“Is it over?” she asked.
“I can’t promise that. Let’s just all arrive at the good side of this,” the man replied.
Delicate flakes of snow fell around them as dawn began to break on Christmas morning. It was peaceful, with only a few sporadic hints of melody from a distant bird drifting across the field. Slowly they trudged away, taking care to avoid the gigantic paw prints that surrounded them and leaving behind a sea of crimson, already sinking into the snow.
The Night Before
Mary Lawlor sat at the dining room table with a wine-glass smile and a joint the size of a child’s forearm. She had enjoyed watching the party evolve and take new form, swinging over the precipice of control, catching itself on the verge of madness and flirting with mayhem. She watched as her son, Neville, danced vivaciously across the wooden table to the cheers of the crowd beneath him. Tall, wild, and handsome, people were naturally drawn to him. Neville had always had the ability to turn a party into a celebration, to shake people free of the shackles that bound them to selfish seriousness. He gave the impression of someone whose behaviour remained the same regardless of the surroundings. Mary strongly suspected that had he spent Christmas alone, he would have celebrated in much the same manner.
As the clock chimed for 11pm, the partygoers suddenly regained their sobriety, as if waking up from a dream. They began to put on their jackets and shoes.
“Time already is it?” called out Mary, brushing the curly black hair from her face.
“You know how it is, Mary, shouldn’t be out too late,” replied one of guests, hopping on one foot as he squeezed into his winter boots.
“Oh, of course. Can’t have you ending up on the Christmas menu, can we?” Mary said, making no effort to conceal her grin.
The man stood up straight.
“The Beast is no laughing matter, Mary,” he huffed.
“Pay no attention to her, Brandon. Ye just get home safe,” said her husband Paddy, who had entered the room and rested his arm around Mary’s shoulder. “Merry Christmas, everyone!” As soon as the door closed, the pair looked at each other and let out a giggle before descending into a fit of laughter.
“Bloody eejits, scared of a monster from a bedtime story!” said Paddy, his wide chest heaving.
Just as they began to head back to the fireplace, they saw Neville zipping up his leather jacket.
“Neville, you’re not leaving, are you?” said Mary, surprised.
“Afraid so. I wouldn’t want to get eaten by any monsters, now would I?” he replied with a wink and walked towards the door. “Hell of a party, to be sure.”
Mary followed behind him. “But it’s freezing outside, and you didn’t even bring a car!”
“Don’t worry, I rather fancy a Christmas stroll.”
“Are you sure? I already made your old room up just in—”
“I’ll call you tomorrow, Mum,” said Neville, and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
Paddy strode forwards and wrapped his thick arms around Neville, pulling him into a tight bear hug. “It was great to see ye, Nev. Thanks again for all the Champagne, it was a wonderful surprise.”
“Don’t mention it, Paddy.” With that, he walked out into the night.
Mary and Paddy sank into the sofa and warmed their toes by the fire. Paddy hummed along with the music softly whilst Mary laid her head on his shoulder.
“Everything okay?” Paddy asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just wish Neville could’ve stuck around a little longer, you know? He barely tells me anything. I don’t even know how he earns his money,” Mary replied, her eyes settling on the empty bottles of Dom Pérignon strewn across the floor. Paddy stayed silent, stroking her hand.
“Still, it’s been a great Christmas, hasn’t it?” Mary turned to face Paddy.
Paddy sat up and refilled both of their wine glasses. “And one hell of a party!” he said with a wide grin, and met her glass with a loyal clink.
“It was a work of art,” proclaimed Mary, after taking a long drink.
“Art? Ye know I’ve no time for that kind of thing, Mary.”
“Art is the most beautiful thing in the world, Paddy, and don’t you forget it,” she said.
Paddy gave a short snort of laughter. “Art, the most beautiful… Have ye not seen a sunset, woman? Or the ancient black stone cliffs? Where the waves break themselves on the jagged rocks not thirty minutes from where we’re standing? Ye going to sit here and compare that to someone drawing a bowl a’ fruit?”
“Nature’s fine,” conceded Mary, “but art’s the language of life itself.”
