Authors: Bernadette Walsh
I’d begun to drift off when the bedcovers were ripped off me. “Wake up, Orla.”
The room was chill and damp. I sat up and opened my eyes but could see nothing in the pitch black room. I struggled to find the unfamiliar lamp.
At the end of my bed stood a young woman with long black hair and green eyes, encased in a long red robe. The Devlin robe. She held out her hand to me. “Orla, love.”
“Granny?” Although this apparition bore little resemblance to the older woman I’d remembered from my youth, around the eyes and mouth she looked like my grandmother Roisin.
“Yes, Orla. It is me, Roisin.”
I laughed. “Sweet Mother of God, I’ve lost it now.” I reached for the pack of Silk Cut on the bedside table.
“No, love, don’t be afraid. I mean you no harm.”
I lit the cigarette and took a deep drag. “Well, that’s good to know. So how’ve ye been? Are you enjoying the aul wake?”
“Orla, be serious. We don’t have much time and I’ve much to tell you.”
“How’s my mother? Is she enjoying the afterlife?”
“Not yet, no. She’s away gathering her strength. Death for a Devlin woman is always hard.”
“Ah, so it’s like she’s away on her holidays, is it? Maybe she’ll send me a postcard, so.”
Roisin walked over to the bed and grabbed my arm. The cold emanating from her hand tore through my arm. The pain brought tears to my eyes.
“Enough, Orla.” She let go of my arm.
I rubbed my arm, which had turned numb. “Fine, say what you have to say and then get out.”
“Your mother was wrong not to tell you about your history, the Devlin history.”
“My mother was wrong about a lot of things, but believe me, I know more than enough about the Devlins.”
“You are Mary’s only daughter. You are next in line.”
I took another drag from my cigarette. “For what? The mental ward?”
“Your powers will come to you soon and you must be prepared.”
“You are the sole heir to the Devlin legacy. Not only are you now the Devlin witch, you are the first in over one hundred and fifty years not to be beholden to
. That means your powers will be strong, much stronger than mine or your mother’s.”
is just a story. He’s not real.”
“He is.” Roisin placed her cold hand upon my forehead. “You know he is.” She closed my eyes with her cold fingers.
No more than five, I was playing in my grandmother’s garden. A kitten rubbed against my leg. It ran outside the garden gate. I chased it down the road. It was fast and I struggled to keep up. It headed for the woods. I followed it and then a man, a tall man, even taller than my daddy, grabbed me. With His black hair and green eyes, He was the scariest man I ever saw. He lifted me by my hair off the ground.
The next thing I remember, I was lying on a cold stone table, like an altar at church. I couldn’t move, couldn’t open my eyes, and I hurt. All over. The tall man was next to me. I heard voices.
“Return her to us, healed and unharmed,” my Granny commanded.
“She is defective,” the man said. “I will not accept this one. Tell your slut of a daughter to make me another.”
“The Agreement is clear,” my grandmother said in a voice I’d never heard her use before. “You will receive the oldest daughter from each generation and no other. If you kill this one, there will be no more from my line.”
I felt the man hover over me. His breath, his horrible stinky breath, filled my nostrils.
Look at it, fat and ugly. No. This is not a suitable Devlin woman. Let’s kill it and start anew.
Return her to us unharmed. If you don’t, the Agreement is broken and Mary and I will be free.
Oh, yes, my lord,
my grandmother said, her voice low but strong.
The Agreement is quite clear.
Fine, take her.
He lifted me up.
But first I want to give her something to remember me by.
Teeth ripped my arm. My eyes snapped open and I saw my mother and grandmother, pale and speechless. I screamed as I flew through the air and landed at my mother’s feet.
“That didn’t happen. You told me I was bitten by a spider. Are you saying you lied to me?”
Granny touched the indentation on my left arm. “Of course we lied to you. What else could we do? I gave you tablets and you slept for hours after we brought you home. When you woke, we told you that you wandered away from the house into the woods and were bitten by a spider.”
“So that thing in the woods wanted to kill me? Because I was fat.”
“You favor your father’s side.
likes his women to look like this.” She touched her cheek.
“You mean he likes his woman to look like Him. Are we all related to that thing?”
“I believe so. So the stories say. He calls us His children.”
“Except the fat ones. Those ones He wants to kill.”
“Orla, your fair hair and blue eyes are a gift.
rejected you because of them. This is an opportunity for all of us.”
drains the Devlin witches, blunts our powers. But He has rejected you. That means you’ll be the strongest Devlin witch in over one hundred and fifty years.”
“But I’m not a witch. I’m a Dublin housewife.”
“Your powers should come to you soon and then you can fight
“I’m not fighting anyone. This is madness. Just a bad dream.”
“’Tis no dream, love. If your mother is dead and
attentions are not on you, then where do you think they are?”
“Who knows? Who cares?”
“Think, Orla. Who is the other female from my line?”
“I suppose Bobby and Caroline’s daughter, Kathy. But she’s a baby.”
“Yes. And she didn’t inherit the Devlin powers to protect herself, she only inherited
attentions. She’s vulnerable. You know she is.”
“No. That can’t be true.”
“It is. And it is up to you to stop Him.”
“You’ve had a hundred and fifty years to stop Him. What makes you think I can do it now?”
“Because you’re not hobbled by Him. You have the power.”
“I have nothing but a headache. I’ve my own family. My own life. I won’t end up in the Feale with the rest of you.”
“I’m not giving up, Orla. I’m not leaving. I’ll haunt you every night if I have to.”
