Going Indie: And Why Not?

I like the term Indie Publishing. I’m an Indie Filmmaker – putting skin in the game to get my films made. I am a storyteller. I write screenplays. I write fiction. So when it comes to novels, why wouldn’t I take the independent route as well? Just like the film industry, you only learn in the ‘doing’ when it comes to writing and producing work, and the past couple of years have taught me a lot in terms of the publishing industry in all of its tranches; traditional, assisted – and self-publishing – of which I have now well and truly dipped the proverbial toe.

I’ve also experimented through the gamut of submitting the traditional way, to writing online and publishing my efforts for feedback, to publishing a finished work in ebook format, to going through the whole shebang with the paperback. I’ve made mistakes and thankfully, my readers have been both encouraging and forgiving. I have learned so much from them, and am grateful. There are also organisations that are invaluable to the advocacy and learning process of self-publishing, The Alliance of Independent Authors being at the forefront of ensuring professionalism and a code of standards.

While working through all of the above, I also sent out a sample of my novel to three of the biggest agents in Ireland; one has yet to reply. The other two did, in quick time, and with professionalism and honesty. While both gave positive and constructive comments on my work, both also stated that they are working in very difficult market conditions, which without doubt, limits the selection of work they can afford to take on. I completely understand that, and have so much admiration for publishing companies who take a chance on new writers and who keep supporting established ones. My experience as a Librarian for almost twenty years, working on a literary festival for seven, I’ve also talked to so many authors from all sides of the industry, whom I greatly admire, and reckon I’ve garnered a pretty comprehensive knowledge of how things work. It’s a tough game. Authors work hard. Publishers work hard. Respect. For now though, I don’t have the advantage of a publishing house at my back for the essentials of editor, proof reads, cover design, marketing and promotion, but I’m managing all that, and continue to learn from it.

Ultimately, the culmination of all of that accumulative learning and ‘doing’ is the fact that I am now in a position to make an informed decision on what is right for me at the present time; to stick with Indie Publishing. And here are my top ten reasons for doing so:

  1. Print-On-Demand! The risk is mine – and mine alone.
  2. Ebooks! Accessible and cheap. I read now more than ever with my Kindle!
  3. I connect directly with Readers and Writers – and learn from them.
  4. The start-up investment is manageable – and balanced by higher royalties.
  5. I retain complete control over everything I publish.
  6. Without contracts, I can write what I like, when I like.
  7. I have the freedom to experiment and to move outside any genre.
  8. The services and support to get it right are out there.
  9. I’m in the exceptionally good company of dedicated and supportive Indie, Traditional and Hybrid authors, more and more of whom are self-publishing back catalogues and/or moving into Indie publishing with new work.
  10. It is fun. The learning, the doing, the achievement. And the possibilities are endless.

I’ve never been a fan of labels, I want to express my writing in the genres and formats that feel right for me. and whether I work on a screenplay, a novel, or a short story, in the end, I am a storyteller.

LADY BETH is available from Amazon Stores.

ARKYNE,STORY OF A VAMPIRE is available from Amazon Stores.

About Caroline…

Caroline is a writer and filmmaker from Dublin Ireland. She is the author of the novels LADY BETH and ARKYNE, STORY OF A VAMPIRE. She has also written several feature length and short screenplays, many of which have won awards.

IN RIBBONS, a short film she wrote and co-produced has already screened at more than thirty festivals worldwide in 2015 and 2016. See awards and nominations here

Her screenplay, IONA’S HOUSE, an urban ghost story, won the Best of Fest Screenplay Award at the Fantasmagorical Film Festival, 2015. Her family fantasy feature script, PIXER KNOWS, reached the finals of the New York Screenplay Awards 2015, The Hollywood Screenplay Competition, 2015, and won the Atlantis Award at the Moondance Film Festival, USA 2011. It was also a finalist in the 2010 PAGE International Screenplay awards.

Her short Film ADAM [2013] was officially selected by The Waterford Film Festival, 2013, and Clones Film Festival, 2013, The Richard Harris International FF, 2014, and was nominated for BEST DRAMA AWARD at Dare Media Underground Film Festival, 2014.

Caroline was also shortlisted at ‘The Waterford Film Festival 2014’ and the ‘Kildare County Arts Film Commission 2014’ for her short script, HUSHAWAY. In 2012, her script, THE BOOK CROSS, was shortlisted for an Irish Film Board Gearrscannain Award. She is currently working on the novel version of her screenplay LADY BETH, which was also selected by the Irish Film and Television Academy for a one-to-one mentoring session with AFI Master, the late Gill Dennis, at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2011.

