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FroM ThE DESK OF :         Paul W Newman.
 

The Beckoning - A Gothic Tale

A Pact

 

1956 – Wicklow Mountains – Ireland  

 

At a crossroads deep in the woods, Seamus Mooney stood under the cold light of a full moon with his shadow stretching out behind him. Early-forties, charismatic and wealthy, Seamus learned early on to shake the tree of life. See what falls out – take what you want – leave the rest to rot. He stares up at rags of cloud scudding across the frosty sky, doesn’t notice the creeping cloak of mist that surrounds him. Cold feet in hand-stitched brogues stamp clotted leaf mould. Gloved fists push down in coat pockets.

Why do they have to meet all the way out here? These mountains spook him enough in broad daylight, doesn’t McNaught know that? Stupid question. A fox barks somewhere off in the cold distance. Seamus stiffens. The shrill tremulous cough sounds like the cry of a child. Something tingles inside him. Something he’s afraid of. He turns up the collar of his coat and unsnaps the sterling silver case. A cigarette finds the corner of his mouth. Light flares in his cupped palms. Cold air and smoke add inches to his chest. There’s barely time for another drag before he sees the diffused glow of approaching headlights. He shudders, pulls his coat closer, and grinds the smouldering cigarette into the dank earth beneath his heel.

A silver and black Bentley Continental draws up in a swirl of yellow vapour. Seamus steps forward and opens the driver’s door with one hand while the other fishes a handkerchief out of his coat pocket. McNaught, the crooked little man, pushes away from the creaking leather upholstery and stiffly descends. Immaculate tailoring cannot disguise his twisted legs, a circus animal dressed up to be taunted. And that smell, the unbearable aroma that overpowers even the costliest of cologne. Seamus presses the wadded silk to his nose, still catches the taint of sulphur and putrefaction. McNaught, in a wide-brimmed black hat and an undertaker’s coat that skirts the ground, pushes down on his gold capped walking cane, strains for height.

‘You have a cold, Seamus?’

‘Bit of a sniffle that’s all.’

‘I’m afraid this night air won’t do you much good then. I trust I haven’t kept you waiting for too long?’

Seamus glances at his watch. Midnight.

‘No, not at all.’ He coughs a small fake cough. ‘It’s nothing. It’ll be gone in a day or two.’

From beneath the wide brim glittering eyes see right through him.

‘Very well, Seamus, to business then. I trust everything is going according to plan?’

‘There shouldn’t be any problems.’

‘Oh, I’m sure there won’t be. I’ve faith in you, Seamus.’

‘It’s just that . . . well . . .’

‘Go on,’ says McNaught, shifting his weight inelegantly. ‘Not getting cold feet, are you? That would never do.’ A shake of the head. ‘Tut-tut. Not now, Seamus, we’re so close to our goal. All our hard work. All our plans.’

As McNaught speaks, Seamus notes the sharp little teeth behind thin purple lips and the odd way in which his jaw works, as if there’s an olive in his mouth and he’s trying to nibble the flesh away from the stone.

‘Seamus, are you listening to me?’

‘What?’ A blink. ‘Of course, I am. Look, you’ve nothing to worry about, alright? I’m on top of things. I’ve even bought a little white coffin just like you told me. Sling in a couple of sods of turf in a sack and no one’ll be any the wiser. And now I’ve got someone to help me. Someone that’s going to be very useful. Someone I trust.’

‘I know you have, Seamus.’

A frown. ‘You know?’

‘Of course – Maggie.’

Seamus coughs into the handkerchief, looks down, sees the moon quivering in a black puddle. So, he knows about Maggie. The midwife.

The tip of the walking cane scrabbles in leaf mould.

‘It won’t do to try to play games with me, Seamus. You of all people should know that.’

‘I’m not, I just thought – what with all the extra work that’s involved, not to mention the risk – well, I’m just not sure. I mean this deal – it’s not like all the others.’

Black leather creaks. McNaught’s glove tightens on the pommel of his walking cane, his voice controlled. ‘Go on.’

‘Well, what I mean to say is – before it was just about land. But this – this is different. I don’t understand. Why in God’s name do you need a baby?’

