Thursday, 23 January 2014

Righteous Fever - Infection


The day Austin stood before Julie making his wedding vows was the happiest of his life. He promised "to take her, forsaking all others, in richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death they do part." This vow was something he was never going to break, not even in the face of the Fever.


It all began in the sweltering slums of San Paulo, Brazil. The first victim was a hunter, he had recently come back from a trip through the rain forest. He broke out in a high fever a few days after he got back, it was so bad he went to see a doctor. The man had a raging thirst which seemed never to abate. The doctor was puzzled, there were so many conditions that could result in these symptoms but none would fit exactly what he was seeing. In the end the doctor could do little more than take blood and send the man home. The doctor sent the samples for testing but the hunter arrived back far quicker than the results. The very next day the hunter was carried into his tiny office tied to a makeshift stretcher, convulsing. His fever was sky high, his eyelids and lips were crusted with oozing blisters. The puss was incredibly sticky but continued to weep without clotting. The man was burning up, the doctor transferred him to hospital on the spot. As soon as the medical team in the hospital realised they were dealing with a new and possibly deadly infection they placed the man into quarantine and sent the authorities to round up his family. More blood samples were taken, cultures formed, but the virus that was captured was unknown.

By the hour the hunter's condition worsened, blisters spread into the mouth - covering the gums, the tongue,and the roof of the mouth. The doctors were excited and frightened simultaneously,they were dealing with the unknown. The medical team tried to control his temperature and swab the puss that was coming from the blisters.  The infection was incredibly aggressive, the blisters descended into the man's trachea and new urgency was added. If they could not keep his lungs free of puss the man would not be able to breath. As the hours passed his breaths became gurgles. The doctors suctioned his airways constantly but the thick yellow mucus was winning.It took hours but the inevitable happened. The man went into coronary arrest after practically drowning in his hospital bed.

An autopsy revealed the man's lungs had developed hundreds of the blisters all of which were oozing. They had covered the wall's of the lung with sticky yellow mucus, blocking the Alveoli from extracting oxygen or transferring carbon dioxide waste into the air. The doctor's quarantine procedures seemed to work as a full week went by and none of the contained persons developed the new Brazil Fever Virus. After the hunter's family and the doctor had been quarantined for a full week, all seemed to be in perfect health. The containment procedures had done their job. They tested the family, all were found to be carrying a harmless form of the virus, a variant of the one the hunter died from. After two weeks they were all still unaffected, so they were released. The dead man was thought to have succumbed to a mutated form of this new virus. Work continued to label this new discovery.

Two weeks after that, the hunter's wife presented with a fever at the very same doctors office. All the family were rounded up again but it was too late, they were now all showing signs of the fever. Over the next few days every person who had come into contact with the hunter was either dying or dead. The Virus, now officially know as "BFV",  was being transmitted via the sweat glands, it could dwell on warm human skin for up to 72 hours and was transferred by first or secondary contact.

First contact was skin to skin, secondary contact was skin to object to skin. It was found that even off the host body the virus could live up to 24 hours. Once the virus passed to a new host it entered into the blood-stream through contact with the area around the eye or mouth. After initial infection, the virus multiplied, it spread through the host but remained unrecognised as a threat by the immune system. The virus was using a chemical cloak which fooled the bodies defences. Each virus seemed to be wired with a countdown clock because 28 days after the initial infection date all virus shed this cloak and mutated into their active form. By now their sheer numbers of virus within the host system overpowered the immune system. The fatality rate was close to 80% and the infection rate was even higher. Due to the long dormant state and ease of transference "BFV" posed a real threat to the future of the human race.

***

The united nations enacted operation PANDORA. Every nation across the globe declared martial law. Containment rings were mounted around areas of contamination. Ring inside ring inside ring with 'halt or kill' protocol in place. International travel was stopped. Planes had to return to their place of origin without touching down. Many ran out of fuel and crashed. Ships were also turned around or made islands without a home. The focus of the world was turned on a tiny hospital in the poorest part of the world. Inside the infection zone, the population was on their own. Riots, looting and civil unrest went unchecked within the contamination zone. No troop would be sent in, no one was coming out either. Air drops of food water and medication was the only contact they had with the rest of the world.When the healthy population realised they were confined with the fever victims, panic really set in. Huge crowds gathered at the barriers holding the containment section closed. There was no communication even considered, anyone that set foot over the deadline was shot dead without even a warning shot.

The family of the hunter all died, the doctor that first treated him died, the stretcher carriers died, then the families of the dead began to get sick. The ripples of infection became waves, the death toll rapidly spiked. Despite precautions in the hospital the fever began to spread among staff and patients. Bodies were being incinerated, soon the numbers grew to large. Huge pits were dug and mass burnings were conducted. Bodies were being transported by dumper truck not hearse. Three weeks had passed before the first contamination ring was breached. One man had passed through the road block five minutes before it was closed forever. That five minutes would cost lives, thousands of lives.

By week eight of infection the death toll stood at 9,756 with a further 25,000 believed to be infected. The population within the containment area was close to 40,000. The world leaders secretly believed that if every one of these 40,000 died, but the containment worked, it was a price worth paying. Every road leading away from the Infection zone was blocked by ring after ring of containment fencing and troops. They wanted people to stay home and not move but people were not willing to die quietly. There were breakouts and shootings constantly at the edges of containment zones. People who did not even know they were in a containment area found there movements stifled. The world paused, commerce faltered and every human held their breaths as the days ticked by. Week nine brought what everyone feared most. The fever jumped two containment zones. A dozen cases the following day, a day after that a case appeared in Florida and one in Italy.The beginning of the end was in sight.

Governments publicly cried for people to react with common sense but in dark places, deep in the bowels of power, they spoke of eradication not containment. People just vanished, whole families, whole communities but 'BFV' was not going to be deterred from its destiny. By week 32 of infection every country on the face of the earth was battling the fever. Authorities had not given up but they were on the ropes. The public had lost faith and were taking matters into their own hands. The fabric of modern society lay in tatters as 6 billion people took matters unto themselves. It was on week 33 that a group of twelve men women and children walked from the blackened, charred wasteland of San Paulo's original infection site. They were immune and word spread. They had been living in a church since the containment ring was thrown up. They claimed to have been saved by the power of prayer. Evangelists across the world declared this a miracle calling 'BFV' a plague, on the world of greed and corruption. "A righteous man will walk through this plage without fear as long as his soul was pure and repentant" said an American network preacher right before offering toll lines for instant confession at a mere $12.99 per minute. What no one mentioned was that over 400 people went into that church to pray, only 12 walked out.