Signed copies of ‘Arkyne, Story of a Vampire’ are available to purchase from Caroline’s Blog.

“I loved the ending! Tense from chapter to chapter…” Niamh Boyce, Author

“The underlying menace is constant, the story and setting highly original and the cast of characters a delight.”

Lissa Oliver, Author

 

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Director Nick Willing [Neverland, The River King, Tin Man, Alice in Wonderland] described Pixer Knows as “A lovely story, beautifully told – and well written.”

“Pixer Knows” is a beautifully written, utterly original screenplay which will attract younger and older audiences.  [Page Awards Judge]

A regular blogger, Caroline was shortlisted for Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards in 2016, and long listed for ‘Best Arts & Culture Blog’ in 2015. She is a member of the Irish Film and Television Academy ,The Writers Guild of Ireland, and The Independent Authors Network and regularly reviews Books, Film and Theatre for The Librarian’s Cellar. Caroline is also a member of The access>Cinema Board.

The Spellery Magazine…

Check it out…and not just for the fact that I am featured in the latest edition! Love the cover too!

Take a peek HERE

Or pop over to their FACEBOOK Page

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Characters from Arkyne: Coco – An Introduction

COCO De Rais strode purposefully through the grounds of her home, a seventeenth century château overlooking the French village of Tiffauges. It was late in the evening, the end of summer, and the château, perched high and austere amidst the borderlands of the Vendee, was bathed in the golden hue of sand stone.

Breathing through her irritation, and with a flashlight shining low and discreet on the path before her, her pace quickened, and she didn’t even stop to admire, as was her habit, the magical blanket of moon dust now reflecting off the ivy-leaved façade of the sumptuous building.  Her papa, Henri, had upset her again and she was frowning, her wild black hair falling across her face to flap in unison with her furious footsteps, gravel crunching beneath her thick-soled black boots. In contrast, with its soothing liquid timbre snaking a path through the grounds, melodious ripples emerged from the Qui Donne La Vie, a tributary of the nearby Crúme River. She had once overheard her papa tell her aunt Anna how insignificant the little river had been, remaining untitled for centuries. Until he had brought Coco’s mother, Sophia, here, and she had instantly christened it The Giver of Live. Appropriate, she had heard him add wistfully, for that was exactly what Sophia had been. Not just in the physical sense of bringing Coco into the world, but also in the bringing of life to the château; and to him.

She clenched her teeth now, as similarly to a song she thought she ought to remember, but couldn’t quite, the water’s melody transported her to a moment lost, a vague remembrance that refused to clarify itself, no matter how hard she concentrated. She had finally succumbed to her acceptance of the notions that had been crowding her thoughts for some time. Like the fact that even when on her own, she never really felt that way. That another walked with her, unseen yet sensed in her bones, and was here now, with her on this path that she had walked so often. Once, and only once, had she mentioned this to her papa, immediately regretting it as he dismissed such silliness; if she were to be feeling such a presence, he told her, it must surely be her late mother, watching over her. Coco was not convinced. What she was experiencing lately was different, and she had always believed that her mother’s spirit was with her anyway. It would be impossible not to feel the essence of Sophia De Rais in this place, where the legacy of her mother’s short and tragic life lived on. Through the broken man her papa had become, and through Coco’s own image; a constant reminder to Henri De Rais of what he had lost.

No, this presence had nothing to do with her mother. At times, it felt masculine, and at others, she could sense that it was profoundly feminine. Perhaps it was more than a single entity, which might explain the strength of it, so vivid that sometimes, as she lay in her bed, she could hardly bear to breathe or move her limbs as something she didn’t understand, and could never describe, brought a great fear to descend upon her. And yet, there were also times, like tonight, when she welcomed the feeling, longing to prove that it was more than just her imagination.  If only she could touch, taste or smell this thing that moved around her, breathing through her, close and almost tangible, yet still, so far from her physical and emotional grasp. An inexplicable thing that Coco, with her fierce secrecy, let harbour there, with her in whatever space she happened to fill, and at any given time.

