In Spring 1946, Lloyd Phillips, known as “Phil” to his Lancaster Bomber squadron, hoped to flee his personal terror by moving to a remote cliff-side cottage in Donegal, Ireland. On the fourth day after his arrival, the banging on his door in the early morning hours demolished that hope. Phil wasn’t sleeping, just lying in bed to get through the night, but the noise made him launch upright as if startled from deep slumber. Acid billowed into his throat.
His legs dropped mechanically to the floorboards. Inevitability, not volition, drew him to the door. He knew what was there.
A hooded figure, vaguely female, stood in tatters on his threshold, illuminated by the Moon. She held a swaddled bundle in her arms. As waves smashed against the base of the nearby cliff, the woman’s skeletal hand swept her hood away, revealing a blackened face and bared teeth. Pieces of seared flesh with bits of hair clung to her scalp. She smelled long past rotten in the salty air. Despite the devastation of her features, her eyes were intact. They had a soft look and were moistened with tears.
She held out the bundle to him.
Phil fell to his knees and screamed.
The scream echoed off the surrounding hills. A third of a mile away, the reverberations jolted Sean from dreams of fairies and spells. He knew immediately it was the Brit who had moved into the nearest house, the cottage previously owned by old Tom O’Malley. Sean felt the Englishman’s anguish wash over his own body as the howl faded. With a sigh of reluctance, Sean resolved, then and there, to do what he could to relieve this man’s pain.
Sean McLaughlin had been a fisherman before his sister, Rose, bequeathed the Book to him in her suicide note. Studying the Book transformed his life. Town folk noticed his newfound familiarity with the old ways. Father O’Connell and the Faithful kept a wary eye on him, but, in an uneasy truce, they let him be, as long as he did nothing public to undermine the Church’s authority.
Sean was a barrel-chested man of ruddy complexion, well liked by most for his caring soul. Despite his affinity for alcohol, Sean’s physical prowess and skill with the knots, nets, and tackle had made him welcome on most boats even before Rose’s death. These days, though, he could ship out with anyone any time, because of his uncanny knack for knowing where the best catches could be had and when the bad storms would roll in. Those who had no qualms about powers outside the Lord’s province also sought his help with their love quandaries and other ailments. His ministrations proved surprisingly effective.
The day after being awakened by the scream, Sean studied what the Book had to say about troubled souls. Because there are so many causes of turbulence in the human spirit, it was well past three in the afternoon when, tired of reading, he decided to cull more information. He hopped on his bicycle and headed to the village along the coast road. As he passed old Tom O’Malley’s place, Sean noted that the Brit’s car was gone, and so he’d likely be in town.
At about four o’clock, Sean rattled down the cobblestone hill toward the docks on Donegal Bay. With his enhanced senses, Sean could see a pod of seals chasing a school of mackerel and, far beyond the horizon, a nasty swirl of clouds.
Sean rode up to the Squealing Pig, parked his bike, and entered the din and smoke of the pub. Finn, wearing his threadbare fisherman’s cap and smoking a pipe, waved him to the bar. Finn ordered two fresh pints and handed one to Sean.
Sean had been counseling Finn for some time, because Finn’s softness proved awkward for him, even though he was a giant of a man with fists meatier than most. Finn confided indifference toward women, not something Sean had thought possible, but the Book described it as being as natural as the sea and stars.
“Hey, Finn. Tell the mates I see a bad blow coming in from the west. It’ll be here tomorrow noon.”
“Will do for sure, Sean. Thanks. We could use a day’s rest, even with the money to worry us.”
“Say, what do you know about the Brit who bought O’Malley’s?”
“A mousy man, name of Lloyd Phillips. Drops a lot a coin here. Not much on talking, but sometimes he’ll buy a round for everyone, just like that. Sits in the corner with his head in his hands, mostly.”
“Have you talked to him?”
“Not much. Bought him a pint, so he let me sit. Thought, maybe, we had something in common.” Finn raised one eyebrow slightly.
“What’d he say?”
“Ah, he’s locked up tight. Had it rough in the war, he says. Dropping bombs on folks. Then he closed up like a mussel at low tide. He’s sitting back there now.” Finn tilted his head toward a dark corner.
Sean nudged Finn. “I’ll give it a try.” Sean downed his pint, ordered two more, and walked over to the Brit’s table.
