She came in on the morning mist through the valley and into our small town riding the song of sparrows, except that the melody sounded like it was being sung by some otherworldly creature as it echoed from her lips and bounced off the mountain ridges. Her hair was fire as it floated behind her like a spectre, enchanted by tornado winds that existed only to freshen her entrance. The paleness of her skin and the cresting sun’s pastel, orange rays made her appear as if she emanated her own golden essence. As if she, herself, glowed like the goddesses of Celtic lore. This, of course, was made more apparent by the fact that she was naked as a newborn. Her shapely, hourglass frame was truly a sight to behold and, had I not been wiping the crusty sleep from my eyes, I might have been less amazed and more concerned about the odd woman who drifted into Tyrone that morning.
I witnessed her arrival as I stood on my doorstep having just retrieved the morning edition of the Herald. My long terrycloth robe was wrapped securely around my skeletal, aging frame and my knuckles ached with arthritis. When I initially saw her pulsating in the distance I adjusted my gold rimmed spectacles and squinted my eyes. I was certain I was still in some sort of waking-dream state. I shook my balding head, disrupting what remained of my thin white hair, and turned back to my kitchen. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Angus. Get some coffee before you start seeing fairies on the front lawn.
I shuffled around the dim kitchen making coffee as I did every morning. I had never been much of a sleeper. Persistent nightmares and restlessness for the duration of my 75 years meant, regardless of the many treatments attempted by physicians, I slept only long enough to not go utterly mad. I often woke long before the sun rose over the mountains that surrounded our little village, before the young men went off to work in the plant, before women woke to prepare breakfast, before the children’s feet began to pitter patter upon the floors, before there was any sign of life except the young paperboy who walked door-to-door to deliver the morning edition.
As the bitter aroma of my morning coffee filled the air and my percolator bubbled, I heard the strange song grow louder. I shuffled my slippered feet along the wilting hardwood floors and peered from my window into the dense, white abyss of the morning fog. At first, the glowing figure of the strange woman was gone, but as I searched, my ancient blue eyes were pulled as if by magnetic force to her beaming gold essence growing ever closer. Her song was hypnotic, enchanting, and I was unable to jerk myself from the place where I stood. I watched not because I found myself presented with a woman, unclothed and lovely, but because I felt as if I were transfixed, stuck like my feet were encased in cement.
The odd creature made it to Pennsylvania Avenue, the road that runs along the outside of town, before her light faded and she collapsed in a heap in the middle of the street. I suddenly smelled a foul and malicious odor and realized I had burned my morning coffee, a mistake I hadn’t made in a number of years. I sighed and started a fresh pot as I watched several young men rush from their houses and carry off the mysterious young woman.
I proceeded with my day as if the predawn events hadn’t occurred. I didn’t need any additional nightmare fuel, and I preferred to abide by my routine. Veering from my usual schedule threw a wrench in my internal clock that caused a greater disruption to my senses than I found I was generally capable of easing.
I dressed in my usual tweed trousers, button down shirt, and jacket. My gray wool ascot hat hung on the pine coat rack next to the door; I tossed it on before I slid through and made my way to D&B’s for breakfast.
Daniel, William, Everrett, and all the other elderly retired men congregated in their usual way smoking pipes filled with tobacco which enriched the atmosphere with cherry musk scented smoke. Their coffee cups steamed as their wrinkled, sagging faces melted over them. Their low voices grumbled about the weather, back pain and arthritis, and how their fathers would roll over in their graves if they knew how their grandchildren were acting.
“Aye, Angus,” Daniel motioned, “it’s about time.”
“Sorry fellas,” I grunted as I walked over to the table, “running a bit late this morning.”
“Is it on account of the spectacle that appeared out of nowhere this morning?”
“Did you see her too?” I hadn’t planned to bring the young woman up in conversation. I hoped she was a figment of my imagination.
“I saw them bring her in off the street,” Daniel answered. “Such a shame. I wonder if the little thing is ill.”
“Something wrong with her, out in public naked as the day she was born,” Everrett said. “Like to escaped from the lunatic asylum. Probably mad. They’ll sort it out at the infirmary and haul her right on off.”