As the intensity of her anger fell away, she moved on, heartbeat going down. Warm sweat turned cold on her skin as she reached a rusty gate that led down a stairway cut from the natural stone, and into a disused cellar. Not just the decrepit, slightly dangerous place that her papa had forbidden her to enter; this cellar was the gateway to something else. She was sure of it, her dreams were telling her so, growing less abstract over these last few months of school vacation, until she had all but convinced herself that whatever the presence was, it must certainly reside here. It was real, it was beckoning to her, and now, she needed to prove it.

Pausing to look all around before pulling back the gate and carefully descending, Coco walked towards the pitch black interior, the air, cold and heavy. She was not afraid. Eighteen and brazen with it, she was not only a striking sight to behold, she was tough too. The epitome of health and vitality, her body, as usual, sheathed in layers of dark silk. And even if she were to feel the fear, Coco would never own up to the fact. Grown from a tomboy child, to touch her body, was to touch solid, lithe muscle, the result of endless summers here, with only her papa for a playmate, filled with physical activities like playing football and tennis and golf and wrestling matches that Henri wouldn’t always let her win.

Tilting the flashlight high to shine in front of her now as she minded her footing on the steep steps, Coco descended into the darkness that moved around and behind her, the halo of light extending from her raised arm to frame her affecting features in soft sepia. When she reached the bottom, she set the flashlight on the floor, and tying her long black hair into a knot at the nape of her neck, adjusted her eyes to see in front of her; to identify this exact scene as it had appeared in her dreams; to put an end to the hide and seek games of a recurring image. That black, hooded bird, the trickster, ensnaring her curiosity with the same bewitching tease, and as tangible as the stagnant air of this cellar that made her breathing shallow and her heart beat speed up again.

Coco had also come here this evening to view the crypt of her ancestors, and in so doing, to shame her stubborn papa in his relentless lie that no such thing existed. That it was just an old wine store, long ago spoiled, nothing of interest, and not very safe. ‘You could get hurt. Stay out of there. I insist upon it.’ And of course, the more he forbade her, the more urgent her need to defy him became.

Once, she would have believed Henri of anything he would tell her; unconditionally. But on this, and other things, Coco was no longer sure. Her papa had lied to her about the cellar. He was changing in her eyes; as she was surely changing in his.

********

Inside the château, amid sumptuous though somewhat decaying antique splendour, Henri De Rais sat by an open fireplace, engrossed in the pages of a small, dense volume on his lap, an ancient French Grimoire, bound in calf-leather and gold-leaf. Coco’s father was a beautiful man, far more youthful looking than his forty-three years. And yet, to look into his dark eyes was to see the wisdom of a very old soul, and heartache so profound that the beholder might shudder with sadness. With unruly hair that fell across his veritable, serious expression, he carried on reading now, his attentive eye drawn to an incantation…

And thrice I hear thee, dark-winged harvester

Eater of souls, with thine hollow caw of malaise

And so caught up between the words, his brow furrowed, that even as his pretty sister-in-law, Anna, entered the room carrying a tray laden with coffee and biscuits, Henri did not tear his gaze away from the page before him.

‘To keep you going until dinner,’ she told him quietly, and with such tenderness, setting the tray down carefully beside him, ‘It is cold in here, Henri, you’ve let the fire go down.’

With a slight smile, his dark eyes swept momentarily in her direction, and sad for the pain of it, her heart lifted to a flutter despite herself, beating faster as it always did in his presence. Her hope was fleeting, as usual, for Anna knew from deep down in her bones that despite the gratitude for the help she had given to him since the death of his wife, her older and only sister, Sophia, Henri’s deep set, soft brown eyes would never really see her in the way that she willed him to. ‘I hadn’t noticed. And where is Coco?’ he asked, his gaze already returned to the open page of his book, ‘Shouldn’t she be packing now?’

Anna teased at the smouldering cinders with a long brass poker from the hearth before stepping back to straighten her rose silk blouse and tuck her short blonde hair neatly behind her ears. His sadness tormented her, the broken heart that he had so silently endured for all these years, never healing. This day was like every other, and it was all she could do to restrain herself from rushing to his side and flinging her arms around him.

‘She is in the garden, Henri, and it is done already, the packing. I helped her myself.’

As she hovered there, Henri paid scant attention as she watched him pour his coffee. Even that simple action filled her with compassion for him. Such a man should never be alone, should never have to eat, to drink, to sleep alone. And yet, he could never have it any other way. ‘Will you fetch her, Anna?’ he asked her quietly, ‘I would like to spend the evening with my daughter before she returns to school.’