“Hey, me man. Mind if I join you?”
Phil looked up. “I’d rather you didn’t.”
A frigid wind from Phil’s eyes blew through Sean’s body, but Sean maintained a smile as he sat down. “Here’s a fresh pint. I live by Imeal, the cliff south of Old Tom’s place. Let’s tip one, neighbor.” They drank after Sean offered a salute to peaceful times and mercy on Old Tom’s soul.
“Welcome to Donegal. Lloyd it is, right? I’m Sean.”
“The draoi. Yes?”
“That may be going a bit far, but I take the compliment.”
“Finn told me a little.”
“Good man, Finn. Say, if you don’t mind me mentioning it, I heard a bit of a ruckus from your way last night.”
Phil visibly cringed.
“Bloody war dreams. It’s why I live out of town.” He drank down half the stout and set the glass on the table. He took a moment to study Sean. “Chums call me Phil after my last name Phillips.” He swirled his beer and looked at it. “Might as well call me that, since we’re neighbors.”
“Saw some bad stuff, Phil?”
“I was a bombardier. I just saw flashes and fires from high up. Watched a lot of mates go down in other planes, though. The flak and fighters were bad, but my plane never took a serious hit. Damn bloody lucky, I guess.”
Sean searched Phil’s eyes. Shadows flitted in them. “So what’s with the dreams then?”
Phil looked down at his hands.
“I was rotated when my tour was up. Continued in the RAF until ’45, assessing effectiveness. Saw pictures… of the Hamburg firestorm. 1943. They were civilians mostly who died… Hamburg was my last drop before being reassigned.”
“‘Twas a nasty war all around, from what I’ve heard.” Sean pulled at the shadows with mental fingers.
“I hated the bloody Nazis as much as anyone. My mum and sister died in the Blitz. So when I dropped incendiaries, I told myself the Krauts got what they bloody well deserved… But the pictures… I keep one with me.” Phil reached into his leather flight jacket. The photo was folded, worn, and stained. It showed a woman charred beyond recognition, lying in the rubble, cradling the blackened skeleton of a baby. Several gritty German men with shovels stood over her with their hats off. The picture felt hot to Sean, like the fire was still burning.
“So I have… bad dreams.”
Sean leaned in. A specter leapt at him from Phil’s eyes. The dead woman hovered around them. “Maybe a wee bit more than dreams, now?”
Phil looked at him with a blend of surprise, suspicion, and appreciation. Eventually he admitted, “Yeah, maybe so.”
“Be right back, me man, with more pints. I have my own hard stories to tell.”
Sean and Phil talked on into the night. Phil told war stories – the deaths of his mother and sister, vengeance delivered through a bombsight, the clatter of flak on the fuselage. Sean shared the complicated tragedy of his family – a father lost at sea, his mother’s mysterious disappearance, two sisters killed in a brutal love triangle.
Phil confessed that the burned woman haunted him at night, and Sean offered to confront her with him.
“I’ve learned to trust the Irish magic, Phil. And you got nothing to lose, even if you think I’m daft.”
After midnight, Sean piled his bicycle awkwardly into the back of Phil’s car. The Guinness made it a perilous drive back to Phil’s house, but Sean gave Phil psychic nudges to keep the car on the road. Safely arrived, Phil broke out a fresh bottle of whiskey, and the men drank into the wee hours.
Then came the heavy, insistent knock. Phil’s face went white. Sean felt a buzz in the air. Everything sparkled vividly.
“I think you best answer it, Phil. I’m right beside you.”
They both sobered going to the door. They locked eyes for a moment, as Phil reached for the latch.
In addition to fairies, Selkies, and other odd creatures born in ancient times, Sean’s preternatural senses also revealed the occasional ghost or specter, usually a wispy thing, more like a lingering memory than a real presence. The woman standing on the threshold was as real and solid as his hand. She extended her bundle toward Phil, and he fainted into Sean’s arms. The woman stared at Sean and cuddled the bundle back against her chest. While it was impossible to read a human expression on her ravaged face, Sean felt an ocean of sorrow.
The woman reached out a hand to Sean. Where she touched him, her finger burned like a hot iron poker. “Hilf uns,” was all she said. Then she pulled up her ragged hood, turned, and stepped slowly back toward the shadows like a nun reading vespers.