In Dublin Austin and Julie had tried to continue life as best they could but even traveling across the city was banned. They holed up in their apartment and watched the disaster unfold live on the internet. Stockpiling food had been banned but people were still doing it. Austin had been buying up tinned food and collecting bottled water for weeks. The spare room looked like a supermarket. Austin had originally come from county kerry and had wanted to move back home once the outbreak became public. Now he wished he had acted earlier. In reality he had not believed contamination would be allowed to develop. He had believed in the authorities and trusted them to protect them. In recent weeks he had seen what passed for protection in the US and Italy. Austin was taking steps to move and soon. He knew if they were going to survive this thing it was down to him. He was waiting for the time when the odds of staying were worse than those of running. He hoped, and hope springs eternal.

That hope was crushed when a case of 'BFV' was recorded in Belfast. Every radio station and TV constantly broadcast announcements telling people to Stay at home. Not to touch or contact anyone. If you came down with the fever there was a hotline number to call. Lock yourself in your home and wait for help to arrive. On the night that 'BFV' crossed the ocean into Ireland, Austin did lock his door, and bolted it. Austin and his darling Julie huddled in the dark with a shotgun pointed at the barricaded door while Dublin rioted and burned.

Next Part http://squidmcfinnigan.blogspot.ie/2014/01/righteous-fever-contagion.html

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Righteous Fever - Contagion

The night was a howling nightmare of sirens, deranged screaming, gunshots and explosions. When a gang of rioters moved up the street near the apartment block Julie had broken down in Austin's arms.

"I want to go home, Austin, I want my family," she sobbed.

"We can't go home now, its too late," he whispered as he stroked her hair. The shotgun rested on the ground nearby, but the safety catch was off.

"I don't give a shit about the rules, I just want to go home. Don't you get that," she said, starting to shout. She pulled from his embrace and got to her feet. Austin knew he had to keep her quiet. The last thing they needed was a bunch of thugs knowing they were in here. A woman and a man were no match for a mob. Julie did not want to face up to it but nothing was safe, no one was safe. The hooligans of the world had nothing left to loose. A pretty young woman like Julie was a tempting target. There are far worse things than dying, all of them live in the black hearts of men. It was his job to keep her safe even if she could not see it herself.

"Sush Julie, don't let them hear you for God sake," Austin said taking her in his arms.

"I want my family," she sobbed into his chest.

"Ok, ok- just a few more days and we will be ready, we can make a run for it."

"You said that last week," she said accusingly.

"Jules, by next week I don't think we will have a choice, but I don't want to be shot trying to run a road block either."

"Ok," she sniffed "I trust you."

The mob outside had moved off but only after breaking into a shop across the road. Nothing was left in it anyway, there was nothing to loot. Smoke began to drift out under the pried up shutter as the alarm called shrilly for help that could care less. Austin watched as the smoke thickened, finally the glass window  blew to smithereens letting a ball of smoke and flame loose into the night sky. Even across the road and four stories higher Austin could feel the heat of the blaze. No crowds gathered to help or watch. The little shop was consumed without a hand being raised to stop it.

When dawn came, it rose on a war zone. Fires blazed across the city, barriers and barbed wire straddled the main roads but even this early some had been abandoned by the solders that had guarded them. On the radio, presenters continued to hold out the accepted line of 'stay home, talk to no one'.

Belfast was in lock-down but it was a futile gesture. Austin was sure quarantine was still the way to go, only it was not keeping people in that was required, it was keeping people out. The problem with cities is there are just too many people. After several hours of nothing new from the TV or radio, Austin turned to the inter-net. Belfast did not have a case of 'BFV' it had a swarm of  fever cases. Phone footage showed running battles on the streets, bodies lying in the road and smoke blotting out the skyline. Children were dragged screaming by crazed parents. The only universal constant was that every single person was covered, not an ounce of skin was left showing.

One particular clip showed a crazed man, standing in the middle of a street spitting at people who got to close to him. A solder walked up and pumped 6 bullets into him before continuing on his way, he even waved to the camera as he passed. The crazies have taken over the asylum. By six the internet was carrying stories of cases popping up in all the major cities in Ireland.

As night fell Julie was trying to phone her parents in Cork but the lines were jammed solid. In the end she tried Skype but held out little hope. They had a laptop, but were more likely to use it as a teapot coaster. Julie was amazed when a fuzzy image of her mother appeared on screen. It all became too much and she broke down crying.

"Mom, Mom can you hear me?" she balled.
"I can sweetheart, are you all right?"
"We are fine Mom, We are coming, tomorrow or the day after." Julie said
"Don't Julie, the TV said we should stay home," Julies mom worried at the corner of her cardigan.
"Julie, I think your father is sick, he is very hot and I have not been able to wake him all day."
"He can't be mom. You didn't leave anyone in the house did you, or answer the door?"
"No honey but yesterday, he started sweating and drinking gallons of water." Julie could not take it anymore and ran away to the bedroom, I sat down in front of the computer.
"Mrs Ryan, its Austin, how are you coping?"
"I will be fine Austin, I phoned the emergency number, help is on the way but you must promise me, keep my Julie away from here. Keep her safe."
"I will Mrs Ryan, I will take .." just then the door bell in Julies parents  house rung.
"It must be the doctor," said Mrs Ryan jumping to her feet leaving the Skype connection running.

Austin could hear voices in the corridor, Mrs Ryan telling someone where her husband was and about his symptoms, the other voice was muffled like they were behind glass. They faded, as if they had gone up stairs. A couple of minutes later, there were three short blasts of automatic gunfire, then silence. Austin heard the even footsteps of at least two people coming down the stairs, they were moving around the house in no rush to get out. In of the corner of the screen he could just see the adjoining kitchen. A figure in black chemical suit and full face mask appeared, sloshing liquid from a drum he was carrying. Slung across his back was an evil looking gun, stubby but deadly. The back of another person appeared close to the computer. He was also throwing liquid on the furniture and the curtains. He pulled an oven lighter from a pouch in his suit. It was strange seeing a harmless kitchen implement being used for such a grizzly purpose. The man ignited the curtains before turning to leave. He noticed the computer screen and calmly walked over until his mask  filled the picture. With dead eyes the man closed the cover and the picture went black.

