in counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, and Waterford due to the unprecedented weather. Police report that all roads are now impassable. There are no trains running beyond Portlaoise. Electricity and mobile communications disrupted. Met Service says conditions will deteriorate further with no respite for three days.
In other news, Police continue to search for the convicted serial killer who escaped from the Central Mental Hospital. Last seen close to Heuston Station Dublin. The policei say he is dangerous and should not be approached.
They exchanged glances.
“I don’t think Mum and Dad will join us anytime soon. This could be a long adventure,” said David.
“Yeah, I hope that loony murderer doesn’t find his way here.”
“Nah. No way. Didn’t you hear yer man, no trains running? Ours probably one of the last.”
“What about my poo?”
“You and your poo. You better go but we need water.”
Cathal leapt into action. Within seconds he’d built a pyramid. A chair up on the kitchen table and the three-legged stool balanced on top. Up he went like a squirrel, an enamel bucket for company and opened the hatch to the loft.
“Pass me the torch”, he said, “I’ll check the tank.”
Impressive, David thought. “Any luck?”
“Frozen solid but I’ll give it a wallop with the bucket.”
He reappeared and passed a half bucket of water to his waiting brother.
“Back in a minute”, said Cathal, waddling off to the loo.
On his return, he announced he was starving.
“You’re always hungry. A bit of a gannet. C’mon, let’s see what’s in the cupboard. Mum always leaves a few tins.”
Beans, beans, and more beans.
They heated two large cans by the stove and scoffed the lot.
“Never ate so many beans before in my whole life," announced Cathal. “I hope they don’t make me…
“Don’t even think about it, the house is small enough without you stinking the place.”
They laughed and high-fived again.
“Ok,” said David. We’d better get ready for bed. I’ll drag the mattresses from the bunks, you get the sleeping bags and we’ll need the duvet.”
“This is great fun, isn’t it Dave?”
“Yeah, sure is, we’ll listen to the news at ten to get the latest.”
This is the news at ten pm. As weather further deteriorates in the southern half of the country, the army is on standby. In other news, police now believe the escaped murderer boarded the last train to leave Heuston station. Tralee the destination.
Cathal threw a glance at David.
“No need to worry. Big brother is here. That guy probably got off the train somewhere up the country. Anyway, there’s no way he’d make it out here.”
They settled down after feeding more logs in the stove. As Cathal drifted off, David crept into the kitchen, returning with a carving knife. He tucked it under his pillow.
“Dave, are you awake, I think I hear something.”
“It’s nothing. Maybe the weight of the snow making the roof groan. Go back to sleep,"
David got a weird feeling when he woke after a bad sleep. He checked his watch. Nine-fifteen. It should be bright, he thought, but other than a weak glimmer from the stove, darkness prevailed.
He discovered why. Drifting snow covered all the sash windows. We’re entombed... Perhaps this won’t be so much fun after all.
“What’ll we do for the rest of the day, “asked Cathal as he stretched, rubbed his eyes and farted.
They loaded up the stove and treated themselves to more beans.
“There’s no way we can go outside," said David. “If the snow is above the windows, we’d never get the door closed again if we opened it. Better go easy on the logs and save the batteries in the radio and torch."
The news brought no joy. A murderer on the loose and worst weather on record.
The house felt eerie in the semi-darkness. Flames created many strange shadows which disappeared as quickly as they’d appeared. They amused themselves by playing cards, rummy the favourite family game. By midday boredom set in. A game of scrabble followed but ended in an argument.
“Ok”, said David,” dad said I might show you things I learned at Scouts. I'll teach you to play poker. Not sure that's what he had in mind."
Either David was a good teacher or Cathal quick on the pick-up, but by late afternoon Cathal reckoned that David owed him a thousand euro.
Time for more beans.
“I am going to make a lifelong promise here and now," said Cathal, struggling to finish, “I will never ever again eat beans.”
The nine pm news brought more gloom.
With communications with southern counties still affected by the weather, Police could not confirm but believe the escaped convict left the train at Killarney.
“Don’t worry, he’d never make it out here. We’re running low on logs, so throw two more on and they'll have to do for the night. Let’s get to sleep.”
As they did their best to keep warm Cathal whispered:
“I’m getting kinda scared.”
“No need to be. That guy could never get this far”. As they fell asleep, David put his arm around his younger brother.
David woke with a jolt. He heard something. Before he'd time to react, the door crashed open. A frozen specimen threw a ghastly glare before collapsing on the floor. Cathal screamed.
“Shut up and get the rope from dads rescue kit.”
Within seconds, David put his scouting skills to use, tying the man’s legs and hands. Cathal used large cable ties he'd found in dad’s bag to make sure he wasn't moving. The stranger resembled a mummy.
“Don’t know," said David “doesn’t look too good. His body is so cold, so blue. I’ll see if I can find a pulse.”
“I don’t want to go near him," said Cathal, “what if he wakes?”
“Stop worrying. Even if he does, he can’t move. And I’ve got this knife… just in case.”
David knelt and put his face next to the bearded and grazed mug of their house guest.
“I don’t like the way one of his eyes seems to be open and looking at me”, said Cathal, “it’s making me terrified” and with that, he ran into the kitchen and returned with the enamel bucket. Without a word, he put the bucket over the man’s head. Using a marker he’d got from the cupboard, he drew a face on the bucket - a funny face.
David watched in disbelief.
“You’re something else, really something else.”
Sleep did not come easy. The prisoner moaned through the night, uttering a few words.
They couldn’t make out what he muttered. David kept the knife at the ready.
“What’s he saying”, asked Cathal.
“No idea but it sounds foreign, not English, but your bucket isn’t helping.”
“I hope someone comes to the rescue soon,”
“Hopefully. Look, there’s light coming thru’ the windows, it’s brighter this morning. Quick, turn on the news. It’s just eight.”
Good morning. This is the news at eight o'clock on Christmas morning. A happy Christmas to all our listeners. The Met Service reports a dramatic increase in temperatures overnight and police say main roads in the South are passable.
In other news, officers confirm that the man who walked into Killarney Police station yesterday was the escaped serial killer. Also in Kerry, members of the mountain rescue team hope to search for the missing German tourist last seen in the Black Valley three days ago.
“Oh shi., “said David jumping to his feet, cutting through the hundreds of knots.
Cathal removed the bucket. The man stared with a frightened and bewildered gaze.
“Hello, my name is Cathal, and this is my brother David. Happy Christmas. Would you like beans for breakfast?”