For a moment, Anna brimmed to say something, a practiced, intimate declaration that she had longed to share with him for quite some time. But the moment passed, as her confidence did, and instead, she merely nodded her head and left the room, her leather pumps making no sound on the flagstoned floor as she went.

********

Below in the cellar, Coco was now covered in dust as she dragged heavy, filthy crates of old, spoiled wine to the side and overcome with excitement, tugged at the latch of a small door she uncovered. A rush of adrenalin was fizzling beneath her skin; she had been right all along, or rather, the messenger in her dreams had been.

There was a crypt here, a burial chamber, and leading to it, the crypt door now gave way to her persistent kicking at it. She crawled inside the small hollowed-out cavity, awkwardly moving more debris out of her way until she found what she was looking for, her flashlight shining on a coffin-sized concrete slab set into the floor.

Coco knelt down and leaned in closer, and using her sleeve to wipe thick grime from a brass plate that was set into the centre of the slab, she read the inscription with a breathless whisper:

 

Lonan De Rais, 1653 – 1743

While here entombed beneath his namesake, the dark winged harvester forever is bound, a lineage ad libitum, the dark days endeth

 

Intrigued and fired up in equal measures, she touched the cold metal, feeling each letter until the plate moved slightly and she dug her fingers underneath it. Using the torch to hammer away at it until the plate finally dislodged, Coco pulled it away to reveal a padlocked metal box set into the ground beneath it. Her breath quickened; she was reliving this moment for sure. Even the box seemed recognizable from her dreams. Grasping it tightly in the crook of her arm, she shuffled her body backwards and out of the claustrophobic chamber, fumbling around on the gravelled, dirt floor until she located a loose stone to break the small, rusty corroded lock. Striking it over and over until the box crumpled beneath the blows, and the lid fell open, she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up; something was inside it. Tucking the flashlight under her chin again, she carefully lifted a lumpy wad of folded fabric from the box, and Coco could hardly contain her excitement at the sight of what unfurled in her hands. Gently shaking it out into what looked like a very old blanket or shawl, she delicately held each top corner with her arms outstretched and marvelled at the images that she could just about make out, despite the dim light. So engrossed in her find, she did not see the black bird feathers that fell from the folds of the fabric as she shook it gently, nor did she notice them floating in slow motion to the dirt floor beneath her feet…

 

********

In that same, instantaneous moment, Henri, still seated in his study, suddenly sat forward, the grimoire falling to the floor, his dark eyes widening at first to then crease up, almost shut, as if he had just been engulfed by horrendous pain. Beads of sweat formed on his furrowed brow, his mouth opened wide as if to shout out a warning, though no sound escaped him. An image flashed before his eyes, a flickering profile of a man he had never met, yet had surely known; eyes, as black as Henri’s own, seared into his soul, burned into his soul as his mirror image smiled back at him. It was a wicked smile, filled with the promise of dread, and Henri began to shake, his body overtaken by an uncontrollable tremor that hurt from the inside out, and the coffee cup fell from his hand, the fine porcelain shattering into pieces at his feet…

 

Extract from Arkyne, Story of a Vampire     Caroline Farrell (c) 2016

 

 

Writers and Authors Feature Interview

Many thanks to Writers and Authors for this recent feature interview

 

What genre do you write and why?

I write mostly in the horror/supernatural genre, but also in dramatic fiction. I am a screenwriter and filmmaker too, which allows me the freedom to experiment in different genres and formats of storytelling, so in terms of creativity, I have many structures to imagine and develop stories.

Tell us about your latest book.

‘Arkyne, Story of a Vampire’ is my debut novel and is a supernatural tale of myth and magic. It is set mostly in Ireland on the Aran Island of Inis Mor, where Caleb Flaherty encounters the beautiful and mysterious French girl, Coco de Rais, only to discover that she has unwittingly unleashed a daemon vampire, Lucius. Drawn together from vastly different lives and finding themselves in mortal danger, the lovers must accept and utilize the power they have each inherited through their strange and magical lineage.

Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected?

I learned a lot through the process, particularly in terms of the amount of discipline and commitment that is necessary to apply to the long form of novel writing. The story meandered between a screenplay and a novel for a number of years, and eventually, to force myself to finish it, I began to post sample chapters on my blog. I received some very helpful feedback from supportive readers and it really spurred me on to finish it. The sheer satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that I felt on ‘having written’ a novel was also rather unexpected!