“I can’t make heads or tails of what you’re saying Mary. You’ve gone daft to be sure.”
“Have I? Consider a sculpture, painstakingly crafted, created to capture the imagination and stupefy the soul, placed in the middle of a city for the people to enjoy.”
“Oh be done, won’t ye? One of those abstract, no-sense pieces of crap, left in the middle of the street to get in everyone’s way?”
“Fine. A classical marble statue then,” carried on Mary patiently, “standing proudly amongst the flowers, so lifelike that birds keep a fair distance in case it springs to life.”
“Oh great,” replied Paddy, all eye rolls and sarcastic tones. “That’ll be just wonderful. Some bloke in the nude with his bits flapping in the wind, rousing pigeons into a panic till they’re shitting on everyone’s heads! Give us a break, Mary.”
Mary could feel her temper rising. “For Christ’s sake Paddy, what about street art? Surely even you can appreciate that?”
“Street art?” Thoroughly enjoying himself, Paddy paused and leaned in mischievously. “Petty vandalism, I say.”
For a moment Mary sat motionless, struggling to absorb her husband’s comment. It would, as Paddy would soon discover, set the course of the night’s adventures.
“Vandalism?” hissed Mary with a deathly stare. “I’ll show you vandalism.”
A Stolen Legacy
In the late 1980s, having made a name for herself as an artist in Ireland, Mary Lawlor flew to England after being commissioned for an art project by American Baseball Hall of Fame legend Ernest Banks. Mr. Banks owned a beautiful country home in Bristol, where he lived with his wife and young daughter. Banks instructed Mary to decorate his daughter’s playroom with exotic animals from all over the planet.
“She’s animal mad, you see,” said Mr. Banks. “But unfortunately she’s terribly allergic to them! How’s that for irony!”
As soon as Mary stepped into the playroom, she understood why Mr. Banks had given her such a generous amount of money. The room was gigantic. It would take her years to paint. Mary decided that she would have to come up with another solution. One day, as she was walking around the grounds, she noticed that almost everything she saw had a been neatly labeled with the words, ‘Property of Ernie Banks.’ Inside the house, too, every chair, electrical appliance and piece of cutlery was adorned with a small sign, with the name of its owner spray-painted on.
Mary had vague recollections of her mother writing her name and telephone number in her shoes as a child, but this… Clearly this is a very possessive man, she thought. He must use a stencil to write his name on everything, otherwise he’d be doing it all day! Suddenly, Mary had an idea that would help her finish the playroom in no time.
For the next month, Mary designed life-sized stencils and began practising in the streets of Bristol. At first, she sprayed in alleyways and other secluded spots, but as her confidence grew, so did her desire for an audience. Soon, under cover of darkness, she began to spray her animals liberally across public property, over bridges and on the sides of bewildered cows. Being a proud Irishwoman, Mary couldn’t help poking fun at the English. She began to spray satirical pieces of art all over Bristol, evoking the anger of the police, who warned the public of a new graffiti ‘crime wave’ sweeping the city.
Mary allowed Mr. Banks to look through her stencils to choose which designs he would like for the playroom. He appeared pleased with them. But no sooner had she started, he told her that the decoration would be postponed till a later date. Having been fully paid in advance, Mary was only too happy to fly back to Ireland, leaving her stencils behind. She never heard from Mr. Banks again.
Little did Mary know that her street graffiti had caused quite a stir in the Bristolian art scene. But since the mysterious artist had left no name or alias, who was to profit from the pieces?
Many years later, having all but forgotten the whole episode, Mary was flicking through a magazine at the dentist. To her surprise, inside she saw a photograph of one of her designs, sprayed across an old wooden door. The door, which was due to be sold for ten million pounds the following week, was apparently the latest piece by a young graffiti artist, who was shocking the world with his daring exploits and edgy political expression.
