All Stories, Fantasy

No Good Deed by Marco Etheridge

An overcast sky spills milk-pale light over a blighted landscape. The light is too weak to shadow the dry-stone walls that run along a potholed lane. The stone walls rise to a vanishing point at the crest of a muddy hill, and over that crest comes the figure of a man.

Nearer at hand is an intersection marked by piles of tumbled stone. A smaller lane leads off the first, winding away into a dismal valley only to end at a slovenly hamlet.

A skeletal tree guards this lonely meeting of bad ways, the choosing point between shit road and worse pub. Perched in the dead tree, high above the mud and manure, a pair of ravens mark the approaching man. They croak to one another, and the harsh sound grates across the silence.

“Would you put a beady black eye on this sorry bastard, Klart.”

“Aye, Zart, I see him. The human is not looking too good for the wear.”

“I believe I know this one. Heard about him from Klorg down to the next village.”

“You mean old tall-tale Klorg that lives in Mud Hollow?”

“Go easy there, Klart. For most things, Klorg aims in the general direction of the truth. Yesterday it was, he told me about a human what fished a child out of a well.”

“Fished the thing out to eat you mean?”

“No, fished it out of the well to save the thing’s life. The human child fell into the well and the man shimmied down into the well and fetched the bairn out.”

“Why would he do a fool thing like that? Anything stupid enough to fall into a well deserves what’s coming.”

“Aye, that’s the muddled bit. Seems this man, the very one walking towards us mind you, he can’t help but do good. Something queer in his nature, although it’s hard to tell with humans, especially those from the outside.”

“Do good? You mean of a purpose? And him coming here to Greyvale? Mark my words, no good will come of this except for our entertainment.”

“Cue the fiddle and bodhran, Klart, the Boyo is about to make his entrance.”

The man trudging up the muddy lane is close enough to hear the croaking of the ravens. He peers up at them on their bone-white perch and they peer down at him. He stops, screws up his mouth as if to speak, then thinks better of it. No good comes of talking to birds.

His name is Daniel Kelly, Danny Boy to his friends, all of whom seem to have vanished. Kelly is sleep-deprived, bleary, and badly in need of a pint. For no reason he can explain, a Daniel O’Donnell song is earworming through his skull like a jackhammer, never mind that he’s always hated the bastard.

Kelly stands in the rutted lane, staring down the length of it. There is nothing to see, not a car, not a tractor, not even a post box.

His arms hang loose, the fingers of his empty hands moving spasmodically, as if trying to remember what they are supposed to grasp. There’s nothing for it. His only luggage is the notion that all things might be possible, and the nightmare that this might prove be true.

He drops his eyes from the black feathered guardians, tries to make sense of where he is. Fuckall if he recognizes anything, much less how he got here. Middle of sodding nowhere, still wearing his work kit, mud caking up on his brogues. Last thing he remembers is hoisting a free pint at the pub, him and his mates elbow to elbow.

Kelly tries to play the night back in his head, but his brain is having none of it. He remembers locking up the shop and heading down to the pub. Just another evening with the lads. Then everything goes dark and next thing he knows, he’s waking up under a hedgerow, staring up at a grey sky with a fucking great root digging a hole in his backside. No pub, no mates, not even the damn town.

He kicks at a stone in the road and manages to splash more mud onto his denims. Goddammit to hell! Kelly’s read about shite like this. Fella has one too many pints and wakes up in some other time and place, or a bloody village that appears once every six hundred years. But that’s all bollocks, fairytales for kids or weepy girls. At the thought of kids, a sharp pain stabs through the back of his skull.

Yeah, mate, what about that? You wake under a hedgerow, no idea how you got there, and then some kid is screaming his bloody head off, except the screams are coming from under the earth. The stupid little bugger is down a well, so hungover or not, you do the right thing.

Right, I climb down into that slippery dark hole, and all the while the kid is yelling like to burst my head. My palms are skinned bloody and my knees are worn raw. I try to shush the brat, but he keeps on caterwauling, so I throw him over my shoulder and climb back out.