Shaken to his core, Sean carried Phil to his bed and dozed uneasily in a chair until the Sun came up. Phil showed no sign of rousing anytime soon, and the air held no trace of the specter.
Back home, Sean ate sausage, eggs, and toast before collapsing on his mattress.
He awoke in mid-afternoon and retrieved a box from under his bed. Inside the box lay the Book, splotchy with age, nestled in a soft, wool lining. The Book was bound in brown sharkskin leather. Embossed on the cover, lavish Celtic patterns were interwoven with other more ancient and eldritch symbols. The pages devoted to cases like Phil’s specified that no simple herbs or spells would suffice. To be helped, Phil would have to be fully opened emotionally. The draoi needed to have physically intimate contact with the person he or she was trying to help, best done soon before an apparition of the haunt. Sean felt he was in way over his head.
After twilight, Sean took a lantern down to Rose’s grave overlooking Imeal. Being a suicide, she could not rest in the so-called sanctified ground of the Church cemetery. Sean laid a cloth on the dirt and opened the Book. He mumbled some runes. Although sprinkled with a few Gaelic and Finnish words, the earthy, guttural language was intelligible only to the few adepts like Sean left in the world. A glow appeared over the mound of the grave. In the middle, a seal appeared. As it swam toward Sean within the glow, it contorted into a captivating young woman with black hair, large dark eyes, and swarthy complexion.
“Ah, darling sister Rose. Where are you now?”
“Sean, it tickles my whiskers. Mum and I are living in the Hebrides, way north. It’s not so good to be conjuring me so. Must be a serious thing.”
Rose died to the human world, but, with her mother’s help, joined a pod of Sami finfolk who had all returned to the sea as seals. She knew the Book and the old ways better than Sean. In fact, her misuse of the Book in a jealous rage caused much of the trouble in Sean’s family and led to her self-imposed banishment to the sea through suicide.
“Rose, you gave me the Book and the gifts that come with it. It’s a great wonder, but also a burden. I’ve got a bit of a problem here. For sure, I need your help.”
Sean told Rose about Lloyd Phillips, what he had seen at old Tom O’Malley’s, and what the Book said needed to be done.
“So, Rose, I need your skills… and your feminine ways, if I may say so.”
Sean blushed at what he was asking Rose to do. She noticed his ruddy face and laughed. “Ah, Sean, I love you so. I’d have thought by now the Book would’ve burned Father O’Connell’s shame of the flesh out of you.” She sighed and continued, “My spirit’s free to move, Sean. I can come to you, but I need a body. To do a loving spell with a man, I need a woman’s body, a woman with finfolk in her blood who knows the receiving spells.”
“Rose, you know it’s only me here.”
“Sure. So, you have to do the shape shift.”
Sean turned to the relevant page of the Book and read.
“Bloody Wounds of Christ, what a thing you’re asking of me. It’s unnatural!”
“Dear brother, nothing that can be done is unnatural, and who is it that’s doing the asking here, anyway? I’m minding my own business, feasting on cod and mackerel… Oh, and watch the blasphemy, now, or Father O’Connell will give your ear a twist.”
They chuckled together at that and spent the better part of an hour discussing what was required.
Later that night, Sean, Finn, and Phil sat in a dingy nook of the Squealing Pig, hunched over pints of Guinness. Finn’s pipe filled the alcove with conspiratorial haze.
“Phil, I think I can help you, but it’ll take me to another place, shall we say, for a couple a days. I took the liberty to tell Finn here about your visitor, hoping you don’t mind. He’ll stay with you tonight and tomorrow instead of me. The storm’ll keep his boat in anyhow. Are we agreed?”
Phil and Finn nodded.
“Phil, I’ve got some herbs here might give you a little sleep, better than the whiskey can, but they will not stop the visits. Finn, I hope you got the stomach for a scare. Shook me, it did.”
“Can’t be worse than those men I saw burned up in the oil slick after that damned U-boat blasted their ship.”
“Brave of you to rescue the few you could, Finn, but Phil’s specter is not a true living thing and powerful grim. Anyway, Phil, I’m trusting in you. On the night after next, Finn won’t be with you, but I’ll send a healer. You do what she says.”
“Good, then I should be back the day after that. A toast to courage and fortitude! Sláinte Mhaith!”