As the full weight of realisation settled on Mary’s mind like Victorian smog, baseball legend, actor, and now revolutionary street artist Ernie Banks stood in the centre of his daughter’s old playroom. He held a glass of whiskey in his hand and a Cuban cigar between his teeth. He looked at Mary’s original stencils hanging on the wall, and glanced at the small plaque under each one that said ‘Property of Banksy.’ With a low chuckle, Mr. Banks left the room, locking the door behind him.
After disappearing into the storage room, Mary emerged wearing a black backpack. She took Paddy by the arm and dragged him out of the front door before he’d even had a chance to steady himself, a risky manoeuvre given his advanced state of inebriation.
The car sped down the empty road as snowflakes danced around it. The unlucky ones fell prey to Mary’s windscreen, rammed by the hardened glass before being shoveled into sludge by the wipers. The weather howled in revenge for the snowflakes slain, and whirled itself into a storm around the blinded vehicle.
“Slow down Mary, ye can’t see a thing!” cried Paddy as he groped for the broken seat belt.
Mary slowed to a standstill. She opened the door and peered outside, squinting her eyes against the snowstorm that raged around her. Suddenly, she found what she had been looking for, sitting placidly in an open field.
“Come on Paddy, this’ll do. And bring the wine.”
Paddy turned his head to follow Mary’s gaze. It looks like this night might escalate rather quickly, he thought as he reached for the bottle of red wine that Mary kept in a box under the passenger seat for celebrations or emergencies.
“Mary, where the hell are we going?”
“Trust me, Paddy!” she replied. Then, sensing his reluctance, she teased, “You’re not scared of the big, bad Beast, are you?”
“Oh, be quiet, will ye, and let’s get this over with!”
Paddy pulled down the metal wire fence, carefully avoiding the barbs, for Mary to climb nimbly over. They moved across the plain whilst the wind whispered violent promises in their ears. Finally, they reached their target, which looked up at them innocently.
“Paddy!” whispered Mary. “The wine!”
Paddy took out the bottle from inside his heavy jacket. It was a 1962 Clos Fourtet, one of his favourites. At Mary’s insistence, he poured a generous serving into her tightly cupped hands, and she crouched down onto one knee to make her offering.
The cow sitting in front of them seemed wary at first. But after taking an inquisitory sniff of the concoction, the poor creature reflected that there was precious little opportunity for spontaneity in a cow’s life, and decided that she should live a little. Besides, there was bugger all else to do.
With her long, gluttonous tongue, the indulgent beast lapped up the wine, prompting Paddy to offer a refill. Soon, the placated cow’s eyes started to droop heavily. Sensing the time was right, Mary removed her backpack, reached inside, and pulled out some stencils and several cans of spray paint.
When she had finished, Mary stepped back and joined Paddy in admiring her work. Colours catapulted wildly in every direction. Intricate patterns rose and receded like melodies playing across the oblivious animal’s skin. Bizarre shapes emerged, before disappearing back into the paint. The cow’s hide had transformed into an unlikely canvas for Mary’s masterpiece. Arm in arm for support and companionship, the pair traipsed back over the sodden ground. When they reached the gate, they realised that it hadn’t been locked after all, so they threw it open and walked out of the field without the need for any more barbed wire acrobatics.
“That was a great craic, Mary. I feel like a kid!” cheered Paddy. His voice was full of nostalgia as he warmed his frozen fingers under the car heater.
Laughter rang out from inside the car with the carelessness of youthful vagrancy. As they bobbed happily down the road, there were no two people in the whole of Ireland who more fully embodied the true spirit of Christmas.
Search the souls of all the drunkards, gamblers, churchgoers, and plutocrats, and still you’ll find no better examples. But it is a curious fact of life that fortune is as fickle as the happiness that rides on its coattails. As Paddy was about to discover, their fortune was about to run out.
“Mary, stop the damn car!”
Slamming her foot on the brake, Paddy’s mangled old seat belt tore free of its rusty nest, propelling him headfirst into the glove compartment and slamming him into sobriety. He staggered out of the door, followed by Mary.
“Paddy, what on earth…” her voice trailed off as they stopped in front of a large rectangular sign. Snow had fallen away to reveal the name of the owner whose land they had breached, and whose cow they had recklessly defaced.