Austin had to tell Julie what he had seen or she would have insisted on going to her parents. She would not believe him and tried to get connected on Skype, when that would not work she called the house and the mobile. In the end she got through to a neighbour who in a panic told her that the house was in flames, then she believed.
Austin crushed three sleeping tablets into a glass of brandy which Julie had downed without even tasting. It did not take long for her cries of grief to subside as she slid into heavily drugged sleep. Julie needed it but Austin needed to be able to work even more. Austin had to make the final preparations for the journey. He began loading the food and water into suitcases. He opened the door to the apartment and listened. No one was moving in the block. Austin dragged two cases to the lift and pressed the button. When the carriage arrived, he pushed the cases inside and went back to the apartment for the rest. That was when the power went out. Austin stumbled back to the lift in the dim emergency lighting but the doors were closed solid.. Austin strained and the doors and kicked them in frustration. He was not going to be able to open them and half his supply of food was stuck inside. It was more important to get on the move, he would figure out the shortage on the way. He dragged the remaining bags and equipment down the stairs into the underground car park.

In depths of the car park Austin's Nissan four wheel drive was covered with a dust sheet. He had been busy working on it since the beginning of the outbreak. It was not a disguise that would stand up to close inspection, but approaching a check point at speed, it just might be enough. When he whipped the sheet off the Nissan Patrol it was transformed under a coat of mat green spray paint, attached to the front bumper was a stripped down fly rod bent back and attached to the roof. The rubber cover from the gear shift hid the cork handle where it sank into the bumper. On the sides, thick red cross were made from shiny red duct tape. Grill metal cages had been screwed over the windscreen and the windows. From a distance it looked like the First aid units he had seen driving through town. Austin had taken lots of ribbing for driving a 4 wheeler while working in a bank. How many soccer mom jokes had he endured, but who was laughing now.

Austin pulled the dust sheet clear and parked the jeep up near the lift. He loaded the rest of the equipment in the back. Once packed he covered the cargo with a sleeping bag. The night had nearly vanished and he was far from ready. The early hours were his best chance to break out of the city and into the country. It was time to wake Julie.

"It's time to go baby," he said as he shook her awake. Austin was already dressed in his green coat. It once had a fur trim but Austin had cut it off to make it more military looking. He helped dress Julie in a matching outfit before pulling a double layer of plastic gloves on their hands. Before leaving the apartment Austin and Julie put on the full mask breathers, and raised the hoods of their parker coats. Austin carried the shotgun and his pockets were full of shells


Julie was very groggy from the combination of drugs and alcohol, she slipped twice trying to make her way down the stairs and Austin had to half carry her the final few flights. The car park was nearly pitch black as Austin loaded Julie into the passenger seat. The batteries in the emergency lighting were running out one by one. Austin heard a scraping noise behind them. He turned to find a man stumbeling towards the jeep carrying a woman in his arms.

"Thank God your here, we need help," the man said struggling under the weight of the woman.

"Stay back," said Austin levelling the gun in at the man.

"She has to get to hospital," said the man taking more steps forward. The woman in his arms was drenched in sweat and the first signs of weeping sores were visible around her eyes.

"You don't understand, we are not who you think we are. We cant help you, JUST STAY BACK" said Austin flicking off the safety catch.

"I don't care, your going to help us," said the man and stepped forward with the dying woman in his arms. Austin did not know he had pulled the trigger until the mans chest exploded in a shower of blood. The man was blown backwards five feet, dead before he ever hit the floor. Austin only knew he was holding his breath when he struggled to breathe in while his lungs were full. He looked down at the smoking gun in his hands and noticed the spatters of blood on his coat.

Austin raced back to the apartment, he was shaking when he poured bleach over his coat, wiping away splatters of blood with a tea towel. When he was sure all the blood was cleaned away he dumped the coat anyway and raced back down to the car park. Julie had passed out in the car, they were on the move again long before she woke up. Austin was filing sick to his stomach, he had killed a man in cold blood. Nothing would ever be the same again.


The jeep cover worked fine for the first few checkpoints, they were just waved through without a second glance. They had nearly reached the western edge of the city when a checkpoint solder stood out in the middle of the road with his hand raised for them to hault.  Austin moved down the gears, Julie sat up straighter in her seat.
"Move you fucker," growled Austin as he was forced to drop into second gear. 50 feet, 40 feet 20 feet. Austin knew the guy was not moving, the other guard was off to one side talking to a man in a Ford Escort.

"Fuck it," said Austin as he mashed the accelerator into the floor. The solder's hand was still raised as the bull bars crushed into his rib's. Austin could see the whites of the man's eyes when he blasted through the roadblock. Julie screamed in the seat beside him as the solder slid off the bonnet, under the wheel's of the car causing it to bump wildly into the air.

"Shut up, SHUT UP Julie! shouted Austin. Shots pinged off the body work off the Nessan as it swerved into a side street and raced into the distance. The houses soon thinned and green fields began to appear. They were running now but at least they were on home ground. Austin had killed two men in less than an hour, he wondered how much worse things were going to get.

Last Part http://squidmcfinnigan.blogspot.ie/2014/01/righteous-fever-conclusion.html

Righteous Fever - Conclusion

“Jesus Christ, Austin, Why didn’t you just stop the fucking car,” Julie shouted as the jeep swerved around bends at break neck speed. Austin said nothing but Julie’s naivety stung Austin. He was finding it difficult enough coming to terms with he had done without her reminding him at every turn.

“What did you think he would have said, ‘you just carry on there lads I just wanted to say hi.’ He would have turned us back or worse,” Austin snapped. “You didn’t see what they did to your parents, they guys are not on our side anymore, Julie, we are the enemy now.”


Austin knew he had gone too far, he couldn’t see Julies face as he threw the jeep into the light morning traffic but he could sense the emotion in her silence.

“Sorry Jules, I shouldn’t have said that,” he said with genuine regret. Julie sniffed and sighed deeply trying to keep the tears from coming.

“You can’t just run people over, Ok he was a soldier, but he was a man too. Someone’s husband, someone’s son, for all you know he is dead and you killed him,” she said.

“I didn’t want to. If I let him stop us we were going to die. We have one chance to survive this thing. We need to get away from everyone, as far away as we can get.”

“Promise me that you won’t hurt anyone else otherwise we are no better than the mobs running through the streets,” she said.

“Ok I promise, I won’t hurt anyone else,” Austin said, it was an easy promise to make. He did not want to hurt anyone either. Austin slowed the jeep, keeping a steady pace which would not draw attention to them. They avoided checkpoints where they could, zigzagging through the city outskirts looking for un-manned roads or abandoned stations. Austin kept to the back roads avoiding the motorway. It was taking much longer traveling this way but what other choice was there. The miles continued to pass under the wheels, often they were passing in the wrong direction.


They moved south, into the Dublin Wicklow Mountains, passing close to Enniskerry and Blessington. They moved into the mountains driving on farmer’s tracks and even across open land to avoid main road intersections. Julie was still in shock over the loss of her parents but the journey gave her something to concentrate on. By late morning they had got as far as Carlow but progress was slow, they turned west, towards Tullow. Austin often had to make big detours around larger towns. By the time they had passed Tipperary town night was coming fast but that was not the main problem. The petrol needle was resting on empty. If they did not find fuel they would never reach Kerry.