I ordered eggs benedict and a cup of coffee from the little brunette waitress with the beaming smile. Then, I returned to the conversation, “Something strange about her. I can’t put my finger on it.”
“Bet you’d like to, aye,” Daniel laughed and nudged me with his elbow. The other tottering old men I made my company with chuckled and coughed into their coffee and bacon and eggs.
It wasn’t that I was particularly fond of any of them or their offspring. It was just the way. We all had names like Brien, O’Shea, McCleary, Murphy, Doyle; understand, our fathers—grandfathers founded the small town we now resided in. We were bound by more than blood, bound by sweat, and hardship, and history. Unlike all these other men, I wouldn’t carry on the family name. I never did marry, have children, spread the seed of the McCreary’s. Our blood ended with my feeble, diseased body.
I sipped my coffee as I watched Shelly O’Rourke and her husband eat with their children at a table in the back. Little Aileen with her floppy red curls was absolutely disinterested in her oatmeal. The baby helped her tip the bowl on the floor. I stopped mid-chew as Shelly landed a hard slap on both of their plump cheeks leaving them red as roses in summer. The O’Rourkes dragged both children out as tears streamed down their sodden cheeks; their little eyes sunken and hollow with a sadness no child should know. My brow creased as they shuffled by me, but not another man seemed phased by the emotional and public display of cruelty. Then again, this was not unusual behavior; just a thing that I could not come to terms with myself.
By the time I shuffled to Renny’s Corner Store, where Jack and I met once a day for chess, the small town was abuzz with talk of the mystery woman who had appeared so suddenly in the wee hours of the morning.
“Have you gents heard about her?” Mrs. Renny asked as she scurried about the store unpacking wooden crates in her deep maroon wool dress. Her blond hair was frizzy and streaked with silver, yet her face denied her age.
“I saw her come in out of the mountains,” I answered as I stared down at one of the scratched black pawns on the board.
“Through the mountains?” she stopped and looked out through the glass on the door. “Well, when she finally came ‘round she said she couldn’t remember how she got here. Apparently, the poor thing was starving. They fed her, all she wanted was bread and honey, then she insisted she had to go.”
Jack cleared what sounded like a large pocket of mucus from his throat, “She’s gone then. Good. No good’ll come from strange outsiders. You know how the stories go.”
“Oh, Jack. Those old fairy tales are just myths and legends. Better to leave them in the old country where they belong,” Mrs. Renny mumbled and disappeared into the backroom.
Jack sat rubbing the dense, gray forest of stubble on his chin. His skin was like dough as he kneaded and pulled it over his cheeks and jaw. Jack had once been truly handsome. Now, he was a living corpse, rotting from the inside out like the rest of the elders. It was sad watching the last of us fade away, knowing the ones taking over had such little self-control. They didn’t care to learn about the land they had come from or the people who had built the traditions of their ancestors. They didn’t even adhere to the old ways anymore.
The little brass bell above the door dinged brightly and Emma Duffy stomped in, her little son barely slinking through the door before she slammed it.
“Don’t ask for a thing, Emmet, remember you brought mud in the house this morning.” She scolded the small child before he had a chance to utter a peep.
I cradled my cheek in my palm and feigned deep concentration regarding my rook but watched Emma and Emmet under heavily lidded eyes. The tiny, rosy cheeked child with strawberry blonde hair toddled around the store clutching a bedraggled and under-stuffed teddy bear. The thing had been carelessly mended several times and was missing one eye. His mother slapped his hand away sharply when he tried to tug at her skirt to get her attention.
“No, Emmet. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch anything,” Emma Duffy yelled and swatted.
The tiny child’s pink lip quivered as he reached with his free hand for his mother’s chocolate, brown skirt once more. She plucked a bag of flour from the shelf with one hand and slapped his with the other. Instantly, little Emmet Duffy’s eyes welled with shiny tears and he let loose a wail that brought to mind the tales of banshees my grandfather used to regale us with as children around the stone fireplace. Emma Duffy bent down and swatted the back-end of the child as she issued a stream of curses.