“Oh, shit!” exclaimed Mary.
PROPERTY OF THE PROUD PARISH OF FATHER LEANE
“Oh, shit,” agreed Paddy.
A Second Chance
Father Leane was, without a doubt, the most successful financier that the Irish Catholic Church had ever produced. Over the years, he had led the transformation of Irish Catholicism, a once lurching, out of touch institution from a bygone age, into what it is today—an indispensable source of emotional, social, and spiritual guidance. The faded, crumbling churches of old were renovated back into splendour by frantic young men with desperation in their eyes, hunger in their thin bodies, and fear in their foreign tongues. Church newsletters were replaced by smartphone notifications with subliminal religious messages. Church attendance had never been so consistent, even after the introduction of ecclesiastical entrance fees.
Parish businesses popped up all over Ireland, from parish kindergartens and music festivals to the now-ubiquitous parish pubs. But by far the most successful of Father Leane’s enterprises was his venture into the dairy industry. “Father Leane’s Holy Milk” was rumoured to be blessed by the Archbishop himself. Once again, Father Leane, whose cows developed miraculously quickly and produced gargantuan quantities of milk, had demonstrated his unwavering golden touch and good fortune. Locals quietly noted that the animals seemed to be remarkably muscular and aggressive for dairy cows.
Pulling the car into a frantic U-turn, Mary sped back towards the field they had just left. The good Father Leane was a powerful man and, if rumours were to be believed, not someone to be crossed. She hoped that the bottle of gin she kept in a second box—hidden behind the first box under the passenger seat, and to be used only in exceedingly dire emergency situations—would double as spray paint remover. Mary was still straining her eyes to see through the snowstorm when she suddenly slammed her foot hard on the brakes, once more sending Paddy crashing painfully into the glove compartment.
“Jesus fuck, Mary, don’t ye know how to drive, woman?” cried Paddy in a nasal voice as his nose began to swell. Mary offered no reply, staring in disbelief beyond the windscreen. Standing motionless in the white maelstrom stood the beautifully decorated cow, blocking their path.
“How the hell did she get out?” whispered Mary. “You didn’t leave the bloody gate open, did you?”
Paddy had no time to answer. The cow, which seemed larger than before, arched its muscular neck upwards and slammed its square head down into the car bonnet, jolting Mary and Paddy violently backwards. As the creature raised its head from the deep imprint it had made in the twisted metal, the pair sat frozen in their seats, fixated on the animal’s red-wine lips and drooping, listless eyes.
“Jesus O’Christ, she’s a mean drunk!” said Paddy.
“Oh, fuck this,” spat Mary as she forced herself out of her stupor. She threw the car into reverse and retreated up the country path, with the rampant beast in pursuit. Ropes of saliva streamed from its mouth as it charged after its prey.
Mary dove over Paddy as he shuffled sideways into the driver’s seat. She took a deep swig of the emergency gin, reassuring herself that if she were to die, at least she wouldn’t have to endure it sober.
Paddy’s eyes narrowed and his hands tightened around the steering wheel. Turning her attention from the cow, Mary noticed that he had slipped on a single leather racing glove, and that a steely calm had come over him. For the first time, she felt like she did not recognise the man sitting next to her.
A Secret Identity
Fifteen years ago, Patrick Diarmuid Lawlor was speeding through the centre of London in the early hours of the morning. The night before, he’d attended the birthday party of an old friend, who had left Ireland to build a successful career in the TV industry. Carried away by the joy of reunion and the excitement of being in a room full of celebrities, Paddy had fully embraced the spirit of celebration.
It’ll take a miracle to catch my flight, he thought as he skidded around another corner. Recollections of pulling donuts in a sports car drifted into his mind. He vaguely remembered a screaming Jeremy Clarkson clinging onto the car bonnet, and sincerely hoped the poor man wasn’t dead.