“We need to get some petrol,” Austin told Julie when the warning light appeared on the dashboard.

“You’ll have some job finding a petrol station up here,” she sniffed.

“I know, but that’s not to say we won’t find petrol,” Austin said, turning the jeep into gate. The lane lead to a farm house sitting on top of a gentle hill. He began blowing the horn as he neared the house. Julie was shocked, after all the efforts they had made to stay hidden all day, Austin was now actively making sure everyone heard them coming. Austin saw the look on her face.

“It’s like this, in that house could be a farmer. Farmers have guns. If he thinks we are trying to sneak up he is more likely to shoot first then ask questions later.” Austin parked the Jeep away from the house but in a place where they could see the red-cross symbol on the door.

“Wait here, keep the door locked while I am gone,” Austin said sliding the shotgun under the sleeping bag which covered their supplies.


“Hello, Hello,” called Austin as he walked towards the house. There was movement behind kitchen window. Austin decided he was going to have to take a chance. He took off his mask. He waved and smiled in the window.


“Hello in there, we’re from the red-cross. We are delivering supplies to people in the area. Do you need anything, tinned food, bottled water, medicine,” Austin continued to smile but moved no closer to the house. He tried to imagine what the people in the house would want to hear. A woman’s face appeared at the window. She was pale and frightened.

“Show me your identification,” she shouted. Austin flipped open his wallet which had his Bank ID in the clear pocket. He held it up but staying far enough back that she would not be able to read it properly. At the same time he waved at the jeep parked across the yard with the dark green colour and red-cross sign.


“Look, if you’re ok for everything we better get moving. It will be dark soon,” said Austin with a smile, he turned to go.

“Wait,” called the woman who vanished from the window. The back door opened she was in her late 30’s, wearing a apron which had flour on it. In her hand she carried a nasty looking slash hook which rested uncomfortable in her petite hands.

Austin raised his hand in a stop gesture with palm facing the woman. Austin wanted to keep her back from the jeep, he also wanted to make sure she was not sick.

“Wait where you are please madam, I have to ask you a few questions. Are you or any of your family sick?”

“No.”

“Has anyone been to the farm in the last two weeks?”

“No.”

“How many are in your family?”

“Four, Myself, my husband and two boys.”

“Are they all inside?”

“Yes. No,” said the woman “my husband and eldest son went to get some help four days ago and have not come back yet.” Austin noticed the woman lower the slash hook a little, she was accepting what she was seeing was what she had been wishing for. Help had arrived.


“I am sure he is fine missus. Lots of people have been coming into towns from the country. We have set up shelters but we can’t let people leave until they have cleared the medical procedures. Your son and husband are more than likely waiting for test results to come back. What was his name?” Austin asked taking out his mobile phone.

“Sean Kelly” the woman said as Austin dialled a number.

“And your son?”

“Paul Kelly.” The connection beeped in his ear. “Hello, this is unit 61 checking in, we are in south Tipperary, outside Latan, on the Kelly Farm. We have two missing civilians, Sean Kelly, adult male and Paul Kelly, age…” Austin looked at the woman.

“He’s fourteen,” she said the hope dripping from her words.

“Fourteen.” Austin went quiet and nodded said Hum a few times and then pretended to wait. He covered he mouthpiece with his and told the lady “They are checking the computer.” Austin gave it a little over a minute before saying “I am still here,” followed by another pause. “That is great, we should be back at base in an hour, Ok, thanks again.”


Austin closed the phone, cutting off his message box in mid recorded sentence. “Your husband and son are fine, they are in the red-cross camp in Tipperary town, test results are due back tomorrow. I am sure they are going to be fine.”

The woman was delighted and she lowered the slash hook altogether.

“We will leave you an emergency hamper, it has some medication and tinned provisions that will get you through the next few days. It is just in the back of the jeep.” Austin walked towards the jeep motioning for Julie to open up. The farm wife laid the slash hook on the ground and followed Austin. Austin opened the back door, pulling out the shotgun, levelling it at the woman. As the black double barrels tracked her middle the frightened look returned to her face. 

“Do what I say and everything will be fine, I don’t want to hurt you but believe me, I will if I have to. Move back to the house,” he said.

The woman turned and walked away holding her hands to her face, the first few tears beginning to well in her eyes. Austin heard the door of the jeep open and Julie come running.

“Austin what are you doing you promised not to hurt anyone else,” she accused but remained a few steps behind. Austin could see the woman take in what Julie just said, those few words were worth all the threats he could make. The woman faltered slightly as she neared the slash hook. “Don’t even think about it,” warned Austin.

Inside the kitchen stood a young boy near the window, he had seen the whole episode unfold in the yard. He looked as white and shaken as his mother. He ran to her wrapping his arms around her waist. Austin pointed to a chair with the gun and said “Sit.” The old farm house was as solid as a fort, the walls must be three feet thick. The windows were tiny but big enough to crawl through. The kitchen was an arsenal of sharp knives and makeshift bludgeons. To one side was a small door, Austin opened it and found a larder, it was well stocked and window less. Austin could see nothing more dangerous than a tin of baked beans. This would have to do. He moved back from the door and pointed inside with the barrels of the gun.

“Both of you in here, Please.” Just because you were holding someone at gunpoint was no reason for rudeness, the politeness was menacing to Austin’s ears. The woman hurried into the pantry pushing the crying boy ahead of her.


“Hand over your phone,” Austin said.

“I don’t have one,” said the woman a little too quickly. Austin had a feeling she was lying. “Don’t give me that. Everyone has a phone these days, even he could have one,” said Austin waving the gun in the direction of the little boy.

“Hand it over or I will just have to search you.” The woman thought for a moment before taking a phone out of the pocket in the apron.  Austin took it and was backing away from the door when he stopped, paused for a second, then he took a step back towards the woman and asked “Has he got a phone?” His look of innocent confusion was comical. For an instant, the tables were turned, the woman’s frowned “No of course not,” she said in a scolding tone.

“Fair enough, sorry,” apologised Austin. He closed over the door and wedged one of the kitchen chairs under the Bakelite handle. The chair jammed on the uneven kitchen floor. Julie had watched the whole thing silently from the door. She gave him a filthy look.

 “What?” he said. “Did you think she was just going to let me help myself. Wake up for God sake Julie, the world is different now if we are going to survive we have to change with it.”

“You promised not to hurt anyone only a few hours ago.”