Who are your favourite authors?

I have so many, so perhaps I’ll just list the ones I find inspirational in terms of writing: Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Ann Rice, Alice Hoffman, Susan Hill, Neil Gaiman, and lately, David Mitchell and Audrey Niffenegger.

What’s your favourite quote about writing/for writers?

One of my favourites is from Anne Lamott: “When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” From Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?

I’m in favour of any method that enables an author to get their work out there. I understand how difficult it is for a lot of publishing houses, they simply don’t have the resources to publish every good book that comes their way, so authors have a right to look at alternative paths to publishing. I think people’s attitudes have changed for the better in regard to self-publishing in the last while. Sure, there are works out there that perhaps don’t meet the standard required, but overall, I think the vast majority of Indie Authors are sound, talented people with voices and stories that deserve a platform. I’ve been a librarian for almost 20 years, so I also understand that readers will find the works that speak to them, and whether that is fantasy, horror, crime, dystopian, erotica, western, romance, high-brow literature, classics or whatever else, taste is taste and there is an author out there to meet that need. Self-publishing bridges many gap, particularly with ebooks, supplying reading material that is cheaper and in abundance, and that means that more books are read, and more people are reading. Who can argue with that?

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Giving yourself permission to daydream, to imagine and to live in the fantastical worlds with the magnificent characters that exist inside your head!

What advice do you have for other writers?

Be brave. Write what you want to write. Write what you want to read. Look for feedback from people you trust and admire. Take the negative in your stride, don’t respond to it. Save your energy and embrace only the constructive criticism. Don’t assume you are better than anyone else. Don’t assume you are not as good as anyone else; you are unique, so strive to express your work in your own voice. Take inspiration from your own experience. Don’t try to imitate others. Keep at it.

Where can people find out more about you and your writing?

I’m always delighted to connect with readers.

I have a website and blog: https://carolinefarrellwriter.com

I’m also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarolineFarrellScreenwriter/

And Twitter: @CarolineAuthor

Where can a reader purchase your book?

Links to purchase ‘Arkyne, Story of a Vampire’ can be found here:

https://carolinefarrellwriter.com/category/links-to-purchase-arkyne-story-of-a-vampire/

Characters from Arkyne: Caleb – An Introduction

Kilronan, Inis Mor. Aran Islands

A breeze was rising gently to move between the many dreamcatchers that old Budgie Flaherty had suspended from the gutters to decorate the exterior of her cottage home. All different in shape and size, and placed with care in front of every window and door, the handmade talismans warded off the unwelcome, the dream stealers, the custodians of nightmares and dark thoughts. Driftwood, jetsam, feathers and glass beads, all blending unique and soothing timbres that mingled with the sounds of the night creatures and the sleeping sea to soothe the tired mind towards restful, unhindered sleep.

Or so they ought to…

Though he was choosing to ignore her voice at this minute, Caleb’s grandmother was calling out to him now. Caleb always heard her, often from miles away, an inexplicable telepathic power between them that he had long ago given up on trying to understand. Most of the time, he simply denied that it was anything to do with him at all, preferring to believe that the gift was hers and hers alone. That she could somehow transmit a thought to him, like a radio frequency, and that, in order to boost his fragile ego, she just let him think he also had that same special power.

And fragile it was, his ego, though Caleb would never admit to that out loud. Sure, he was different to the other young guys on the Island, could just about acknowledge that, for he had always stood out on his own. Even as a youngster, alone, but never lonely, his grandmother was the only one who could make him feel okay about his sense of separateness; seeing as how different old Budgie was herself.

Old she was too, though no-one knew exactly the age of her, and that was one subject that not even Caleb himself had the courage to broach. While straddling the worlds of her religion with her other-worldly gift, her natural magic, as she called it, Budgie regularly carried out spells and rituals to aid the sick and the worthy, her words, spoken with her suitably old world charm, and to deflect the spirits of the underworld, whom she believed roamed through the night in search of trouble. In search of the insomniacs, the deep thinkers; the minds that were filled with perceptible thought and belief that the fall of the darkness descended to allow the lifting of the veil that separates the real from the imagined, the living from the dead, the body from the spirit. And these notions that she had, once accepted by him as just events of everyday life, were now beginning to annoy the hell out of him.