Arriving at the airport, Paddy ditched the car in the drop-off zone and sprinted towards border security. After a brief glance at his passport, the border official looked up at Paddy in recognition. Seconds later, a group of tall men in black pinstriped suits surrounded him, sat him down in a fluorescent room, and handed him a package. Cautiously, he tore it open and removed the object inside. He inspected the unfeasibly small object in the palm of his hand. The words ‘Minidisc Player’ were engraved on the top.
So, this is what we’ll all be using in the future, then, he thought, as he put in the earphones and pressed play.
“Good morning, Mr Lawlor. Bloody bad luck that you had to miss your flight. The boys and I rather enjoyed your little show last night outside the party. You have a lot of ability behind the wheel. However, there are a couple of small issues that we need to address. The first relates to you taking my brand new Lamborghini Murciélago for a spin, with me on the bonnet! I’ll be just fine, by the way. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the car, which I’ve been told is in the process of being fished out of a particularly deep pond. More importantly, Lawlor, you ran over our fucking test driver. You broke his leg the day before his television debut, you bumbling idiot! Well, lucky for you, I’ve found a solution, and you’ve found yourself a job. You’re Jeremy Clarkson’s property now.”
When The Stig was unveiled on Top Gear, Britain’s most popular TV show, on 20th October 2002, he captured the imagination of a nation. Clad in black racing gear, from his tinted glass helmet to his steel-capped boots, the show’s mysterious test driver became a household name overnight. Whilst Paddy Lawlor had been registered as a missing person, people around the world speculated on The Stig’s true identity. The Top Gear producers agreed that the public could never see his face. The Stig was not allowed to speak or to remove his helmet at any time. Neither was he permitted to remove his black gloves, in case he left fingerprints. Simple tasks like brushing teeth became a nightmare.
The Stig bided his time, until finally, he saw his opportunity to escape. In the premiere episode of the third series, The Stig lined up to race behind the wheel of an old Jaguar against a Harrier Jump Jet on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. As he accelerated along the deck, he shifted smoothly through the gears before gloriously crossing the finish line—and did not stop. In disbelief, the film crew watched as the Jaguar XJS launched itself off the runway ramp and into the ocean. By the time the cameramen reached the edge of the ramp, all that was left of The Stig was a single black glove, floating ominously in the water.
Immediately the show’s producers leapt into action. If police revealed the identity of The Stig to be a kidnapped Irishman, enslaved and forced to be one of the most loved and recognisable figures on British TV, there would be trouble. It was quietly leaked to a tabloid newspaper that The Stig was in fact the ex-racing driver whose leg Paddy had broken a year previously. The daring runway stunt would earn Top Gear yet more television awards later that year, which Jeremy Clarkson would have no problem accepting.
Exhausted and shivering, Paddy lay on the pebbled beach and let the waves lap rhythmically against his leather-clad torso. He barely had enough energy to remove the black helmet, but once he did, the sights, smells, and sounds of the ocean filled his ears and pierced his sense-starved mind. He resolved that he would go back to Ireland, marry a beautiful woman, and live life to the fullest. And that he would never drive again.
Paddy navigated the perilous twists and turns of the country path, knowing that any mistake could prove fatal. The foaming bovine continued to close in when suddenly the snowstorm disappeared, as if having decided that Mary and Paddy had taken enough punishment. The air cleared just in time for Paddy to see that they had reached the edge of Ballyheige’s limestone cliffs, mere seconds from careening off into the murky depths below. Mary raised her hand to make a frantic sign of the cross, but it had been so long since she had last practised it that she forgot the routine.
Luckily for Mary’s immortal soul, Paddy reacted quickly, pulling the car into a sharp handbrake turn and skidding to a halt mere inches from the edge. The mad cow, unfortunately, was not the most agile of beasts, and hurtled senselessly over the cliff and down, down to a watery death. Her last thoughts were of the dancing metal box that had eluded her and why its occupants hadn’t just given her a drop more of that sumptuous red water and put an end to all this nonsense.
Mary and Paddy’s stunned silence turned to rapturous joy, which quickly subsided into a deep sense of dread as they realised the true enormity of their actions: they had killed one of Father Leane’s prize dairy cows.
“We’ve just killed one of Father Leane’s prize dairy cows!” said Mary. “What the fuck are we going to do now?”