“And I haven’t,” he said storming past her to search the out houses.


***


The farm proved to be an Aladdin’s cave of useful stuff. They had found gallons of liquid that smelled like petrol and the Jeep ran just fine on it. Austin also found some tools that would come in useful and plastic sheeting, a few large milking buckets. He loaded it all in the jeep. In a tilled field near the house was a ridge of clay, one end covered with heavy brown sacks.


“Jackpot,” said Austin pointing out the ridge to Julie “Do you know what that is?”

“No,” she said, being a city girl Austin was not surprised.

“That is dinner for at least a few months,” he said walking over to the sacks lifting them to reveal a heap of potatoes. All piled up and covered over with clay. They filled four of the sacks by now the jeep was groaning under the weight it carried. The night was pitch black by the time they were done.

“We better stay for the night, our lights will attract too much attention, we will get going at dawn again,” Said Austin. They stripped their plastic gloves and washed as best they could using an outside tap before covering up again with new gloves. Before releasing the woman and boy Austin put all the kitchen knives into a plastic bag and hid them in a shed outside. To make Julie happy Austin had taken the shells out of the gun. He pulled the chair away from the pantry door. The fire was throwing a warm glow but like the rest of the country the farmhouse had no electricity.

“You can come out now,” said Austin standing near the back door. Julie was warming up spaghetti hoops in a pan over the fire.

“What do you want with us,” said the woman not moving from the pantry.

“Nothing, and that is the truth,” said Austin. “We needed some petrol and did not think you would just give it to us. We took some potatoes as well, I hope you don’t mind.”

The woman did not move. Julie came forward and said “We are not bad people, we are just like you, doing what we have too. You must be hungry, how about some spaghetti hoops,” she said with a smile.


Over plates of food Julie and Austin told the woman what they had seen on the streets and what had happened to Julie’s parents in cork. She did not believe everything they said, like Julie she believed that the government would not do the things they were describing. The questions of what had happened to her husband and son soon bubbled to the top again. This time Austin could give her no answer. Silence descended on the group as the fire crackled gaily in the corner.

“My mother had a sure fire cure for fever, do you want to know what it was,” the farmwife said at last.

“Sure we do,” said Julie

“Get an old pair of socks, soak them in equal parts apple cider vinegar and ice cold spring water. Wring them out until they are damp then put them on the person’s feet. You need to change them before they dry out. Keep doing this until they feel better.”

“That could come in handy I will remember that,” said Julie with just the hint of a smile.

“It must be well water not tap water,” said the woman “You never know, there might be something in it.”

Austin was not so sure that damp socks were going to help a virus that can kill you in a matter of days so he kept his mouth shut. In the morning Austin returned the woman’s phone and apologised again for scaring her and her son.

“Where are you heading,” the woman asked.

“For Kerry, Austin is from Ballinskelligs,” said Julie

“Into the west,” said the woman.

“As far west as we can get,” agreed Austin. He made Julie change their gloves before getting into the Jeep. The final leg of their journey had begun.


***


It only took a few hours before they caught their first glimpse of the wild Atlantic Ocean. They followed the coast south, to the left was Ireland or what was left of her, to the right, nothing but ocean. Julie was taken by surprise when Austin turned off the road a few miles short of Ballinskelligs. He drove along a sand humped road which ended in a little car park. Off to the left, a shed perched high above the beach.

“Why are we stopping here, I thought we were going to your father 's house?”

Austin stopped the engine. It was time to come clean with the final part of his plan.

“I have been thinking hard about this Julie. Ireland could have survived if they had succeeded in keeping everyone out. But they didn’t. Now the fever is here it will rip through the place and no matter where we are it will find us. Nowhere is safe anymore.”

“So where are we to go,” she asked.

Austin pointed out the windscreen at the jagged islands sitting off the coast, “There.”

“You have got to be joking,” she said.

“No I am serous,” Austin said “Skellig Michael has only one landing point, It is easily defended, there are old monks huts already built and it is surrounded by fish. Three months, six tops and we will be able to come back.”

“How the hell are we going to get all the way out there?”

“There is a boat in that shed.  Everything is ready to go, between the two of us we can manage it.”

“You must be mad,” Julie said. After a minute she added “I must be mad.”




They pried open the door of the boathouse. Inside was a bright orange Rib already loaded on its trailer and attached to the launching tractor. The boat could take six men so there was plenty of room for all their equipment. They loaded in extra coils of rope and canvas they found in the shed. They dressed in flotation suits way too big for them but better than nothing. When Austin backed the boat into the water Julie was sitting at the helm. The trailer vanished under the waves and the boat floated clear. Austin gave Julie the thumbs up for her to press the starter button. The outboard motor roared into life before settling to a throbbing idle. Austin unclipped the boat from the trailer, pulling himself aboard. The boat bobbed, twisting in the wind. A breaking wave caught them side on nearly, capsizing them. Austin engaged the gear and eased out the throttle. The boat leapt forward easily cutting through the waves.


Julie smiled with excitement as the boat cut through the waves with little bumps sending wings of spray high into the wind. The islands grew in size, rising out of the depths like two huge, grey, shark teeth. In twenty minutes they were under the towering cliffs. Austin found the pebble beach in the lee of the island and drove the boat on it at a good head of speed. He would not be able to drag it fully loaded and needed to make sure it was securely landed. The boat came to a juddering halt as it hit the rounded stones but nothing seemed to shatter.


The rest of the day they climbed the steep steps, hauling supplies to the little stone huts the monks lived in hundreds of years ago. Austin did most of the work, Julie tried but it was hard going. She got more tired with each trip. In the end he let her stay at the camp to organise things. He continued to make the climb alone. When the boat was empty, Austin removed the heavy engine. He stored it in a crevice well above the high water mark, covering it with a piece of plastic. The boat, now empty, was easy to haul high up the beach. He tied it off with some of the rope to make sure he was not washed out by a rogue wave.


Austin erected the tent where it was protected from the worst of the wind by a rocky outcrop. As soon as it was up they fell into a deep exhausted sleep. Even though the weather was good the wind whipped the tent constantly. The next day, Austin made the big piece of plastic into a rain collector, draining through a little hole in the middle unto one of the milk buckets.

The first few weeks passed quickly on the island, although the weather was good, it was far from comfortable. Julie cooked meals on a small camp stove but the gas soon ran out. There was nothing to burn so most things were eaten cold and raw. Austin managed to catch some fish but not as many as he would have liked. Twice boats came close to the island. Austin ran down the steep flight of steps to keep them from landing but they never even tried.

