A story of an Irish Halloween...
|It is surprising to see how similar certain holidays are in different parts of the globe. Halloween is celebrated practically everywhere, and although the name changes from country to country, the custom appears to be identical.
After the death of my beloved wife, I moved to Ireland to retire. While living there, my interest was captured by the way the Irish celebrate Halloween. I have written, for your consideration, an account of exactly what took place there. It is a chilling tale of ghosts, spirits, and magic books, and the really scary part is that it is all true....
Ireland is normally known for its tales of leprechauns and fairies, but not so well known is the fact that the Irish celebrate a day not unlike our Halloween. Legend has it that on October 31st the dead are able to cross over through a barrier into the realm of the living. They call it Samhain. It was on that day that I first discovered the book.
I’m not much for superstitions or demons and such, but now I have reason to believe that perhaps there are things in this world that are as ancient as the earth itself, living along side of us, veiled in mystery.
I reside on my small yacht just south of Westport, at Killary Harbor. I live there alone, retired and mellowing, attempting to write my life's story. I still carry my age pretty well for an old geezer and the bachelor life suits me just fine. On most days, I sit at my desk writing all day or go out fishing in the bay. I enjoy watching a beautiful sunset now and then too, and of course, like always, I think about Margaret.
God, what a woman. She was the fieriest redhead you’d ever want to meet. In fact, she’s the reason I’m now living in Ireland. I swore to her, before she died, that we’d come here. She always talked about it so fondly. She said there was no finer place in all the world. So, when I lost her, I bought this boat with what savings we had left in the bank, named it after her, and brought her ashes home to Ireland. It’s been several years now, but I still wear her wedding ring on a silver chain about my neck.
Anyway, like I said, I’ve never been one to be very superstitious. But one day, while out fishing on the morning of October 31st, I saw a small boat approaching. It was breaking through the mist without a sound. No sail or motor could be seen or heard, and yet it cut across the choppy sea nimbly and headed straight for me. I sat there and watched as it advanced, feeling the hair stand up on the back of my neck and arms. It was no ordinary-looking craft, in fact, it was quite extraordinary.
There were burning torches stuck in its fore and aft, and it looked like some miniature Viking funeral ship. It bumped up against my craft and stuck there, going no further. I leaned over the side to take a closer look.
It was made of wicker and straw tied tightly together with handmade ropes. In the center of the craft was a built up pedestal made of flax, and upon the pedestal sat the book.
It looked quite old, probably an antique worth a fortune to its owner, and I could see queer lettering adorning the cover. It was unreadable to me, but it looked like a very old language of some kind, maybe Gaelic. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of foreboding and I didn’t want the boat next to me. Whatever the book was, or whoever it belonged to, I’m sure they didn’t want me touching it.
I pushed the boat off as hard as I could away from my ship. To my relief it sailed out into open water, so I turned and prepared to make way back to the harbor. I was just about to start up the motor when I heard a thud against the side of my boat. I went to investigate and to my surprise the unholy-looking craft was again at my starboard side.
This time the torches were extinguished, and the black smoke from them wafted all around my deck. Perhaps by my touching the boat when I pushed it away caused the flames to go out. I don't know, but I became quite frightened as my mind conjured up all sorts of images of evil doings and sacrifices by some secret sect of hooded Druids. I wondered then, who had set this boat upon the water? What unholy ceremony was attached to this ancient craft? I didn’t know the answers, but out here floating on the foggy ocean alone, one tends to imagine.
Letting my fear get the better of me, I quickly went to the wheel and started my boat. I gave it the gas and headed back toward shore. I felt very strange--apprehensive, too afraid to even look behind me, for fear of seeing the cursed boat following. Eventually, the feeling of ill will began to consume me. I reluctantly turned and looked over my shoulder.
There it was. The little boat was following me as if I were towing it in with a rope. I increased my speed, but somehow it kept up with me as if magically propelled. It was too much for my mind to handle. It didn't make sense--couldn’t be happening. My mind kept thinking about the book. Finally, after realizing I couldn't outrun the strange ship, I shut down my engines and coasted silently across the glassy surface.
What did the boat want? What could it mean? Was I going mad?