And then, yeah, and then fuck me, locals have turned up from somewhere. The top of the well is surrounded by a bunch of slack-jawed culchies. I try to hand over the kid, but they turn into an angry mob, like I’d committed a crime saving their little boy. One of them starts beating the kid and the rest are chasing me through a muddy field. Jesus wept, you know I’m not a praying man, but get me out of here and I swear I’ll go to mass.

Kelly is blinking against the pain in his head and the nightmare that he is trapped in. He stares down at the pigsty hamlet in the valley below the lane. He shakes his head to clear it, half-turns, and slogs away down the hill. In the tree above him, the ravens watch him go.

It’s a slippery mile down to the hamlet of Greyvale. The look of the grim little village does not improve as he gets nearer. The whole of Greyvale is a collection of hovels surrounding a decrepit church, all of it looking like a Swiftian nightmare. The stale air stinks of many kinds of shit.

Kelly is almost under the shadows of the first hovel when he sees a big man leaning against a stone wall. The man straightens up at his approach. He is dressed in well-worn tweeds and a cudgel hangs from his belt. The man nods at Kelly without smiling.

“Morning to ya. Who are ya and where might you be going?”

“Are you the Garda?”

“I’m the constable of Greyvale, if that’s what you mean, and I’m still wanting an answer if you don’t mind.”

Kelly blinked at the man, trying to make sense of what he was hearing. No constables here about, not for a hundred years. But the fella was a cop, that was sure.

“Truth is I’m lost. I was hoping to have a pint, something to clear my head you might say.”

The big man throws a thumb over his shoulder.

“Pub’s that a ’way, you can’t miss it. Best if you have your pint and then be off. Back the way you came is the only way to go. And mind you, we don’t take to any sort of strangeness in these parts. No climbing down wells, if you take my meaning.”

Kelly tries to stammer a reply, but the constable waves him off.

“Word travels quick around here. I’ve been expecting ya. Now off to the pub with you and then be on your way.”

With that, the constable folded himself against the wall and stared off across the barren fields, as if Kelly had vanished into thin air.

Kelly walks on. The lane turns from mud to muddy cobbles. The hovels lean in from either side, forming a darkening tunnel. The gutters are choked with offal and clumps of manure. He sees a painted sign hanging above a doorway, two black dogs above faded lettering spelling out The Twin Hounds.

The Twin Hounds is dark, filthy, and empty except for a fat innkeeper. The fat man is perched behind the bar, wearing weskit over a dirty linen shirt. The innkeeper nods to Kelly and waves a fat hand to one of the empty stools. He remains wordless as Kelly settles himself.

“Pint of stout, please.”

Another nod, and then the fat man is working the tap, not a bit of conversation to spare. He thumps the pint in front of Kelly, leans against the back of the bar, and folds his arms across the wide expanse of his weskit.

Kelly gives two shits for conversation at this point. It’s the pint he’s after. He pulls down a third of it in one slow drain. Easing the glass back to the bartop, he looks around the dim room. The place is devoid of all the usual pub paraphernalia. There are no poker machines, no neon beer signs. He looks to the ceiling and sees oil lamps hanging from a wrought iron ring. Sodding dive doesn’t even have electricity. Where in fuck all is he?

Before he can question the silent barkeep, he hears the sound of footsteps coming from the cobbled lane. Beyond the smeared glass of the windows, he sees shadowy figures hurrying past, all of them moving in the same direction. He turns back to the innkeeper, a silent question written across his confused face.

By way of answer, the fat man fishes out a pocket watch, consults the antique device, and mutters his first words.

“A body can set his watch by that old priest.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Father Flynn that would be. Punctual as a cockerel he is, and twice as daft.”

“Those folks are heading off to church then?”

“In a manner of speaking they are. They’re wanting to be there in case the good father finally jumps from the steeple, but they’ll be disappointed, as always.”