Caleb ran his fingers through the coarse and shaggy coat of a tethered pony, a gift from his parents for his nineteenth birthday, just weeks ago. He had been trying to decide what to call it over many a hilarious evening spent laughing with his father, Brion, as they came up with the most ridiculous names he could think of. Loving the pony’s glossy blue-black coat, Caleb had suggested Bluecifer. That hadn’t gone down well with the women in the family. Names like Bobblehead, Metalhead, Alcapony, Cujo and Skag were offered, the latter not proving at all popular with Caleb’s father. None of these names seemed in the least bit appropriate now, if they ever had been, and so the pony was nameless, and would remain so for now, or at least, until Caleb could care more.

And all that laughter between father and son seemed like a lifetime away as he offered the animal an apple and led it gently to a water trough in a small field that spread out, unfenced, around his grandmother’s neat and postcard pretty home. Caleb grimaced now at the memory of those better days as he watched the pony drink from the trough and then amble off towards the centre of the field and into the darkness. I could go there too, into the dark; nameless…

He straddled the low stone wall in front of the cottage, rolling his own cigarette. Lighting it, the rapid flame of the match cast a momentary blast of light on Caleb’s interesting, almost aristocratic face. In an instant though, the light fizzled out, and with it, his strange beauty. Caleb inhaled greedily, devouring the cigarette as he lifted his head to look up toward the indigo sky that spread now like a comfortable blanket over the island. It could be magic in the making, that twinkling sky, as his grandmother would say, but his thoughts were so heavy and so far away now, that he could barely see the beauty of it. His expression remained sombre as he looked down again and towards the cottage he would now share alone with Budgie.

He heard her call out to him again, this time choosing to; Budgie’s voice mingling with the sounds that were coming from inside the cottage. Plaintive singing, women’s voices, lamenting and keening as a black, hooded crow swooped down from the sky to circle above his head. Startling him with its size and the close proximity of its large, hawkish beak, Caleb’s eyes remained fixed on the bird as it hovered over him. Large wings barely flapping and spanned wide, a pair of beady eyes scrutinized him, until just as suddenly, the bird moved off again, changing direction to fly towards the ruins of Arkyne Castle, seen only in distant silhouette. Caleb shivered as he gazed towards home; the outsider, looking in.

Several large Jack o’ lanterns were also placed around the façade. All were hollowed out and had jagged, menacing facial expressions cut into them. In the dark of night, and carved from Budgie’s buckled hands, candles placed inside the louring eyes burned from the scowling faces of these pumpkin shells, a constant reminder to the supernatural intruders that the people here knew of their existence. Were fully aware of their tricks and of their impishness, and were not afraid to share this mystical space, this island where myth and magic were as commonplace as the rain and the indigenous winds that flurry, blast and blizzard to the sounds of the ocean. Like the deep, rumbling sound of an overhead aeroplane that moved ever closer, Caleb’s insides echoed now to the sound of his own crippling pain and anger, his sharp and serious eyes creasing as he fought back tears to watch the flashing lights of its great metal under-belly pass over him.

It was only when the lights had disappeared and the sound of the plane’s engines had been swallowed up and consumed by the approaching clouds above the Atlantic, did he finally give in to his grandmother’s call. ‘Caleb, son?’ she once again beckoned to him from the door of the cottage, her voice cracked with grief, ‘We need you.’

********

Inside the cluttered interior of the cottage, a time capsule awaited; fussy, 1970’s wallpaper, earthenware pottery, some of it a century old. And rustic, artisan folk furniture, colourwashed and laden with books, bric-a-brac, dried flowers and herbs. A comforting, welcoming place were it not for the funeral wake that was in full swing, two coffins placed side by side in the centre of the room, and a gathering of people crowded shoulder to shoulder into the cramped space surrounding them.

Budgie Flaherty gestured to her grandson, her long silver hair, loosely braided down her back, casting a soft silver halo around her face of eighty-odd years; the only number, of sorts, that she would ever concede to.  ‘Make sure everyone has had enough to eat,’ she gently prompted, ‘I’ll see to the drinks for the final toast.’ She was wearing black, head to toe, even to the hand stitched lace collar of her dress. The only relief from the starkness of her mourning clothes and shocking white mane were her blue eyes, and the light that bounced off them against the sapphire and silver twisted crucifix around her neck.

