Tremble, ye mortals! For chapter 11 is upon you!
I spoke about this a bit in the comments section of chapter 10, but it bears pointing out here, as well, that I put a good deal of work into the audio positioning in each of these chapters, which is something I'm pretty proud of; placing different characters' voices in different speakers, in the hopes of creating a certain illusion of three dimensionality. The hope is that it gives the impression of two people speaking to each other from across a certain amount of space. I think that it works rather well, especially if one listens via a pair of headphones.
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Download Chapter 9 directly here
Download Chapter 8 directly here
Download Chapter 7 directly here
Download Chapter 6 directly here
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The place was thick, indeed, with foul aromas and raucous noise; perhaps fifty patrons sat huddled around a third as many tables, all of them deep in their cups. Even as I watched, a fight broke out in the corner of the room over the issue of which of two mens’ wives were more worthy of the others’ adulterous lusts. A pianist, whose demeanour suggested a certain habitual drunkenness itself, crudely plunked away in the opposite corner, producing an energetically unrecognizable rendition of what I’m sure he believed was a popular song, while inebriated patrons, foolishly, encouraged him in his illusions of talent by dropping coins in a cup placed upon a filthy napkin atop his instrument.
It took a few brief minutes to locate the man we sought.
“Seamus Michael O’Tool at your service, sir”, he said, thrusting out a grubby hand towards me for a handshake he must have been mad to have believed he would ever receive. He was a scruffy-looking young man of middling height, with sandy brown hair and broad mutton-chops creeping down his cheeks. Though he appeared not to be unhealthy per se, he nevertheless looked lean and slightly on the malnourished side, which I decided was ultimately to my favour. What stood out most about him, however, was the faint but exotic accent with which he pronounced the unutterably alien syllables of his name. There was that about him which was nearly otherworldly in nature.
“Yes, well.” I sat down across the table. “I am Doctor Sir Reginald Kingsley II. Pleased to make your acquaintance,” I lied.
He nodded, apparently neither shocked nor especially hurt at my refusal to befoul my hand with contact with his own. “And who’s this lad? Your son?”
I laughed heartily. “Nothing of the sort. This is my young ward, Barty. I took him in some three years ago, when, after a month or two spent sleeping under an awning in my backyard and eating table scraps my maid was feeding him, he managed to earn his keep by murdering a burglar who was attempting to steal a rake from my woodshed out in the back lot.” I ruffled his hair with my hand, affectionately.
“The blighter took over two ours to die after I stuck him with my shiv!” Barty said proudly. “I watched every second of it!”
“There’s a good lad!” I chuckled at his boyish enthusiasm. “He’s been a part of my household ever since.”
“Funny. He looks just like you...” Seamus said, cocking his head curiously.
“Well, I’m sure I wouldn’t know. They all look the same to me at that age,” I chuckled. “But enough about that. I’ve been told that you’re a man to speak to about a planned expedition to the dark continent of Ireland.”
His eyes positively lit up at this. “Ireland, sir? Are you serious?”
“Indeed I am. Have you some knowledge of the place?”
“Knowledge? I was born there, sir! I’ve spent the past twelve years trying to find a way back there, but I’ve had no luck finding work aboard any ship that comes within twenty nautical miles of it! The things I’ve done, sir”, he said, desperation and longing evident in his eyes. “You’ve no notion of the things I’ve done trying to get onto a ship that would take me home...”
“Nor any interest in knowing!” I asserted firmly.
“I once stowed away in the bilge of a fishing ship, hoping to hijack a lifeboat and paddle the rest of the way home,” he interrupted me, “Only to find the ship was bound for Norway! I nearly froze to death!”
“Sounds like a fine time you had...”
“There was a time!” He blathered on, “When the Catholic Church was plannin’ on sending missionaries to Ireland. I joined the church and went to Seminary school, hopin’ to become a priest and be sent there!”
“A noble deception...” I allowed.
“But then Pope Pious X was elected, and the day I was to have been ordained, he declared Ireland a Satanic myth, and when I pushed the matter, I was excommunicated and declared anathema!”