Finn replied, “Sláinte agad-sa!”
Phil proffered a “Cheers”.
All three men downed their pints.
“It’s done then,” said Sean and banged his glass on the table for emphasis.
The next day, after locking his door and windows, Sean sat down on his bed, cracked the seal on a bottle of Kilbeggan Whiskey, poured some in a glass, and took a respectful nip.
“Aye, courage and fortitude. I’m needing them for sure.”
Sean gulped down the contents of the tumbler, while the storm outside rattled his windows with driven rain.
He opened the Book and connected to Rose, much as he had at her grave. The seal pod of finfolk were prepared to protect Rose’s seal body when her spirit left, and Sean and Rose began to chant the shape shifting.
Within the hour, Sean’s features began to morph – a softening of the skin, changes in complexion, in hair and eye color, loss of body hair. These were easy. His body tingled, but didn’t hurt.
By dusk, he was losing bulk. The transformation began to be painful, like dozens of little people inside scraping substance from his bones. Some of the fat simply relocated itself by slithering around. Sean’s breasts, hips, and buttocks ballooned and rounded.
The true agony began at midnight with the skeletal changes. In effect, many of his bones had to break and reset in multiple places. Sean took frequent swigs of whiskey. His overall dimensions shrank while his pelvis widened.
As sunrise approached, the major alterations were complete, and his bottle of whiskey empty. Sean lay moaning in bed, as the pain receded. But before Rose could enter Sean’s body, it had to become feminine in more than overall shape.
“Sean, my dear brother, are you enough recovered yet?”
“Darling sister, I need another swig o’liquid courage, if you don’t mind.” Sean pulled a second bottle of Kilbeggan from under the bed, sucked down a few fingers worth, and lay back down.
“I tell ya, Rose, now I know what Father O’Connell’s hell must be like, and he’d have me in it for sure for what’s to happen next.”
With that, Rose, recognizing Sean’s exhaustion, chanted the rest of the shifting spell alone from her glowing ball of light.
When Sean’s genitals sucked inside him and morphed into their female counterparts, he experienced the blend of pain and pleasure that follows strenuous sex, and his bowels twitched as if invaded by a family of hyperactive voles. The feminization of his brain proved subtler. As the nerve connections altered, he had an involuntary orgasm that was so intense he gasped.
“Ah, gone my lovely manhood,” he said aloud. It startled him to hear it come out in the soft, enchanting voice of Rose.
When the orgasm faded, Sean became aware of changes in his emotional landscape. It’s not that any feeling was present that did not already exist, but the balance shifted. Emotional tinges in the background traded places with what had once been foreground. States of mind came and went in turmoil. For a while, he even experienced a compulsive infatuation with Phil, like an adolescent girl.
“Darling sister, I’m all wrong inside.”
“Aye, Sean. It’s time.”
The glow that held Rose’s likeness drifted to the bed and spread over Sean’s body like the aura around a saint, then soaked in. The brain kept enough of the masculine and feminine to accommodate both spirits. There was a brief confusion about who was who, until enough nerve pathways were altered for Rose’s personality to coexist alongside Sean’s. Both selves cohabited the body. Brother and sister knew each other in a way that all their past family tragedy could never have communicated. Rose thought a spell for transference of spirit and took sole control of the body’s voluntary muscular system.
Sean’s part of the collective mind reeled at the content of his sister’s soul. Although no longer able to act or speak out loud, he was able to converse with Rose in their shared mind.
Rose, truly? This is what it’s like to be you?
My dear brother, you’re quite the revelation yourself.
Rose ran her hands over the borrowed body, lingering over the more pleasurable parts.
My God, Rose, do you mind?
Brother, let it be. I know we’re sore from the changing, but it’s exciting to have all the human parts again. Haven’t you ever wondered what it feels like to be a woman? It’s not such a bad thing, is it now?
I just need time, Rose.
But it’s time now we become one thing, Sean.
Rose recited a powerful rune. With that, their consciousnesses merged. Although each maintained a separate focus, Rose’s female spirit was the active principle, while Sean’s masculinity remained in shadow.
With a burst of exuberance, Rose got up and twirled spirals around the room, celebrating her brief revisit to human life. This lasted until the body reminded her of all it had been through. She lingered for a while at the window admiring the stormy sky. Always a heavy drinker herself, she downed another tumbler of Kilbeggan. Then she got back on the bed, pulled up the covers, and slept until the late afternoon of the next day.