I averted my eyes, partly because I didn’t want her to catch me watching and partly because I couldn’t stand to bear witness to the crippling torment the children of Tyrone were raised accustomed to. As I turned my head, my eyes met hers; emerald green like the land in the fairy tales I grew up listening to. Her fiery hair in loose curls that hung low and cradled her face like the hands of a God. She only looked at me briefly before her gaze returned to Emmet. A small golden tear ran from her eye and then, the sparrow’s song came muffled through the walls and the glass. It only lasted a second and it was gone, but Emmet was now calm and smiled a wide grin that revealed he was missing a tooth. When I looked back through the window, the green-eyed girl was gone.
As the chilly wind of near-November blew through the alleyways between the brick buildings that lined Lincoln Avenue, I watched with sadness as the children of Tyrone sulked behind the parents who had given up on caring for them before their lives had really begun. Tiny ones that longed for a hand to hold but were forced to walk several paces behind their mothers; their heads hung low, their eyes averted as if those women were reigning queens. Girls who looked as if their hair hadn’t been tended to in weeks. Boys with holes in their shoes, the lucky ones, some had none. Parents yelled openly at their children for walking too slowly, for asking a question they didn’t wish to answer, for crying as the frosty wind chilled them to the bone, at the tears they shed for their growling bellies as their parents sipped tea and ate finger sandwiches at lunch counter windows.
There were the beatings. The slaps, the raised fists, the dragging of children by their fragile little arms as they wailed in fear. These weren’t the old ways. This new attitude adopted by parents was the result of the new world and advancement. The belief that children got in the way of life. They used to be old souls, newly delivered, deserving of time and love. My own children, had I been given them, they would have been gifted with all the joys I could offer. I often lit a candle and asked the heavens for sovereignty for Tyrone’s young.
I saw her again, in a long olive-green dress, staring into a café window. The sparrow’s song trembled on the gusty wind and she shuffled along the sidewalk as if she had an important engagement.
“They shoulda hauled her off to the nut house,” Everrett grumbled into his corned beef sandwich.
“She’s been sneaking around town all damn day,” Daniel said with a mouthful of mashed potato. “I don’t trust her a bit. Outsiders like her, they come in judging. Don’t understand how we do things here.”
I looked around D&B’s the lunch crowd was typical. The behavior the same as anywhere else in the town. I sipped pop from my glass, “Don’t think I understand how things are done here anymore.”
“Hell, Angus,” Daniel spit, “get with the times. World can’t run like it’s 1890 forever. These young blokes and lasses, they’re what’ll make the world turn long after we’re gone.”
“Which direction are they turnin’ it, Daniel?”
“The hell does that mean?”
“Just that it doesn’t look like good progress. My Papa wouldn’t be fond of it. Yours wouldn’t either as I recollect.”
He stirred his congealed gravy, “They’re long gone now. They have new rules here.”
“The children are sufferin’,” I said.
“You two are a right couple of shits,” Everrett scoffed. “Naked girl shows up out of nowhere and you want to piss and moan about tradition.”
“She isn’t hurting anything,” I mumbled.
“Heard she was in a rush to leave the hospital. Ran off mumbling something after they gave her some clothes and food. How many girls just drop out of the sky?”
“Sounds like a story my grandfather once told me,” I said. “Did she leave a name?”
Everrett nodded into the last of his sandwich, “Aye, Caireen.”
I made my last rounds to the druggist and McCoy’s Candie’s for my favorite red licorice. I walked slowly through downtown observing the other pedestrians as they went about their business. A heavy, angry gust of frigid wind nearly removed the ascot from my cranium. I reached up swiftly with my free hand to prevent its loss. As I did, she bumped my shoulder with hers. Her vibrant, crimson hair invaded my face and, briefly, I recognized the aromatic and relaxing smell of lavender. Where our bodies made contact, I felt my shoulder flush with warmth, as if I were standing on some forgotten beach on a bright summer day. It spread through my body, heating my insides, my flesh, until I felt such a heat that I was nearly compelled to begin removing my outer layers. Caireen, as I now knew her, turned to observe me with her shimmering green eyes. She looked at me, smiled, and placed a delicate finger to her lips, “Shhhh.”