At the start of the third week a storm hit, it blew the tent down forcing Austin and Julie to take shelter in one of the monk’s stone huts. All that night they huddled together wrapped in their sleeping bags. The morning started sunny and breezy. Austin left Julie sleep as he went to assess the damage, which turned out to be not that much.

“Everything came through the storm in one piece,” Austin said coming back into the little stone hut. Julie remained bundled up in her sleeping bag.

“Julie,” said Austin. She turned her to face him. Her hair was wet with sweat and her face flushed bright red. She was hot to touch. Her eyes fluttered open. “Water.” Austin opened a bottle of water and helped her drink from it. She emptied the bottle without stopping to take a breath. It can’t be the fever Austin assured himself, he had taken every precaution. The only person with the fever they came into contact with was the man in the car park. Julie had never touched him and Austin had made sure that he was totally clean before getting in the car. The blood flying, Julie was in the jeep, it could not be. Was the door open or closed?


Austin grabbed Julie’s jacket and took it out in the light. He took his time inspecting it. In the end he found four tiny splatters of dried red on the collar, it was blood, infected blood.


Austin looked through the low opening into the stone hut. What was the point in trying anymore? If Julie was not going to be by his side to see tomorrow what was the point of tomorrow? Austin ducked into the hut and took the love of his life in his arms. Julie struggled for three agonising days. Somewhere along the way the strands of sanity snapped in Austin’s mind. At one stage he was looking down the sights of the gun, inches from Julies head, but he could not make himself pull the trigger.


Another storm hit the island as Julie began to struggle with her breathing. The wind howled as she got worse, finally trashing with convulsions. Her body arched one last time before collapsing on itself. The thing that made her Julie vanished from her body. Austin shook her, screamed at her trying to wake her one last time. Insane with despair he picked her still warm body in his arms and ran into the maelstrom. He howled at the heavens, the wind lashed at him. Her name was whipped from his lips by the hand of God and scattered to the four corners of the earth. Lightening cracked from the sky in vicious streaks, stabbing the foaming waves hundreds of feet below.

He walked to the very edge of the cliff. There was no soil on this barren rock to bury his one, true love. No tombstone could do her justice, no pitiful grave would embrace her delicate skin. This cliff will rise majestically above her final resting place. Only the endless expanse of the Atlantic could ever contain the love he felt for her. Austin kissed her lips one last time as huge waves crashed against the base of the cliff sending sheets of spray whipping through her hair. She looked at peaceful at last.

“Time to go, my love,” he said before stepping off the cliff. No matter what, they would be together forever.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Mog & Mrs Pat


In the 1950's rural life in Ireland was a much different to what we have today. The work was hard and neighbours looked out for each other. Horse-power on the roads could normally be measured in ones and ran on grass. The single greatest power in the land was not government but the church.

The church and the priests were figures of near absolute power, only eclipsed by the saints which watched over the faithful from their marble pedicels. While most of the farmers bowed their heads in reverence each Sunday, they quietly held on to the "piseoga" (superstitions) from older celtic times. You would often see farmers rising early on the first day of March to "skim the evil" from the surface of a well in preparation for a new season. A slightly more underhand practice was to sneak onto neighbouring farm's and hide hen egg's in the haystacks. This made sure that whatever good luck was coming would avoid the tainted land.

Down the road from the Begley house lived two elderly sisters called Mog and Mrs Pat. Mog was short for Margaret -we think. Mr Pat died twenty years prior to this but the sisters had kept the farm running. The land was coarse, massive lumps of limestone making any sort of tilling a fearsome task. Through the length and breath of the Ireland a tide of migrant labourers followed the seasons and the crops. They slept in spare rooms, kitchen floors or even haylofts. It was a tough life tramping the roads looking for work. Francie had been coming to the sisters for near eight years when they offered him a permanent place on the tiny farm. Francie, who was nearly as old as the sisters, was a hard worker and tough as old boots.

Mog and Mrs Pat were regular visitors to Granny Begley. Nancy, my mom, was often sent to their farm on errands. Nancy hated going there, the place was always caked in dust and cobwebs. The kitchen floor was hard packed dirt, mixed with ash and what ever fell off Francies wellies. Nancy would often be sent with a bag of groceries from the creamery, or to fill the milk pail with warm creamy milk. One afternoon Granny Begley sent Nancy to help bring the sisters shopping back up from the village. When Nancy pushed open the door to the dingy little kitchen, Mog was scribbling on a sheet of writing paper.

"Come in girl and leave the cold outside." called Mog not looking up from her task. Nancy took a stool by the fire and waited patiently while the old lady laboured and tried not to look up at the thatched roof that swarmed with spiders.

"Can you spell sincerely." Mog asked Nancy who tried her best but got it wrong. Mog frowned "What in gods name is that headmaster teaching you all week." Nancy wanted to tell her that she was only eight and not in the head masters class yet but she held her tongue. Mog folded the paper and put it in a little white envelope along with a coin from her purse. She wrote "St Anthony" across the front.

Mog threw on a thick black coat that swept down to her ankles and wrapped a scarf around her head. Nancy took the basket from behind the door and they struck out for the village a little over a mile away. Going was a piece of cake as it was nearly all down hill, you paid for it on the way back. When they reached the tiny village consisting of - four houses, one pub, one shop, the Hall and the Church, Mog turned for the church. It was middle of a working day so the church was completely empty.

Mog ushered Nancy up the church stopping before a statue of St Anthony. Mog keeled on the ground praying silently before the statue. Nancy slipped back a few paces and took a seat on the edge of a bench. After an age Mog blessed herself, she rose, kissing the feet of the statue. Nancy saw her dip into the coat pocket for the envelope. Mog slipped the envelope under the base of the statue, out of sight. Later when the shopping was done and the hill home climbed, the secret envelope still was on Nancy's mind.

That Sunday, the church was packed for mass as always. The whole Begley clan lined out in their Sunday best. All through mass Nancy could not help glancing at the statue of St Anthony and wondering about the envelope Mog had left. Once Mass was over and the church was empty, Nancy made an excuse to slip back inside. She fished under the statue with her slim little girl fingers retrieving the envelope. Nancy opened it and found a brand new penny with a letter. This is what it said.

Dear St Anthony,

If you could see you'r  way clear to having a few days fine weather for Francie towards the end of next week. He wants to plant the barley in the top field it would be a great help. Mrs Pat also said that one of the hens is laying out in a ditch and she need's help finding the nest. We will say a rosary each night this week. 

Yours sincerely

Mog, Mrs Pat and Francie

Nancy pocketed the letter along with the penny, delighted with herself. She raced over to the shop and got a huge slap of toffee that she shared with the rest of the kids after the dinner. Each week after that Nancy would check under the statue after mass. Most of the time there was nothing but every now and again she found letter with the all important penny. A few months later Nancy had found another letter under the statue asking for good weather for the cutting of the hay. She race to the shop but she put the penny on the counter for her toffee Mr Power told her it had gone up to 2 pence.