I reached over to the bed stand table and grabbed one of my mother’s many pill bottles. The tablets the doctors gave her to stop her seeing visions and hearing voices. I popped a pill in my mouth. Within minutes, Roisin’s mouth moved but nothing came out. Soon she became transparent and eventually faded from view.
The funeral was about what I expected. Reams of strangers filled the church, more gathered outside on the steps. I stood with my mother’s brothers and their families. Caroline and her two children sat with the Griffins, her new family now. Baby Kathy, nestled in her mother’s arms, slept through the Mass. Almost involuntarily, my eyes were drawn to the child. Her lips were little rosebuds, her hair black and curly. She was an exceptionally pretty child. Like a china doll. A fragile china doll.
My mother, who in life was a lonely, solitary woman, isolated on her mountaintop by her innate shyness and her madness, was now celebrated by throngs. Strange. The whole thing was strange. But later, when they lowered her coffin into the Devlin family plot, next to her mother, Roisin, and countless other Devlin women whose bodies were now no more than dust, the tears that had so far eluded me flowed. Caroline, annoying Caroline, enveloped me in her arms and stroked my hair like a child. And I let her.
After the two days of raucous waking, the village and the remnants of the original five Mountain families were spent. The village was quiet as I drove through its crooked streets, and the Mountain even more so. On the Devlin side of the Mountain, all was still. The cattle and sheep that usually dotted the fields seemed to have scattered and the sole animal I saw was the
. Alone and sitting under the gnarled hawthorn tree, its eyes, like black saucers, seemed wet. As if it, too, were crying.
After a restorative cup of tea and a slice of one of the many apple tarts brought by the villagers, I felt better and ready to tackle my mother’s closet. I sorted everything in three piles: save, donate and burn. I’d promised the new tenants, the Griffin’s oldest daughter who was moving back to Ireland from Birmingham with her young family, they could have the cottage by next week.
Originally, I’d wanted to get rid of the place. Sell the cottage and its acres of surrounding land. With land prices the way they were thanks to the recent Celtic Tiger, even a remote place like this should’ve fetched a good price. But when I brought the deed to the local solicitor, a distant cousin, he explained to me the land could not be sold. That what I’d inherited was a life estate, whatever that was. To break the trust would take time and money, neither of which I had in abundance. I needed to get back to my three lads in Dublin. So the easiest solution was to let out the cottage and lease the fields, for a nominal fee, to John Griffin, a local farmer and another distant cousin, who lived on the other side of the Mountain.
Save, donate, burn. The last pile was by far the largest. And even those things I wanted to keep seemed hardly worth saving. Mostly old pictures of people I didn’t recognize. But, much as I loathed the Devlin side of my family, even I couldn’t burn old pictures.
Most of my mother’s wardrobe fell into the burn category. White silk sheaths and red woolen robes, at least ten of each. Where the hell had she worn these? I probably didn’t want to know.
I’d cleared through most of her closet when I found a large leather-bound book. On its cover was a raised crown of thorns. I threw the book in the burn pile.
I went into the kitchen and made myself another cup of tea. I’d made great progress, and hopefully could leave in the next day or two. After my tea, I attacked the kitchen cabinets and boxed and labeled the old dishes and bits of pottery. They weren’t much, but a women’s shelter back in Dublin could probably use them.
By ten o’clock I was shattered, both emotionally and physically. Prepared to crawl into bed, I was surprised and annoyed to find my piles had been tampered with. Three red robes along with three white sheaths and the book had been shifted to the save pile.
“I don’t want these, Roisin. I’m not bringing this rubbish into my house.”
Roisin appeared beside me. “You will need them, love.”
“No. I won’t.”
“Take them with you. Sure, what harm could it do?”
“You may not believe this, dear grandmother, but unlike the rest of you heathens, I am a Catholic. And I’m raising my boys as Catholics. I don’t know what you were all up to on this Mountain and I don’t want to know. But I do know I don’t want this in my house.”
Her cold hands lightly touched my cheek, numbing my skin. “You will need them. To help Kathy.”
“I’m not helping anyone. I told you. Besides, Caroline and Conor Griffin are moving to New York. They’re leaving next week, to live off my brother’s insurance money no doubt. She should be safe enough from whatever this thing is.”
“Maybe. She might be safe. For a while. But what if He can travel? We don’t know if He can travel.”
“Well, why don’t you ask someone on your side and leave me out of it?”
“The time will come when you will need to face Him. To fight Him.”
“I am going back to my boring life in Dublin. Boring and ordinary and just the way I like it. I’m never setting foot on this Mountain again, do you hear me?
or the faeries or the devil, or whoever else you think is wandering around, is welcome to it.”
“Ah, love, it is not only the Mountain He wants. He wants His children as well.”
“I’ve heard enough.” I walked over to the nightstand and lifted up my mother’s tablets.
Roisin grabbed the pill bottle out of my hand. “No, Orla, it is not good for you to take these. It will only weaken your mind. And your power. I will leave you now. But I will be with you, watching, and whenever you need me, call for me and I will come.”
“I won’t be calling you.”
“Maybe. But I am here if you need me.”
For some reason I laughed. “You’re ‘here for me’ then. Just like Caroline. Fantastic.”
Her cold hand touched my cheek again, stealing away my laughter. “Know this, Orla. Whether you like it or not, you will be a powerful witch, a powerful Devlin witch. And with power comes responsibility. And danger. You will need this book and the sacred garments. To protect yourself and those you love.”
I held up the pill bottle. “Goodnight, Roisin.”
She looked sad then. “Goodnight, granddaughter.”