“I’m sorry, I…”

“Right, I’m forgetting you’re a stranger here. Our good Father Flynn is mad as a hatter. Every noon saving Sundays, he hauls himself up to the top of the steeple and threatens to throw himself off. Rants a bit about the vanity of existence, he does, then he climbs back down. Sundays he’s got his sermon to do, so he takes that day off.”

Kelly needs another third of a pint to take this in. He wipes his upper lip before asking his next question.

“Doesn’t anyone try to stop him?”

“What would be the point in that? The steeple’s no taller than a barn. The fall wouldn’t kill him.”

The fat man begins polishing smeared glasses with a dirty rag, as if the entire matter has been laid to rest. Kelly tips back the last of his pint, hoping in vain that sanity will slide down his throat along with the stout. Before he can order another, the pub door crashes open.

Light pours in through the open door followed by a colleen who takes Kelly’s breath away. She’s black of hair with flashing green eyes, wearing a blouse of homespun that covers everything and conceals nothing. Her face is pale cream and freckled, gorgeous even in anger.

She throws the barman a toss of her mane and a killing look, then stalks across the floor to Kelly. It takes all the willpower he has not to go slack jawed. Before he can say a word, this beauty lays a white hand to his arm, her fingers digging into his flesh.

“Will you help a woman in trouble then, kind sir?”

Kelly nods his head, speechless. Her other hand is on him now and she’s leaning in, her breath hot on his face.

“The men in this pigsty are worthless as teats on a boar, every one of them.”

She throws a blazing glare at the fat barman, then locks her emerald eyes back onto Kelly’s. Her gaze holds him in thrall like a snake holds a bird. He is struck dumb. Then a huge shadow falls over the doorway, followed by a roaring bellow.

“Grace! Gracie, are ya in here?”

The colleen vanishes, green eyes and milky skin replaced by a red-faced man tall as a tree. His great lumpy head floats far above Kelly, an angry snarl curled back to reveal a mouthful of broken teeth. The lout roars again, words cascading down over Kelly like hailstones.

“Here now, who are you, and what do you mean bothering my Gracie?”

Kelly flinches under the giant’s words, ducks his head, catches a glimpse of the green-eyed wench. Her pretty mouth is twisted into a smirk that has nothing of the come-hither about it. She raises an accusing finger and points it at Kelly.

“That’s him, Colin, that’s the one tried to lure me away with sweet words and lies. He’s the devil, he is.”

Colin the giant lets out a deafening roar. Two huge hands grab Kelly, hoisting him clear of his barstool. The monster shakes him like a rat terrier shaking a knotted sock.

Then the girl joins in, squirming up in front of the giant to claw at Kelly’s face. Kelly feels her sharp nails raking his cheeks. He screams in pain, but Colin is not wanting any help.

“Outta my way, Gracie! Let me kill the bugger!”

The giant loses his grip on Kelly while he tries to push the green-eyed harpy aside. Kelly falls to the floor, sees a path to the open doorway, and scuttles between the giant’s legs. He falls headlong to the muddy cobbles, staggers to his feet, and runs for his life.

He runs the way he came, fleeing for the dismal countryside and the lonely road. Behind his splattering footfalls, he hears angry shouts.

“There he is!”

“Hurry now, the bastard’s getting away.”

The sound of pursuit grows behind him, as if every dirty villager in the land is after his blood.

Kelly careens from under the shadows of the hovels, leaving the hamlet and the cobbled pavement behind. He is slipping and sliding in the muddy lane when he sees the constable slouched against the same section of stone wall.

The big man pushes himself away from his perch and stretches himself, a guard dog waking from a nap. The constable steps to the edge of the muddy lane, his cudgel swinging easy from his left hand. He raises the sap in a lazy arc, swinging it down just as Kelly splashes past. Kelly sprawls face down in the mud and night falls over everything.