As she moved away, Caleb, silent and stoic, did as he was told. Lifting a tray of sandwiches from the table, he moved mechanically between the gathered mourners as they uttered condolences to him. While he nodded his head occasionally, Caleb barely acknowledged any of them, not out of rudeness or even his grief, but because he was finding it difficult to focus on faces, any face, since the accident. It was as if to look into anyone’s eyes, and to let them look back into his, was to make himself vulnerable. To let them see his fear. Now that everything had changed, forever.

Watching him sombrely was Paddy Coyle, a local lad, the same age as Caleb, and though, just like Caleb, he was a fisherman’s son, they could be worlds apart. Paddy was a hard case, a large, muscle-bound youth turned man through a life so far speckled with the tough gig of long days spent facing the elements of the sea. Something that Caleb had rarely experienced, and avowed that he never would again.

A wet arse and nothing caught, his father would say in the early years, teasing Caleb on his lack of skills at the occupation his family had partaken of, and been supported by, for centuries. And though it was said in jest and good nature, Caleb knew that deep down his father had been disappointed that his only son would not be carrying on with the fisherman’s life. No longer a sustainable existence for most, it had become inevitable to him that his Aran boy should go forth and find a world, and a life, away from the island, a world that Caleb’s parents could never know, nor need.

A pretty girl excused herself from Paddy’s company and inched towards Caleb, much to Paddy’s irritation. For the day that was in it, though, he would hide it well. Wearing heavy make-up, her complexion falsely dark and her nails long and manicured as they gripped his arm, twenty year-old Maeve Murray was consumed with concern for Caleb as she moved in and tried to embrace him. Caleb allowed her to, though he barely reciprocated her touch as Paddy’s expression tightened while he watched the interaction between them. ‘Will I see you later?’ she asked, and there was much hope in her tone, though her expression soon dropped as Caleb shrugged, eye contact negligible as he moved on.

Father Moriarty, a portly man in his mid-sixties, who today looked twenty years older, stepped into Caleb’s path. ‘How are you holding up?’ he asked with a manly grip on Caleb’s shoulder. The younger shook his head, eyes lowered to the ground and the priest drew his hands away from Caleb’s shrug, unsure what to do with them now. ‘I wish there was something I could say,’ he offered, locking his fingers across his large belly, well-padded from years of home baking gifts that his native parishioners bestowed upon him daily. ‘There isn’t.’ Caleb snapped, cutting him dead. Father Moriarty tried again, ‘This is not God’s will, Caleb,’ he said as Budgie appeared to take the tray from her grandson, gently touching Caleb’s cheek as the priest tried to continue, ‘But he is there, with open arms, to take them out of their suffering.’ Caleb looked sharply at him, angry as he prepared to retaliate with some deeply held and colourfully worded comeback. How the fuck would you know? The words went unuttered though as Budgie, reading his thoughts, softly cut in to deflect his attention. ‘Are you ready?’

He looked towards the open coffins; the male and female corpses, middle-aged, in their best Sunday Mass clothing. Draped carefully over the bodies of Brion and Peggy Flaherty, Aran-stitched shawleens, pepper-white, and knitted by Budgie for the special purpose of keeping them warm and protected on this, their final and most important journey. Beside each other now in death as they had been in life, victims of the same sea, that all of their short existence, had given them shelter and daily bread. Each had their names embroidered on the front of the shawleens; elaborate green and gold letters with birth and death dates below them and several trinkets were sewn between the stitches. A brass button from Brion’s good coat, a ring that Budgie had given him on his eighteenth birthday, a silver charm from Peggy’s favourite bracelet, her pearl rosary beads, and their wedding rings, exchanged, and taking pride of place, strategically sewn above their hearts.

In the bitter context of loss and finality, the procession of condolence bore many smiling faces. So, so wrong, it seemed. Nonetheless, the deceased, in their finery, were entirely riveting, a certain contentment emanating from them. Several mourners gasped and sighed in wonder at the adornments, praising Budgie for her earnest work and loving attention to detail.

Sure, I’ve never seen them look younger. Don’t they look so peaceful? Well, at least they won’t be lonely on the next leg of their journey. Not a line of stress or worry on their faces; together in life, forever in the afterlife…

And on and on the comments poured out, the trying so hard to say the right thing to the family bereaved as they continued with each shuffling foot to move the procession on; a slow-moving train of condolences around the morbid centerpieces of Budgie’s cramped home.

Caleb closed his eyes. This can’t be real. But it is. It is.