Paddy had retreated into a state of shock by the time they arrived home. Mary closed the front door and followed him into the living room, where he had slumped in front of the fireplace to watch the flames flicker and grow. The grim reality of their situation was not lost on either of them. They had landed themselves firmly on the wrong side of Father Leane, who was not known for his leniency, nor his mild temperament.
With a crack, a stray ember burst from the fire and landed painfully on Paddy’s hand, snapping him out of his nihilistic surrender. As he rubbed the red mark on his skin, an idea of such simplicity formed in Paddy’s mind that he was angry with himself for not having thought of it sooner.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I’ve got it!” he cried, grabbing Mary by the shoulders.
“What we need… is a fixer!”
There was a pause as Mary cautiously drew back.
“What is this, Pulp Fiction?” she said mockingly.
“Just listen to me.”
“Well then spit it out, Don Corleone.”
“We have to call your son. We have to call Neville.”
Mary sat motionless, staring at her husband. “And why the fuck would we do that?”
“You’ve always wondered what Neville does for a living, right? How he left school at fifteen years old but seems to be doing pretty well for himself?”
It was true. For years now she’d received paper bags filled with wads of cash, as regular as clockwork at the start of the month from her generous son. Once she’d found half of a man’s finger inside. Mary was not the type of woman to let silly suspicions get the better of her, but lately she had started to suspect that there was something her son was not telling her.
“I never wanted to worry ye, Mary, but I’ve heard rumours. Word on the street is, if ye have a problem, a big problem I mean, then Neville is the man to call.”
She struggled to comprehend Paddy’s words. Her Neville, part in the Irish underworld? It was ridiculous…and yet, there was something about it which seemed to fit together. He had always been different, had never been one to follow the crowd. After all, it was certainly something special to have The Rolling Stones’ front man as a father.
Contrary to Mary’s belief, it was not as special as one would expect. To be blunt, if you were a female between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five living in Dublin at the time that The Rolling Stones came to record their 1989 album “Steel Wheels,” there is a high probability that Mr. Jagger fathered one of your children, statistically speaking.
Ten minutes after Paddy had hung up the phone, they heard a knock at the door. Neville strode into the living room with calm, full-lipped confidence, and lowered his tall frame into a rocking chair in the corner.
“Right,” he said. “Tell me everything, and start at the beginning.”
Mary and Paddy left no detail untold. At the end of it all, Neville stood up, lit a cigarette, and spoke through the wisps of smoke.
“Well I’m glad you called me. Mum, as you probably know by now, I haven’t been completely honest with you about what I do for a living. I need to tell you the truth about the Beast of Ballyheige.”
A Rather Tall Tale
Fifteen years ago, Ireland was one of the few remaining developed countries to have its entertainment industry stuck firmly in the Stone Age. While the whole of Europe had become hypnotised by Japanese video games and addicted to American sitcoms, if you had grown up in Ireland at the time, you would have been lucky to have an old bicycle wheel and a stick to push it around with. While the rest of the world addicted themselves to the titillating wonders of the Internet, the youth of Ireland seemed to remain wholly unaffected by modernity’s endless escapism. In fact, they seemed to be having too much fun to want to escape anything.
In Ballyheige, there were innumerable adventures to be had on top of the black stone cliffs and around the freshwater springs that emerged spontaneously amongst the fern trees. There were tiny islands no bigger than a football field, waiting to be claimed as kingdoms by anyone brave enough to risk the whirlpools and the giant squid that undoubtedly haunted the shallow coast.
But while the children were happily contented with their Edenic lifestyle, adults were not so thrilled. Schoolteachers found it impossible to keep students in school. Farmers frequently found their land trespassed onto and their bales of hay used as gigantic hamster wheels to roll down hills. Parents grown accustomed to the control they had previously enjoyed over their sons and daughters were shocked to find that their offspring had set themselves free of parental oversight, and thrown away its system of rules and regulations, its manners and bed times, and its unhealthy obsession with permission. Clearly, something had to be done.