The blackness has a bottom, but it takes Kelly a long time to reach it. He falls through the utter darkness, spinning and falling, falling and spinning. The bottom comes hard and fast, knocking him into nothingness.

A century passes, maybe two. Someone is shaking him and bolts of pain rocket through his body. A voice pierces his brain and he moans, tries to wave it away, but it keeps on, drilling into his battered skull.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, wake up Danny Boy. Been looking everywhere for ya. Cripes, you’re a right mess, you are.”

Something or someone rolls Kelly onto his back. He opens his eyes and immediately wishes he hadn’t. The glare of a streetlamp pierces his brain. A silhouette hovers above him, braying words he cannot understand. Something wet is seeping through his backside. He rolls his head to one side, sees that he’s laid out in an oily puddle surrounded by rubbish bins. He looks up at the talking silhouette, trying to make sense of the words.

“Fucking hell, Danny. I checked everywhere, hospital, the Garda, even the morgue. Thought that bastard might have killed you. Here, have a bit of this, it’ll bring you ‘round.”

Kelly feels a hand under his neck and a bottle to his lips. A dram trickles past his cracked lips and he swallows the fiery stuff down. The cough that follows almost kills him, but his eyes are clearer now.

“Paulie, is that you mate?”

“Who else, Danny? ‘Course it’s me. Jesus, what a night, aye? You were a regular wild man, that’s sure. Trying to defend that crazy bitch like you was some sort of gallant knight, and her fella as big as Gibraltar. Then everything goes bad and they were both beating shite outta ya and you run screaming into the street. It’s a wonder they didn’t kill you, Boyo.”

Kelly works his jaw around, checking to see if anything’s broke. He finds the words and manages to croak them aloud.

“Give us another swig of that, will ya?”

The bottle’s back at his lips and his mate pours him a proper swallow. The fire courses further this time. Kelly feels it in his fingers and his toes.

“We need to be moving, Danny. If the Garda find us it’s the lockup for the both of us. That’s right, get an arm over me shoulder. Steady now, here we go.”

Kelly’s legs are rubbery, and he almost goes down again, but Paulie holds him upright.

“Christ sakes, Danny, you smell like a manure pile. What the hell you been rolling in?”

Kelly shakes his head, trying to make one foot follow the other.

“You don’t want to know, mate, and I don’t want to remember.”

“Suit yourself. So where to now?”

Kelly waves a hand into the darkness.

“Anywhere with neon lights and pavement will do fine.”

Paulie laughs out loud, gets a tighter grip on his injured mate.

“You always were a crazy bastard, Danny Boy. How’s about you leave off trying to do anyone else a good turn. I’d like to live to see the morning.”

“Right you are, Paulie. I doubt I’ll survive another good deed. Lead on.”

Marco Etheridge

Image by 👀 Mabel Amber, who will one day from Pixabay 

Special Addendum:

Meanwhile, on 16.10.21, at Leila Allison Productions, Daisy the Pygmy Goatess shows Mr. Etheridge’s No Good Deed to Leila, who jumps from her chair and yells:

“That Bastard! Just look at the names of the Crows and the general idea behind this, Daisy. Two of us had the same brilliant idea at the same time!”

“Yes,” Daisy said, “but his is clever and funny.”

“What’s that supposed to mean Daisy?”

Anyway, Marco and I did have the same idea and I am happy to say that his, which we presented today, was better!

Leila

5 thoughts on “No Good Deed by Marco Etheridge”

  1. Hi Marco,
    Very inventive and quite the wee dig in our ribs that I enjoyed!!
    I’ve never been any good at prompts but if there is ever an Olympics for making the best out of this type of discipline, I reckon I’d have a bet on you for lifting the gold!!
    All the very best my fine friend.
    Hugh

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Although my special “addendum” has already said what I feel (minus the “You Bastard” part) I would feel ill if I didn’t type something into the empty box. This is an inspired little thing and the idea was arrived at just a touch more quickly than I can move.
    Leila

    Liked by 1 person

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