‘God has nothing to do with this,’ spittle and foul air barking into the veiled face. ‘Don’t pretend you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into. Just make sure you follow my instructions to the letter. And when it’s done, be there to break the tragic news to her. I’m relying upon you to keep your nerve and to act quickly – understand?’ A stiff, gloved finger pokes Seamus in the chest. ‘Play the grieving father for a day or two. And make sure you keep her in that house and keep everyone else away. No phone calls, no visitors.’ The corner of McNaught’s mouth curls. ‘Except for that shapely little midwife, of course.’ An icy stare. ‘Get the funeral out of the way as quickly as possible. She’ll be in no shape to attend. The tablets I gave you will see to that. If anyone asks how she is, just say she wants to be on her own. I’m sure you and Maggie will do a convincing job.’ McNaught tilts his head, the better to see. ‘But if that wife of yours starts to get fidgety, perhaps remind her how lucky she is to already have a family – six healthy boys,’ his voice like a cinder scraping under a kitchen door. ‘It would be an awful shame if anything were to happen to them.’

Seamus drops his mask, glowers. ‘And just what exactly do you mean by that?’

McNaught’s tone melts to honey, ‘Calm yourself, Seamus. Haven’t I always taken good care of you?’

‘Yes – yes of course you have,’ Seamus stammers, mouth stuffed with cotton wool.

‘And do you not find me a generous patron?’

‘Of course, I do – it’s just that . . .’

‘What? Developing a conscience, are we? A bit late for that don’t you think?’ A lunge, black glove hauling on Seamus’ lapel, lupine face pressing up. ‘You should have thought of that before, shouldn’t you?’

Seamus slumps. McNaught releases his grip.

‘We have a contract, Seamus. You and I. Freely entered into, never forget that. And I shall expect delivery at the appointed hour on All Hallows Eve. You know I’m a man who doesn’t like to be disappointed. Do I make myself clear?’

‘Yes, absolutely. Everything will be taken care of.’

‘Excellent. Always a pleasure doing business with you.’ The walking cane swings through eddying yellow vapour, points at the stately saloon, ‘This is for you. The type of frippery you’ll no doubt enjoy.’

Seamus, eyes widening, doesn’t answer, just stares at the car. Doesn’t really notice the hideous tripod of twisted legs and walking cane that lurches into the fog. McNaught’s gloating – so easy, almost too easy. Made of smoke, he disappears in a few crab steps.

Seamus prowls around the beautiful steel and chrome form, gloveless now. To feel. Running manicured fingertips over brilliant paintwork. Polishing with a cashmere sleeve. Looking in the passenger window, the plush leather and glossy walnut, he sees a black briefcase on the back seat. Needing to investigate, he enters, fumbles until the brass locks spring open. He lifts the lid. All that smooth, hefty money wrapped in paper bands. Smells it. He slams the car door, backs up the lane slowly. Drinking in the magnificent vision. Stopping a few paces from the resplendent grille. Arms and smile spreading wide. Whispering, ‘Mine, all mine.’ Then realising that his companion is gone, he remembers where he is and why he is there. A wave of dread surges up his body. He fumbles a cigarette into the corner of his mouth. The trembling lighter clicks. And it keeps on clicking.

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A Pact is the opening chapter of a completed manuscript entitled; The Beckoning – A Gothic Tale, a paranormal chiller that begins in San Francisco and ends in the sombre Wicklow Mountains in Ireland. I’m still looking for a good home for this yarn, hint, hint.

Paul W Newman is an Irish-born illustrator, art teacher and author.

He is the author of two children’s books published by Penguin.

Grandpa’s Big Adventure, his first book for children, was shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year awards (5 to 8 years category) and was a Notable Book of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year awards.

His second book for children; Grandpa’s Space Adventure, received excellent reviews and was included in The Premier’s Reading Challenge.

His literary novel, Fin Rising, was originally published by a small indie publisher Really Blue Books in 2012 to good reviews and was re-published in 2022 by Púca.

Fin Rising is currently available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

Paul is the recipient of three Stanley awards for illustration.

www.writing.ie

Fin Rising ebook

Twitter: @PaulWNewman

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