Nancy looked at her penny in despair "But why has it gone up Mr Power, I only got one penny."

"That's inflation Nancy, what can we do." Said Mr Power

A few weeks later Mog got the fright of her life when she went to pray to St Anthony only to find the corner of an envelope sticking out from underneath his feet addressed to "Mog, Mrs Pat and Francie." This was the note she found inside.


Dear Mog, Mrs Pat and Francie,

I hope you were happy with finding the eggs and all the fine weather I have been able to get. I want to say thanks for the pennies but next time can you leave two as the price of good weather is going up. It is the enflation, what can I do.

Yours sencerly 

St Anthony



Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Wrecking Ball


Times were hard and work was scarce when I was offered the chance to apprentice in a radiator factory. I was told the first three months was just a trial. I practically jumped at the chance. The morning I tuned up for work was bitterly cold, the wind driving the rain with a vengeance. As I approached the factory I knew something was wrong. It was 8am and the gates were still closed. No cars occupied the yard, the factory seemed dim and silent. Outside the main gate idled a shiny new Mercedes its engine running to keep the fat man behind the wheel warm. The power window slid down and a huge bunch of keys was dangled in the rain soaked morning air without a word. I tried a dozen keys before finding the right one to open the giant padlock.  I swung in the gates allowing the powerful car to glide into the yard before stopping at the main doors of the factory. Another padlock, another maddening search for a key. By the time the car drove into the shelter of the main building I was soaked to the skin. Inside, the factory was a silent graveyard of rusted metal. This place needed no new apprentices. The fat owner heaved himself out of the car leaving it running without a care for the wasted petrol.

“Dirty morning,” the boss said nodding to the puddle that was gathering around my feet.

“Soft enough,” I said “am I in the right place?”

“You are if you want to work,” said the boss looking at me like I was some dog shit he was about to step in.

“I want to work alright but what kind of fitter do you need here?”

“It’s like this, boy. I need this place gutted, I get an apprentice wage refunded by the government. You get paid, I get this place ready for the wrecking ball and we are all happy. Do a good job and I might, might, consider keeping you on in one of my other plants.”

“This was not what I thought I was signing up for.” I said not liking the situation, I was being used.

“I don’t give a fuck what you thought,” the fat man growled with the authority of cash in his voice “If you don’t want the job, there are a hundred more would rip my hand off for it.”

 “I didn’t say that- Boss,” I mumbled into my boots. What other option had I, I needed he work. The fat man stared at me with a sneer before walking away. It seemed my answer had always been a forgone conclusion.

“Right not much to this, a trained monkey could manage it,” the boss said leading me deeper into the factory. “Everything is going,” he waved at the mountain of abandoned machinery and rubbish filling the huge space “when you’re finished, the only things left should be holding up the roof.”

In the middle of the space was a selection of skips and a small mobile generator. The boss pointed out the skips for Metal, Rubble, Timber, Recycling and Landfill. The Generator was to run the tools, housed in a locked metal shed, as all the power was killed in the building. Just as well, I did not fancy being fried while I stripped the copper wiring from the walls. I got the distinct impression that the only reason the power was off lay in the greedy nature of the boss not concern for my safety. 

“Right, I will call see how you have done on Friday,” he said walking back to the car leaving me with the bunch of keys.  I was just about to unlock the tool shed when the horn blared from the gate. It looked like I was going to get even wetter before I began this shitty job.

***

The first week passed without incident. I found out more about the boss, he was a shady guy and that was for sure. I learned he had picked up this factory for next to nothing by greasing some bent politician’s pocket, he was selling all the metal for scrap, which would just about cover the money he spent buying the place. My wage was being footed by the taxpayer and the boss would end up with a prime piece of industrial real-estate, free and clear. The lorry’s for the metal always came on time but the other containers were often overflowing before the boss would shell out for an empty.  The worst thing was working by myself because the boss was too tight to employ another person to help with the clearance. That first Friday finishing time came and went without sign of the boss or my wages. Five turned into six, it was nearly six thirty by the time the shiny car pulled into the yard. The boss looked over the progress before begrudgingly slipping his hand into his pocket.

“Three hundred,” he said

“Three fifty boss.”

“Right,” he said. Turning his back on me fishing out a wad of notes six inches thick. He peeled off seven notes from the hundreds he had, handing them over reluctantly. The feel of cash in my pocket was a strange elation. The backbreaking work of the last five days was soon forgotten. That night I went out and blew a hundred of the money, what else would a young single man do? I woke the next day with a blinding headache and regret digging its way deep into my wallet.

 

The weeks moved by, I was making progress in the main building. I soon began work on the office buildings that lay at the rear of the complex. One in particular caught my eye. It had a pipe jutting out of an air vent. On the door hung a brand new padlock, much better quality than all the others around the factory. I tried every key on my bunch but none would open it. In the end I forced a window at the back of the building and slipped inside. The first thing I noticed was how tidy this place was compared to the rest of the factory. Each room had been cleared of rubbish and left neat.

 

One door was closed over but it was not locked. Sitting in the middle of the room was a battered reclining chair with blankets folded neatly on the seat. Close by was a metal barrel mounted on concrete blocks. The barrel had been modified, making it into a stove with a solid metal plate on top to act as a cooking surface. The pipe that vanished out the air vent was clearly the smoke stack. A small door had been cut so the fire could be set and fuelled. It was a very neat job, the person that had done it had skills, that was for sure. The back of the room was covered floor to roof with shelves made from planks and breeze blocks. Every available space was filled with books, all well-thumbed and loved. I found a larder with a few tins of food and a blackened saucepan. In the next room was a small bathroom, a bucket of fresh water standing by to be use either for washing or flushing the toilet. So this was someone’s home but the question was, whos?

 

I kept an eye on the office building but never saw anyone coming or going. When Friday came around I thought about telling the boss about what I had found. That was until he tried, yet again, to stiff me out of money arguing over the hours I had worked.  It was the middle of the next week when I saw smoke coming from the pipe sticking out of the wall. When lunch time came I wandered over to the office block and found the padlock missing from the door. I opened it quietly and went inside. The air was warm as the fire in the barrel crackled. In the recliner chair slept a man who was somewhere between fifty and a hundred, it was hard to tell. He was swaddled in the blankets but his face was very pale. I got a bit closer and noticed the man was shivering and sweating, he was not just asleep he was passed out. I tried to wake him but he just moaned and buried himself deeper into the blankets. I could feel the heat pulsing from him, he was burning up. I thought about calling for some help but in the end decided to see what I could do myself.