Naked at the kitchen table, Rose enjoyed a hearty meal, while admiring the drapery of clouds from the played out storm. Rose relished every ordinary human sensation. Because her body was ravenous from the punishment of the shape shift, every mouthful of human food ravished her palate. The Sean inside her was at first embarrassed by the brazenness of her sensuality, but came to embrace it as Rose’s raw natural innocence.
After lingering in a sudsy bath, Rose pulled on a plain, light blue, piece-dyed taffeta dress she found among belongings Sean had saved. It was tight in a way that emphasized all the features most appealing to men. She also donned the simple necklace her mother had given her – a carved wooden Celtic symbol for infinity that hung from a leather cord. It had once signified a tragic love, and it graced her bosom with dark, primitive charm.
Except for the rising Moon, it was dark by the time Rose walked along the cliff trail leading to old Tom O’Malley’s. She let her spirit beam and the fairies flocked to her. The seal island off the coast erupted in boisterous welcome. It felt good to be back. Rose lingered at the place where she had jumped to her death only a few years ago, the same place where she had fought with her sister over a trinket from the man they both loved, the fight in which her sister stumbled over the edge. Thanks to the ancient magic, all had in the end been forgiven. It now seemed like just another of the beautiful, sad songs that the fairies sang.
When she arrived, Rose knocked gently on Phil’s door. She heard footsteps on the other side. Phil spoke, after a long pause, “Who’s there? Is it Sean’s friend?”
“His sister, Rose.”
“Rose? But Sean told me you were dead.”
“Well, that was not the whole truth of it then, was it? Open the door and see.”
The door opened a crack. Instead of the specter he feared, Phil saw a beautiful young woman. He opened the door wide. Rose’s gaggle of fairies were invisible to him. When Rose stepped into Phil’s cottage, the fairies tittered and flew away.
“Bringing people back from the dead? I’m having enough trouble with dead people who won’t stay dead. What kind of Irish magic is this?”
“A most powerful kind. You have to trust how it is. Sean and me have gone through a wee bit of trouble over this, I might say. Might I call you Phil?”
Rose moved close to Phil and gave him a flirtatious smile. He took an awkward step back, looked down at the floor, and muttered, “Well, can I offer you whiskey or some tea? Please sit at the table.”
Sean, is there something about Phil I need to know?
Well, Finn, he wondered if Phil might be, you know, well...
Now you say it?
Well we don’t know one way or the other. He’s had it rough with the specter and all. Give him time.
“Whiskey, please, for the dead Irish lass.”
There was already an opened bottle of single malt Scotch whiskey and a tumbler on the table. Phil retrieved another glass from a press, sat down across from her, and poured her a couple of inches.
“Phil, I’m here to help ease your troubles if I can.”
“So I’m told.”
They clicked glasses. Rose took a healthy gulp, while Phil sipped.
“Sean told me I should do what you say.”
“Don’t make it sound like laundry chores, Phil. There’ll be some fun in it. ”
“Did Sean tell you about my visitor?”
“Aye, but let’s not think of her right now. Let’s be us.”
Phil stared down at his glass. Finally, he looked up and met Rose’s eyes. “Sometimes I think you folks are having a bloody joke at my expense.”
“Well, dear man, maybe this will help?” Rose muttered a few sentences in the ancient tongue and a glitter like fireworks covered the center of the table. In a few moments, the Book appeared there. “Touch it. Open it. We’ll be needing it, and this little trick is easier than carrying.”
Although used to his personal ghost, Phil had not witnessed such conjuring before. The effect was like a slap on the face. He picked up the Book, eyes wide, and his hands tingled as he leafed through the pages. After a while, he asked, “What now?”
“Well, if I’m not being too forward, I say we take the Book and the whiskey to your bedroom. We have to become real good friends if I’m to help.”
Phil’s face took on a helpless expression. “I’m shy with women, though I like them well enough.” Blushing, he added, “You see. I went to a boarding school. Boys only. I’m, well, more comfortable with men.”
Well now, Rose, I didn’t know for sure.
Well, we’re healers, brother. We’ll do what we have to do.