“Something has to be done!” wailed a rotund housewife as she thumped the table. She was dressed in black, and looked at the people seated at the table through narrowed eyes, daring disagreement.
“They’re a law unto themselves!” cried the restaurateur, whose vegetable garden had recently been broken into. The culprits had taken bites out of every single vegetable in the garden, and had left dozens of stuffed rabbits scattered here and there, each with tiny crumbs around their furry mouths.
“Couldn’t we just get truck load of those fancy ‘gaming boy’ machines? I heard that kids never go outside once they start playing ’em!” offered the confectionary storeowner, whose delicious sugary treats had experienced a huge plunge in demand. Apparently, children were getting all the thrills they needed from the great outdoors these days.
“Those Japs certainly have the right idea,” chimed in a casual racist.
All heads turned to see who had spoken. Clenching a smouldering cigar between his yellowed teeth, the man stepped into the light. It was Farmer Murray. In his youth, the bitter old man had been as cheerful and lively as a fiddler on St. Patrick’s Day. But this had all changed after one summer, when feckless vandals invaded his property every night for three months, and painted his prized cattle with psychedelic patterns and peace slogans. He had never forgiven the insult, nor forgotten it.
Farmer Murray’s voice hardened. “But those machines won’t be enough to keep the brats inside, you can be sure o’ that. What we need to do… is scare the living shite out of them.”
And so, the legend of the Beast of Ballyheige was born. With black fur and razor-sharp claws, the Beast was said to roam the countryside, looking for children to devour. As the Beast sunk into the Ballyheige zeitgeist, the children started to grow more and more reluctant to spend time outdoors, especially after dark. Whenever a family moved away or somebody’s pet went missing, a mild hysteria would take hold of the youth of the town, and the streets that once bustled with laughter would fall silent for weeks.
One day, Farmer Murray staggered home from the pub to find the glass door smashed and a set of unreasonably large paw prints leading into his house. Grabbing the shotgun from his car, he nervously crept inside. The house was a mess. The animal had managed to open the fridge door, and there was food sprayed all over the floor. Lamps were knocked over and cushions overturned, although interestingly there appeared to be little property damage.
This did not soothe Farmer Murray’s worried mind, however. He was from a generation for whom superstition and folklore were interwoven seamlessly into history. Over time he began to believe that he was paying for the terror he had inflicted on the children of the town, and that the mythical Beast had become flesh, claw, and blood. Though he never encountered the Beast again, from that moment onwards Farmer Murray dedicated his life to the safety and well-being of the children of Ballyheige. When he died many years later, he did so as a happy old man, with kindness in his heart.
When people heard the news of Farmer Murray’s encounter with the Beast, fear spread invisibly through the community. The myth was no longer something to be joked about by adults or used by parents to scare their already irreversibly terror-stricken children. Despite the best efforts of local police, no large predators were ever captured, although over the years, continuous evidence of the Beast’s existence was enough to convince many of the townspeople to stay vigilant and avoid venturing out late at night.
Farmer Murray never noticed that on the night of the Beast’s break-in, certain items had mysteriously vanished from the house.
On the same night, on the other side of town, a teenage boy stepped out of a pair of large taxidermy tiger paws, and emptied the contents of his backpack onto the bed, which mainly consisted of pornographic magazines and whiskey. He told himself that although the bounty was meagre, he had found his niche in the market.
“Here’s the way I see things,” began Neville. “One of Father Leane’s dairy cattle took an unfortunate tumble and I think we can all assume that it won’t be making a miraculous recovery anytime soon. This presents a problem. Tomorrow morning, after the stock has been counted, the old priest will receive a phone call, informing him that one of his cows seems to have disappeared into the ether.
“When he finds out, I can guarantee you that he won’t be chalking it up to bad luck. The church will stop at nothing until it finds those responsible, and when it does, it ain’t gonna be pretty. The snowstorm will have bought you some time, but eventually they’ll uncover your footprints, your fingerprints on the gate. They’ll track your car tyres to the cliff, along with a set of hooves trailing behind. That is, until the hooves sail off the edge and go to feed the fish.”