My thoughts were interrupted by a discernible thud against the side of my yacht. I knew what it was without looking. I hurried to the side with every intention of pushing the boat away from mine again, but for some unknown reason, I reached down and grabbed the book. It felt heavy in my hands, smelled funny, and I perceived that the cover was not made of anything known to me, but it was definitely not leather.
To my utter amazement, the little straw boat started to sink. I stood there looking at the spot where it went under, half expecting it to rise again and follow me. But the sea continued to roll on as if nothing had happened. The boat had fulfilled its destiny. I realized then, that I now held the book in my arms. Slowly, I opened it and the smell of death filled my nose.
The paper was like none I had ever touched or seen, and the words were indiscernible to me. I tried to read the first sentence, sounding out the words phonetically, when the wind suddenly came up, the sky became as bruised as a boxer's body, and the sea tossed and churned. A chill ran down my spine. I thought about just throwing the book overboard and having done with it, but for some reason I quickly took it below deck, and locked it up in my old chest. Once put away, I began to feel better. My thoughts were more rational again and I returned on deck.
Outside, a dense fog bank had moved in without warning, and the fear I had felt earlier, crept back into me. I couldn’t see twenty feet in front of me, and it appeared to be getting worse.
Then I heard the voices--so many, many voices.
Some were laughing, some crying; others hollering and calling out for people I never knew. They swarmed around me--they became the fog. Then they began to swirl and take on shape, dancing above the sea. I rubbed my eyes and backed away. There were hundreds of them: men, women, and children. The ghostly forms flew in and out of my boat. They stood upon the main mast, and then dove down into the water, only to come up again and curl about the surface. I heard things being thrown around below deck, dishes breaking and doors slamming. As the ghosts flew about, some came right up to my face and glared at me, examining me closely to see if perhaps I was someone they knew. A very large shape flew right through my body, and I could feel the icy trail it left behind. It stole the very warmth from me, craving the spark of life it once knew.
Another form approached me. Gently, it lifted the chain about my neck and pulled at the ring there, and then let it drop upon my chest. It was Margaret!
She was twisting and curling about me. I could even smell her! She too passed through my body, and every memory we ever shared was revealed to me. “My God, Margaret!” I screamed. My heart became so heavy with longing that it felt as if I couldn’t hold it in my chest another moment. I reached out for her and she moved away, as if caught up by the fog. “Margaret!” I cried, hypnotized by her swirling shape. “I need you! Please, don’t leave....”
I began to cry and moan from the sheer pain of losing her again. I had never felt such despair. I saw her trying to break free of the others that were pulling at her form. I reached out to help her, and was set upon by more ghostly figures, keeping me back. I watched as she disappeared into the mist; lost to me again. “Margaret!” I yelled out, into the unearthly fog. The ghosts seemed to relish the fact that my heart was breaking, and began their tormenting anew.
I was attacked by hordes of spirits from all sides. They laughed at my anguish and tortured my soul for what seemed an eternity; all the while I could hear their voices groaning and moaning. My mind finally gave way and I screamed for them to depart and give me peace. But this only seemed to give them more pleasure; they attacked me viciously. Backing up, trying to keep clear of them, I tripped over a coil of rope that lay upon the deck. I must have hit my head on something because I can recall nothing after that.
When I awoke, it was to find that I was no more than a hundred yards from the pier. My head was spinning, and my temple was caked with dried blood. I succeeded in getting my boat back into its stall and moored her there. I stumbled down below deck only to find my quarters in total disarray. I looked at the open chest and discovered its contents were missing. The book had been taken by its true owners, and to this narrator's relief, I am glad I have never laid eyes upon it again. Perhaps it was some ancient script written for the spirits alone to understand, or some magical incantation allowing the dead to pass through the veil of death into the realm of the living. I would never know for sure.
Collapsing upon the bed, I fell into a deep sleep.
It is said, that the Druids carved turnips into evil spirits; putting candles inside and placing them in front of their homes. On Samhain, the spirits of the departed would cross over, and upon seeing the turnips, would pass by that house leaving the occupants undisturbed. I sat upon deck at sunset, carving grotesque demons out of turnips for this year's coming Samhain. I would never spend another Halloween in Ireland without them.