In the bedroom, Rose and Phil started slow, with proximity and talk. It was a while before they undressed. Rose played a dominant, directive role, while Phil remained passive. Rose whispered infatuation spells to help things along, and the alcohol cleared many inhibitions. The climax satisfied all three of them, though Sean had a hard time admitting it to himself. Rose snuggled into Phil’s side and stroked his face.
“Phil, you’re not the only one carrying the guilt around.”
“No, I suppose not… But they burned to death. Thousands.”
“Well, I don’t know about the thousands, but let me tell my tale.”
Rose explained about her sister and the love triangle.
“Sean told me about that.”
“But I bet what he didn’t tell is what happened to the man we both loved. Paddy.”
“He spurned me, he did, when my sister died. So I cursed him, with the Book there, and Nazi bombers blew him off a ship in Norway with a hundred others. I did that. I really did. So, I jumped off the cliff.”
“Oh, Rose. That’s horrible.”
“It was the penance. Then Mum gave my spirit up to the seals.”
“You’re really a seal?”
“Somewhere out in the Hebrides.”
Phil paused to digest that. “What do you think my penance will be?”
“Let’s hope your visitor knows, Phil. When does she usually appear?”
Phil looked at his clock. “In the a.m. hours. It’s not quite midnight now.”
“Good, we still have time.” Rose jumped up and shifted to her hands and knees. “Why don’t you take me like I was one of your school boys?”
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Rose!
An hour later, Rose got out of bed and slipped on her dress and necklace. “Phil, it’s time.”
After he dressed, they sat together on the bed. Phil had his arm around her shoulders. Rose opened the Book near the middle and began to recite. The symbols on the pages rippled with color, and the room buzzed, as if the agitation of the molecules in the air and walls became audible. The ocean sounded loud, as if the breakers were at Phil’s doorstep.
In what seemed like minutes, another hour past. Then, Rose and Phil sensed the specter approaching the cottage. There was a loud pounding on the door. Rose left the Book open on the bed. As they moved toward the door, arm in arm, Rose continued chanting. They had no candle, but a brightness like noon moved with them.
Sean, it’s more powerful strong than anything I can remember!
I told you, Rose.
Rose could not be certain what Phil saw on his threshold, but, to Rose, it was not simply a burnt corpse. At least two personalities shimmered around it, and faces flickered over the blackened skull. Rose felt dizzy. The brightness in the foyer took on texture. It whirled around the specter and Phil and whooshed like a tornado. The woman extended her bundle.
“Phil, take it.” Rose had to shout over the noise.
Phil opened the blanket and saw a live, sleeping baby. He looked up at the woman. A face with angular Germanic features solidified around the skull. She was no longer scorched.
“Danke,” was all she said.
“Oh, god, I’m sorry. I’m so terribly sorry.” Phil secured the baby in one arm and put the other around the woman. The wind howled louder and burst into flames. Sweating, Rose pressed herself against the wall. She could only witness the center of the fiery maelstrom using her preternatural sight.
Be strong, Phil.
When Phil backed away to look into the women’s eyes, the face had morphed into his mother’s. Weeping, Phil buried his head in her neck.
“Lloyd, you’re a good man. Let go of all this. You need to be yourself again.”
Phil felt the baby tear open his shirt. Phil backed away from his mother and looked down to see the child plunge into his body. His chest rippled like the surface of a lake as the baby disappeared. Phil screamed and gyrated and dropped to his knees. Rose leapt into the inferno and put her arms around him. Before she realized it, she found herself holding a baby who smiled up at her. Rose shouted out the strongest spell of motherly love she knew.
The wind and flame dissipated. When she opened her eyes again, Rose had her arms wrapped around the adult Phil, who was on his knees and sobbing. The doorway was empty. The only other sound was the booming of the surf.
Sean had expected to become himself again the next day, but Rose lingered. She had fallen in love with Phil and, more important, Phil needed her spiritual midwifery to nurture his rebirth. Of course, Rose also enjoyed human life – the sex, the emotions, all the sensations. It was hard to let go.
Finn stopped by to look in on Phil and was noticeably chagrined to find a woman around. He was even more shocked when he finally recognized Rose. Out of reflex, he crossed himself a few times.
A week passed until, finally, Rose stood at Phil’s door at sunset, prepared to leave.
“Phil, I don’t want to go, but I must return to the sea. My seal body’s dying. If it dies, I will too. Aye, the strangeness of it all.”