“They’ll think we dragged it behind us like a pair of cattle rustlers,” gasped Mary.
“Precisely. They’ll track your car down before you can get rid of it, and then it’s game over.”
“Lord Jesus, we’re fucked,” whimpered Paddy.
“Wait a second, what’s the Beast of Ballyheige got to do with all of this?” Mary asked.
Neville smiled. “What we need… is something to blame for the unfortunate cow’s demise.”
Reaching down, he dug deep into a plain black valise and pulled out a delicately wrapped package. Carefully, he stripped away the brown paper to reveal two gigantic paws.
“What on God’s green earth are those?” said Paddy in disbelief.
“Tiger paws, Paddy,” Neville replied.
“Paws? Where the hell did you get a set of tiger paws from?”
“A tiger, I expect.”
Neville placed the grizzly items on the table. Then, delving back into the valise, he removed a pair of bulging plastic containers. They each held a thick red liquid, which immediately filled the room with a metallic odour.
“Heaven on earth Neville, is that… where on earth did you get…”
“Oh would you shut up already!” interrupted Mary, who had had enough surprises for one evening and had no interest in finding out where her son managed to procure his endangered animal limbs and fresh blood. Mary returned to staring at her boy in disbelief.
“Neville… You mean to say that you’re the B…”
“The Beast of fucking Ballyheige exists, and it’s you.”
“In a way, yes.”
Mary let herself sink down into the sofa. “But you haven’t… I mean you don’t… kill people, do you?”
“Good Lord, no!” cried Neville, sitting down next to Mary. “My service simply offers effective solutions for the tricky situations that people occasionally find themselves in.”
“That does sound quite reasonable actually,” admitted Paddy.
Neville nodded, pleased that Paddy appreciated the merits of his business. “I provide a convenient scapegoat when people need it most.”
Mary wasn’t so impressed. “We’ll talk about this later. Now, please tell me that you have a plan?”
“Yes, I certainly do. We have a long night ahead of us.”
“Wide arcs Mum, like this,” Neville said, taking a cup full of steaming blood and tossing it across the immaculate snowy ground. Mary mimicked her son’s actions. She was surprised to find a smile on her lips, as she realised that she couldn’t remember the last time they had done something together, as a family.
After they were finished, Paddy, Mary, and Neville stood together in the freezing air and surveyed they work.
They barely noticed the snowflakes that settled on the back of their necks.
“Is it over?” It was Mary who finally broke the silence.
Neville took a deep breath. “I can’t promise that. Let’s just all arrive at the good side of this.”
It was the early hours of the morning, when the world seemed to hold its breath before a new start. Father Leane’s field felt peaceful, despite the haemal chaos that lay around them.
“I still cannot believe that all these years, you were the Beast of Ballyheige,” said Mary, turning her head to her son beside her.
“Well, now you’re the Beast too,” he replied.
Neville reached out to hold her hand. “No more secrets, I promise.”
Mary smiled and squeezed his hand with her own. “No more secrets,” she agreed.
“Hold on a minute,” interrupted Paddy, a sudden thought occurring to him. “Speaking of secrets, something’s been bothering me. Since when did ye get so good at painting with a spray can? Ye tagged that cow like you’d done it all your life!”
Mary froze for a moment, then said, “Well, I could ask the same thing about you! How does someone with no license learn to drive like James bloody Bond? And what’s with the one leather glove?”
An awkward silence filled the air.
“Well, it looks like we all have a few secrets to share tonight,” said Neville with a grin.
Paddy let out a short laugh. “Well okay, but I don’t think you’re going to believe me.”
“Paddy, you have no idea,” Mary replied in her most enigmatic voice.
Turning around, they began the journey home together in their tiger paw snowshoes as dawn began to break on Christmas Day.
“The Beast of Balleyheige” by Alex Sawyer appeared in Issue 37 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Alex Sawyer was born in Essex, England. He is the co-writer and co-director of the award-winning short film Tutor Kings. He enjoys thinking up wild stories whilst travelling from place to place and is currently working in China as a university lecturer of English.