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It was the day at the end of term and the clock mounted on the wall of what was once an old army barracks chimed out as if to announce the end of college and the start of the Christmas break. The evenings darkness was creeping over the walls and the trees as the street lights nearby began to illuminate, as I walked to my car, I knew I had a long drive ahead to my uncles old house in the country. The house had been empty now for many months and it was the first chance I had to carry out repairs and tidy up the house after he had passed away at the end of the summer. As I stood at the car door, my reflection glowing in the window, my eyes bloodshot and weary from long hours of study, my limp bedraggled hair, resting on the lapels of my black cromby overcoat and my long thin body reflecting indistinctively in a blurred image. My bones aching and weary, I stretched my foot behind my back and felt the tension coursing through my calf, I raised my arms above my head and behind my back and tensely stretched and clicked the bones in my long, lithe, pale fingers. A long journey into night was ahead, I turned the key in the car, as the engine gently rumbled then purred approvingly like a cat whose chin had been stroked, as I drove out the large black metallic gates of the college and past the cream coloured pocked granite walls.
The journey was long and as I moved from the rows of street lights on the old main drag, down dark desolate byways and boreens, the only light was from the headlamps of the car and a trickle of slight slivers from the moon and stars above. The CD player in the car was playing Closing Time by Tom Waits and his primal, growling, plaintiff howls, were met by occasional choruses of dogs and owls from a distance outside the car. Finally I arrived at my Uncles house, far away from any semblance of life, but for a cat that lurked by the door of the bedraggled and overgrown rural cottage. I dimmed the lights of the car and the jet-black cats eyes glowed ferociously like lime green marble, she shrieked, then hissed, before bounding up and away over the emerald ivy that smothered every sinew of the façade of the decrepit old cabin. The house was well over a half a century old and had been ravaged by sustained weathering, the lines, cracks and welts evidence of the rigours of ageing; it was now enveloped with greenery, weeds and moss.
As I got out of the car, a storm was brewing and the rain was starting to spit down with a venom. I opened the door and walked inside to pure darkness, I flicked the lightswitch, to no avail, it appears the electricity had been disconnected. I dropped the bag of shopping onto the floor, fumbling in the depths of my jacket, I found a box of matches, and drew the phosphorous head along the coarse black strip, a spark of orange light illuminated the hallway into the sitting room. Cupping the match with my hands, I moved through the dense cobwebs in the hall towards a sideboard in the main room and lowered the head of the match onto a half melted candle. There were numerous candles throughout the room and I lit them all, the house had a pungent smell of must and damp. Beside the fireplace was an almost full bucket of turf, as the house was freezing cold, so cold that my breath manifested itself as clouds of cold air in front of my face, I decided to build a fire. Using crumpled old newspapers that were strewn all over the floor, I built a bed of papers underneath a wigwam of turf. As the fire took hold, the shaft of the chimney seemed to inhale like a smoker taking a first drag and exhaled a waft of smoke into the sitting room. I could have sworn that the wall expanded, like an intake of air into your lungs after a deep breath. I was startled, as a spiralling howl of the wind squealed down the chimney like a slide on a helter skelter in a fairground, the breeze pirouetted around the room, smothering me in a chill like an ice cold spoon running down the contours of my spine. Suddenly all at once the house seemed alive, organic, living, breathing, the wax candles flickered frantically, the fire, now ablaze, danced to the swirling tune of the filtered breeze through the stack into the flue of the chimney. The drooping wallpaper slithered down the wall, snake like, suddenly the roaring tempest raging outside that was heaving against the walls threw open the window with a forceful crash, the curtains thrashed their limber arms inside the house flailing wildly. I bounded to the window, struggling to close it in the face of the wild storm raging outside, the shaft of the chimney heaved and howled a terrible screaming squeal, the fire roared and blazed and in the flames, I’m sure that my eyes did not deceive me, I saw an anguished terror inflicted face, eyes bulging, teeth clenched, lips draw out and protruded. I saw my own eyes in the flames staring back at me, as I huddled close to the flames to get a better look on my knees trembling, fearful and alone.
Then in an instant it was calm, the flames subsided, the breeze abated, and all that could be heard was the gentle flicker of the fire and the dripping of soft wax from the candles onto the sideboard and mantelpiece. I hadn’t been in the house for many, many years since I was a young child, I never liked it here, I always felt uncomfortable here, there was always a dank musty smell and I always felt a chill when I was here, walking around the house now all those feelings and memories came flooding back. I brought the bag of shopping supplies that I left in the hall, into the kitchen, the wax from the candle holder dripped down along my arms, burning my skin at first, then cooling and forming a taunt and tight trail of candlewax squiggles. I sat at the table, picking off the clumps of wax, and noticed an open journal in front of me. It was my uncles handwriting and appeared to be a diary of the last days of his life, I boiled a pot of water in the fire, made myself a cup of tea, and read through my uncles journal. As I read the journal a sense of general foreboding and fear was apparent, my uncle continually referred to a ‘dark force’ that was all around him, the ‘whispering voices’ in the walls, and the squeals of the night that heralded the demise of his own father in the very same house. In the last entry he wrote, ‘Of the family we are, she came to me many times, was always there around me, beside me carefully watching and warning the others, any woman through the years, she would be there watching, waiting, until they all left, and it was only me and her. Late at night so many times she would visit and kiss my lips in greeting and sit by the fire with me, stroking my head, till I fell asleep by the fire many nights and awake in the morning alone. The time I was to marry the young and beautiful daughter of Kavanagh, she came to the house, wild and angry, and left crying and screaming, that night in the depths of silence, I heard a sound that was a cross between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl, so loud that the windows cracked, in the morning Kavanaghs daughter was dead, found cold and lifeless in her bed by her distraught father. Now on this night, I heard that wail once again, just now, blood curdling and spine tingling and now I fear my time has come. When she wailed, I looked out the window, and there on the edge of woods just over the field, I’m sure I saw her, the enchanting ‘Morrigan’, gently combing her hair and in an instant she was gone, and suddenly a crow landed on the windowsill, her intense dark, stout bill and piercing dark navy eyes staring to the core of my soul, and then in a flap of her wingspan, she was gone!” And that was it, the last entry in his journal, I felt an intense cold shriver down my back, as I looked to the fireplace the flames were withering, and once again the house began to inhale a deep and powerful breath, the sound akin to a world weary sullen sigh. And far in the distance beyond the woods, I’m sure I heard a dull shriek, a wail, or was it the moan of an owl, then a noise like a glass being crushed underfoot and a spidery crack splitting the window. Outside the window the swirling breeze is wheezing a crescendo, and the faint refrain, ‘Koww, Koww, Koww”, grows louder and nearer, more distinct and consistent. ‘Koww, Koww, Koww”, than a rapping, a tapping, against the glass, again and again, louder and louder, the wailing in the distance grows louder and nearer, a screech and a scream! The refrain, ‘Koww, Koww, Koww’, echoes in my head, now deafeningly intense, like a head splitting migrain, as the tapping continues, the window cracks and smashes to the carpet, shards of glass all around and the curtains flailing and waving in the breeze. The fire is extinguished, the wind blows out all the candles, and I am alone surrounded by darkness and through the window I see a tall, slender figure with long hair walking towards the house, with a crow perched on her shoulder………….
Written By Darragh Breheny O’Donovan & Edited By John O’Donovan.