 

I loaded up the barrel with timber and put a saucepan of water on to boil. I fetched my lunch from the main factory. Using the water I made sweet milky tea and managed to wake the man. He looked confused to begin with but at last he took some sips of tea and ate one half of a sandwich. He was still very sick. During my lunch break I gathered timber for the home made stove. I made sure it was fully loaded and burning well. I left the man some cool water close at hand as well as the other half of my sandwich before going back to work. Twice that after noon I stopped by the office building to refill the stove. The man seemed to be improving and was sleeping better now, the sweat no longer beaded his brow.

 

All that night I thought of the old man sick and sleeping alone in that place. The next morning as soon as I opened up the main factory I made my way to the office. The padlock was still missing from the door. I knocked gently and pushed it open. The old man was leaning over the sink washing his face. He jumped and stared at me with startled eyes.

“You’re feeling better I see,” I said with a smile. The man said nothing and was frozen to the spot.

“I was here yesterday,” I said nodding towards the large pile of sticks stacked near the fire.

“I thought I imagined that,” said the man in a cultured voice. “Thank you,” he added. He dried off his face and pulled his jumper over his head. He said nothing for quite a while but ticked and fidgeted uneasily. At last he said “Are you going to make me leave?”

“Not me mate,” I replied “You were here first.”

He smiled and said “Tea?” waving his hand in an invitation to sit which I was glad to accept.

 

It turned out that Pat, that was his name, had been a janitor for the factory before it closed down. He was nearly sixty and no one would give him another job, they all said he was too old. Soon his money ran out and could not meet the rent. He ended up on the street. A councillor had tried to get him into a homeless shelter but they were worse than the streets, full of druggies and drunks. With nowhere else to go he returned to the place he worked for over 30 years. Pat had been living in the office block for 4 years. He kept the fences mended and the kids out. During the days he would spend his time at three library’s moving from one to the other passing a few hours at each. He loved books. Once a day he would call to the old age home for soup and a cup of tea. A local priest paid him to do odd jobs around the church and between this and his pension Pat managed to survive. When I told Pat what the boss had planned for the factory he was devastated. I tried to reassure him that it was months away yet.

 

Over the weeks that followed Pat was always gone long before I opened up the main gate but he started appearing shortly before lunch. He lit his stove and boiled up the water for tea. Each day I would join him and we would eat lunch together. I had started bringing extra sandwiches with me but Pat insisted on buying coffee sugar and milk for the two of us. “I like to pull my weight,” he said. Pat told me about his passion for reading and all his favourite books. Sometimes he would even help me out during the day, holding ladders and sweeping up after me. I once offered him some money but he looked offended when he refused. “This is my home after all,” Pat said.

 

It took longer and longer to fill the skips until at last there was nothing left but the walls holding up the roof, just like the boss had wanted that first day.  When I could put it off no more I told Pat the wreckers would be coming the following Monday. Pat looked about the room he had called home for years and his eyes got a bit misty.

“Are you alright Pat?”

“Aye lad, the smoke must have gotten in my eye. I knew it had to come one day.” He said, his voice heavy with despair.

 

That Friday Pat selected some of his favourite books and packed them with his pot, clothes and food into a battered suitcase. He waved at me from the gate as he trudged off into the evening. I waved back but felt like a traitor. That night at dinner I could not eat, which was very unlike me.

“What’s the matter son?” asked dad.

I told him the story of Pat and what was going to happen on Monday.

“Well if I was you I would do something about it,” dad said with a smile before taking his mug of tea into the sitting room. It was grand to say but what could I do? Come Monday the ball was going to swing and Pats home would be gone. If I told the boss about it I was fairly sure the only thing that fat pick would do is try and charge Pat back rent. Having said all that, dads are generally right, I had to do something. 

***

Monday did come and as I opened up the Gate a huge wrecking crane rumbled into the yard followed by the boss in his fancy car.

“I can take the keys,” he said holding out his hand.

“Wont I need them to lock up tonight?”

“No need lad, this job is done,” he said pocketing the bunch of keys.

“What about the apprenticeship?”

“Come over to the office next week, or the week after, we will see what we have going,” said the boss. He never took his eyes off the wrecking ball as it began to swing slowly away from the factory wall. I knew that there would be no job for me, next week or any week for that matter. I walked out the gate as the ball struck the factory for the first time, I could feel the impact tremble the ground under my feet.

 

I checked two library’s before I found Pat engrossed in a book about Roman History, the battered suitcase resting under the seat of his chair.

“Hi yea Pat,” I greeted him.

“What are you doing here lad, you should be at work.”

“The pig of a boss let me go, the job is finished apparently.”

“Don’t worry lad, you’re young there will be other jobs.”

“True enough. That is why I am here. I have small job, cleaning out a shed, but it is a two man thing, do you feel up to it?” I asked.

“Of course I am. Lead on McDuff,” he said with a happy smile yanking the battered suitcase from under the chair.

It was only a ten minute walk from the library but Pat would not let me help him with his case. At last we got to the house. We trudged up the side of the house which opened out to a big garden with a good size shed built against the end wall.

“Why don’t you make a start on the shed Pat, I will tell the woman of the house we are here,” I said.

I pushed open the back door and walked over to my mother who was watching the old man walk down the path to the garden shed. We saw Pat open the door and stand like a statue, looking inside. The battered suitcase slipped from his grip and fell to the ground. My mother patted my arm and said “Give him a chance to get used to it, why not bring him up a cup of tea.”

 

When I pushed open the door to the shed with two steaming mugs of tea it was cosy and warm because the barrel stove glowed happily in the corner. Close by was the battered recliner but also a single bed with freshly dressed blankets, the wall was shelved with as many of Pat’s books as we could fit. My dad had come with me on Friday night and emptied out Pats old room taking what might be of use. We had worked from dawn into the night over the weekend making the old shed dry and warm.

 

“Do you like it, Pat?” I asked. The old man said nothing but caressed the books that rested on the newly built shelves.  I knew he could reject the place, his pride might not allow him to stay.

“Thing is Pat, we need to extend it. I thought you might be able to stay here in exchange for working on the job. I wanted to add a bathroom and shower. If you don’t think you’re up to the job I won’t be offended.”

Pat turned rubbing the tears from his cheeks “Oh I am up to it lad. Don’t you worry.” His smile beamed from his stubble covered face. I handed him the mug of tea and backed out the door.

“You might need to look at the stove, it seems the smoke is getting in your eyes again,” I teased. I closed the door and left Pat make himself at home, in his home.