Budgie eased herself through the gathered crowd, her hands swaying gently to silence the din. Conversations became muted and then hushed altogether as Father Moriarty opened a prayer-book, and flanked by both coffins, began to recite from the pages. As the priest spoke, Caleb moved slowly, all eyes on him as he lifted a coffin lid from against the wall and moved slowly to the casket with his mother’s corpse laid out in it. He kissed her cold, lifeless, painted cheek, and carefully placed the lid over her. To see those eyes glisten blue again.

A frailty in her stance that he had never seen before, Budgie offered him a hammer and some nails. Caleb secured the lid with the nails, hammering one by one, his face contorting with each strike until he finally ceased to make a sign of the cross. It seemed like the correct thing to do, though he didn’t really understand why. He never was one for the organized religion. Caleb just didn’t get the systems of it all, the churches, the mosques, the synagogues and their differences and their sameness. His grandmother often reminded him, with fond memory, how at age four, at mass one Sunday, he kept tugging at his mother’s skirt, trying to get her attention. When she kept shushing him, in frustration he announced loudly that people were God, and not that man up there on the alter; that man in the dress. Shushed again by his mortified mother, and with some seriously frowning faces looking down at him, Caleb had said no more.

Later, at home, over the traditional Sunday brunch, and despite his parents’ disapproval, Budgie had asked the little man what he had meant. ‘God’s not above us,’ he replied. ‘He’s right here. He is you. He is me. God is everyone.’

‘And how do you know that?’ she asked, amused as his brow crinkled to find the correct words.

‘Because he tells me so, when he wakes up inside my head.’

‘But, Caleb, if he’s inside your head,’ Budgie gently probed further, ‘How could he be in me too?’ She still chuckled when she remembered the little face of him, and the consternation coming at her because she didn’t understand. ‘He is everyone, I told you! And someday, he’ll wake up inside your head and tell you how.’

Over the years, his words had stayed with Budgie, and as he got older, she would have wonderful conversations with Caleb on his steadfast belief. At one point, just before he hit puberty, Caleb seemed to be able to explain it so that she could finally see he meant. ‘We all have a true identity. God,’ He explained, ‘These bodies we walk around in are merely vessels, the real ‘us’ are inside them. The real ‘us’ is God. We don’t let him in, or become him, we are him. We wear out these bodies, and they die. We don’t die, because we are God.’

‘So what does God do when the bodies are gone?’ Budgie asked him, fascinated by his confidence in the matter.

‘You mean, what do we do when the bodies are gone?’ He replied, his eyes shining with sincerity and truth, ‘We transcend beyond the material, we become invisible, but we are still here. We are still God.’

Whether he still held this to be truth, Caleb had stopped talking about his beliefs in general, and Budgie wondered now, though the latent anger he was holding prevented her from broaching the subject, if he could take any comfort in his early beliefs. She watched in silence as an older man appeared beside Caleb; Mister Coyle, Paddy’s father, long experienced in these ceremonious rituals, he held the lid of the second coffin as Caleb stroked his father’s hair, bending in to kiss his forehead. If ever there was a moment when she saw her version of God, it was right there in the love that had connected this man and boy. Budgie always remarked how Brion could have spit him out, so alike were the two of them. Her son and her grandson, one light now extinguished for an earthbound eternity, the other dimmed forever it seemed, by the ultimate and infinite pain of loss. Paddy’s father helped Caleb to lift the lid of the coffin level and slide it into place. Again, Caleb hammered in the nails, one by one, his mouth growing tighter and tighter as his arm rose and fell, blow after blow falling harder as his pain over-flowed and overwhelmed him, until the older man, with a swift yet gentle movement, prised the hammer from his clenched, trembling grip.

Budgie stood at his back the entire time, weeping sorrowfully. When she could hardly bear it anymore, her eyes moved towards the window, and looking out at the raging, darkening sky, she caught her breath. The black crow was there again, that ravenous, filthy creature, hovering, lurking. She suddenly remembered a question she had asked Caleb when he was just thirteen, a question she had at once regretted when his silence assured her that he had no answer to it; If God is inside these bodies of ours, could the devil be there too?

The hammering sounds of her grandson’s unspeakable grief continued to echo inside her head; fists punching against the thin walls of her chest, and drumming in unison with her broken heart. And Budgie closed her eyes, all seeing…

 

Excerpt from Arkyne, Story of a Vampire (c) Caroline E.Farrell: 2016

Image by Charles Edward Butler.

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