I nodded and returned her smile.
Caireen moved as if she were floating right down the middle of Lincoln Avenue. The people on either side of the street stopped to stare as she did. It was impossible not to. Her hair, her form, the way she glided down the street; she was like an angel or a goddess. She commanded attention. As she passed by store fronts and eateries she snapped her dainty fingers, an odd motion that seemed to serve no purpose; until it did.
One-by-one I watched as the faces of the adult citizens of Tyrone contorted into grimaces and scowls. Their eyes darkened by shadow, fueled by the fire of hate. Their bodies convulsed, their chests heaved with rage, unbridled wrath. They began to turn on each other. Crouching first, like wolves preparing to strike, and then pouncing. Clawing at the faces of their neighbors and friends. Husbands and wives wrestled each other to the ground. Emma Duffy sat astride her husband wailing on his face, pulverizing it into dog food with her bare fists. Little Emmet stood sucking on his index finger as he watched.
I stared upon the murderous crowd, unable to comprehend what I was witnessing. I wondered if only the people on the street had been affected. I soon had my answer when shop owners began throwing open their doors, tossing bloody bodies into the streets. Michael Dougan, the cook at D&B’s, ran into the road holding a bloody skillet and proceeded to chase my dear friend Jack down the road. Jack didn’t make it far before Michael used his skull for batting practice. All over town, the adults had gone wild, overturning the place for a chance to destroy one another. It seemed I was the only one untouched, and no one was coming for me.
Amid the chaos Caireen stood with her arms outstretched, her vibrant hair ablaze in that ominous tornado wind. Her form was golden again, the way I had seen her come in through the mist. A murmur, at first, the sparrow’s song began creeping through the commotion; cutting through the spattered blood and corpses that now lined the avenue. Then, it grew louder reaching a glorious crescendo as Caireen’s body ignited like the sun pressing against the horizon.
Her melody transformed into words, soft and inviting, beckoning to the young ones. Her ancient voice gave her away, her thick accent alerted me to her deep connection to the Mother Land.
“All ye frightened,
All ye cheldren lost,
Shed not a tear,
An’ come ye to me arms.”
I watched in confounded amazement as every child, large and small, scurried to her as Caireen continued to chirp the lilting notes. They rushed swiftly, fearlessly, denying the remnants of destruction and the few who continued to fight. She kissed each of them on the forehead and embraced them warmly. The children’s dark sunken eyes brightened, and they smiled broadly. They no longer held themselves in a slumped posture that reeked of sadness.
“Dhe Modher Land requests ‘er cheldren ‘ome,” Caireen said smiling. “Dhere is no acceptance for dhose who mistreat dhe fragile.”
She took young Emmet by his puffy little hand and began to walk toward me and Pennsylvania Avenue. I sunk into myself as she approached, unsure what repercussion I would face for having witnessed but not participated in the destruction of Tyrone. As Caireen came closer her rose lips parted in a soft smile.
“She’s invited ya ‘ome too, Angus. She heard ya askin’ for help.”
I stared in wonder unsure what to say. I hadn’t known my home since I was a very young child. I was far too old to journey now, but how I longed for the rolling hills and the possibility of adventure that rested quietly in every shrouded forest.
Caireen’s emerald eyes sparkled as they examined my sagging cheeks. She reached for me with her shimmering hand. I looked at my own; spotted, wrinkled, purple and blue veins like mountains running along the surface. Emmet Duffy snatched my hand in his, his pointer finger wet with saliva, and placed my hand in Caireen’s.
I looked up her, my round, puffy cheeks rosy as the wind nipped them with a fresh chill. My hat teetered on my head and I lifted my chubby hand to hold it steady. The rest of the children and I followed her sparrow’s song through the Pennsylvania mountains, where it would carry us home.
#HumpdayHorror #SparrowsSong Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.