“Happens to the best of us...” I attempted to cut him off. To no avail, though!
“I once spent three years scrimping and saving,” he pressed on, indefatigable, “living off of bread crusts and rotten fish, so as to pay a ship’s captain three hundred pounds to transport me to Ireland, only to learn - too late! - that he was not in fact a captain at all, but merely an actor in a play entitled ‘I own a Boat and will Sail you to Ireland for Three Hundred Pounds!’”
“I heard that was a grand production,” I offered.
“It was! But the ticket remained the worst three hundred pounds I ever spent!”
“Your own bloomin’ fault for not keepin’ up with modern theatre!” Barty shouted and threw an unidentifiable lump of food he’d picked up from a neighboring table at the man.
“Quite right!” I concurred.
“I suppose that’s true...” he said, miserably, as he wiped the clump of foodstuff from his face, leaving dark, greasy streaks in its place. “But it’s just been poor luck each time, I think. It’s always been that way. Blast this luck of the Irish I’m afflicted with!” He moaned loudly, placing his head against the table and his hands atop his head. He began to sob weakly.
In spite of this womanly display, I was guardedly hopeful. His claim was outlandish, but if it were true, then this could be a significant blessing indeed. It would certainly go a ways towards explaining his bizarre accent and inhuman-sounding name. “Tell me: How came you to civilized lands?” I wasn’t quite ready to accept his story on face value just yet. Let him spin a yarn for me, I thought, and let us see where it leads.
“Not much to say, good sir”, he sighed. “I was fishing in the shallow waters off the coast one day when I was but a boy of seven, when a great storm brewed up. Fool that I was, I stayed out too long, and soon found myself swept out to sea. If I hadn’t found a bit of flotsam to cling to in the storm, sure’n I’d have been done for then and there. As fate would have it, I was spotted by an english fishing ship a day or so later, though, who took me aboard, cleaned me up and fed me. I wound up serving aboard that boat for the next four years, gradually learnin’ the language, all the while tryin’ to explain to them that I wanted to go home.” he sighed miserably again at this. “They was havin’ none of it, though, sir. They kept on sayin’ ‘Maybe next year, maybe next year’. N xt year never seemed to come though. It wouldn’t be until years later that I learned that a year was just three hundred-odd days long, and it’d actually been next year for ages, the bastards!”
“Facinating story!” I lied. “Well, how does tomorrow sound to you? We plan to set out at high noon, and are in need of a man knowledgeable of that land of hideous and blighted savages, and who better in that respect than one of those self-same beasts in mens’ flesh?” e
Seamus beamed at me proudly straightening up in his chair.
“I had been prepared to offer you monetary compensation for the labour, but it seems now that perhaps I can offer you something still more dear than that: Free passage to the island, and no requirement upon you that you should burden me with your presence during the triumphant return trip. I’m sure you’ll find this more than fair.”
“More than more than fair!” He blathered, leaning forward eagerly. “Oh, sir! You won’t regret this, I swear it!”
“Leave the prognostications to the seers of Delphi”, I responded, making reference to something I knew nobody in earshot could possibly be expected to understand, seeking to impress nobody but myself (and succeeding handily in this). “For the nonce, my chief concern is that you should be at the private dock where is moored my ship, The Regal Swine.” I scribbled down the address on a scrap of paper from my pocket. “Find a civilized adult to read this to you tomorrow morning. You may need to travel some miles from here to locate one, and so I suggest you begin your day early.”
“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!” he sniveled as he stood up from the table, clutching the note to his chest as one might a sacred relic. He bustled towards the door, bumping into several patrons and spilling several drinks as he went. “Just wait till I tell the wife and children,” he shouted back towards me, before, just as he was about to leave the establishment, he crowed “We’re goin’ home!” This elicited a smattering of cheers from around the taproom and a single isolated ‘Good riddance!’ which itself garnered a smattering of laughs.
Barty and I sat at the table for a few long moments in relative silence.
“Wife an’ kids, huh?” He asked, dryly. “Funny, that.”
“Oh, bother!” I swore.
(To be continued!)