“Rose, I don’t know what to say. Your leaving hurts.”
“Ah, you’re a man again, Phil. You’re not needing dead people anymore.”
“Rose, you’re more alive than anyone I’ve ever met.”
“You’ll meet others, for sure. There’s one already seems very smitten with you. And, please, as long as you’re in Eire, which I hope is a long, long time, listen for the fairies. They’ll sing to you at dusk and break of day. I leave you with the gift of hearing them.”
Several fairies twittered around her head. A look of enchantment swept across Phil’s face.
“Rose, I hear them.”
With that, Rose walked down to the trail along the top of the cliff, the Book under her arm. The wind whipped the dress up around her thighs, and she beamed a broad Sami smile over her shoulder.
“Stay away from the priests, OK?”
“No worries. Safe travels, Rose.”
On her way back to Sean’s cottage, Rose stopped again at the top of the cliff where she had jumped to her death.
I could just jump again, and we’d both be dead for real.
Dear sister, I’d surely rather you didn’t.
The spirit being set free is a beautiful thing. When truly dead, we flow around like the air and water.
Thanks, all the same.
Rose stood on the edge enjoying the stiff, salty breeze off the ocean. The red in the clouds turned the color of blood.
Rose, I’m wondering. Have you heard of the big bomb the Yanks dropped on the Japs?
Yes, all Nature knows. There was a terrible chatter about it in the sea.
Well, if ordinary bombs twist the spirit so, like Phil, what about that?
Sean, what I feel in the sea says bad times are coming that will put to shame this little war we just had. As much as I love this body, I belong to the sea now. I’ll do what healing I can from there.
Guess I need to do the same, from here.
The last of the Sun slipped under the horizon.
Sean, dear brother, I hope you live yourself a proud life. I do not want to leave you, but it must be so.
Rose, how can I live with all this inside me now.
Sean, the more inside, the more you have to share.
Give my love to Mum, now, won’t you?
As the Moon made another cycle in its orbit, Sean’s life returned to a semblance of normalcy. He noticed that Phil was spending a lot of time with Finn. Truth be told, Sean had fallen in love – with Rose, with being Rose, and, as Rose, with Phil. He still grieved these several losses and had been keeping pretty much to himself, hiking the hillsides and sitting for hours at a time gazing at Donegal Bay.
This particular evening, when Sean walked into the Squealing Pig, he saw Phil and Finn in the back alcove, seated on the same side of the table. As Sean watched them from the bar, they seemed preoccupied with each other, whispering, shoulders touching from time to time. He asked the bartender to bring a round of Guinness for three and ambled over. “Finn and Phil, it is! I ordered us some pints.”
Phil looked up smiling, “Sean, please sit. It’s me who should be buying the pints.”
“No more specters, me man?”
“None.” Phil glanced sideways at Finn. “Finn and I have some news. We decided to tighten our budgets and throw in together. Share O’Malley’s place.”
Finn winked at Sean. Since learning about Finn’s preferences, Sean had noticed there were several bachelor households, and spinster households too, sprinkled around the nearby villages. It was always a matter of economy, to be sure.
Sean felt a twinge of jealously, but his smile broadened. “Well now that’s reason to celebrate!” When the pints arrived, they clicked their glasses and downed healthy swigs.
Wiping his lips, Phil said, “Say, Sean, Finn says you had a wife once upon a time.”
“Still do. When Rose jumped off that cliff, I was besotted all the time. My wife got fed up and moved back to her mum’s in Letterkenny. Haven’t seen her since, but there’s been a letter or two.”
“A shame, that is, Sean, I always thought,” said Finn.
Sean’s innards warmed in a way they hadn’t in a while. He could feel Rose smiling inside him. Sean remembered this as the moment in which he resolved to go to Letterkenny and bring his wife home.
Sean’s otherworldly vision noticed a fairy chirping near his left ear. Phil was tapping his finger in time with the melody. Sean looked at Phil with deliberately flirtatious mischief and raised his glass.
“To my darling sister Rose! As she always said, the fairies sing to us at dusk and dawn!”
Phil’s eyes widened. All he said was, “What?”
Then they all smiled, clinked glasses, and downed the pints.
As published in the anthology Witches, ed. Doug Draa (Wildside Press 2017).