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This month’s winning short story in the Hennessy New Irish Writing competition is by John Murphy

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Hell, the pilots from the Nimitz actually intercepted the damn things. The events from that day swirled up again fresh in his mind. We're hoping, no, not hoping, praying. Johnson and I risked everything to come here. Maybe even our lives. Is there any way I can get in trouble here tonight? Will I be in any danger for helping you? You just suggested you could be killed. What about me, my wife? The two men just sat there unamused. We have studied all the data taken from the ships. The radar recordings, gun cameras, pilot logs, radio recordings, everything points back to you and one particular instant in time.

I will tell the story. He could have saved them a lot of hassle with a simple phone call. The phenomenon is known as Observer Perturbations. Basically, by simply observing an event, or an experiment, the observer always creates perturbations in the outcome. Therefore, it has always been impossible for scientists to observe experiments with absolute objectivity. Campbell paused to see if Andy was following him. Scientists simply can not conduct most of the experiments they would like because observing them changes the results, most often in wildly unpredictable and extremely bizarre ways.

But what does this have to do with me? Whenever the data became static like it was now, the technicians immediately alerted the doctor. His every movement was tracked by several layers of technology. His phone, car, clothing, and even his jewelry contained very small devices that emitted constant radio frequencies. Transmitters, clandestinely hid in various locations, picked up the weak signals and relayed them up to a geosynchronous satellite and then down again to the secure room where he was being monitored.

The solitary diamond had been carefully lifted out and a very tiny RF device hidden underneath it. The device was completely undetectable, the ring entirely normal looking. The fibers were actually extremely accurate RF devices powered by scattered light. His car, laptop computer, cell phone, and all of his shoes contained similar devices.

Andy literally could not move a muscle without his movement being immediately detected. Unlike most people who ended up being tracked this way by the U. Far from it in fact, he was being protected by his watchers. Their goal was for him to be left completely alone, allowed to live an entirely normal life. At least until such time that they decided how best to use him.

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The two scientists in the world that did know how to use Andy Cline were now missing. The course, speed, altitude were all identical to the other five contacts on his display. Senior Chief Cline looked at the radar sources again. All five tracks were being reported by CEC. The U. He could see that CEC was using radar from several independent sources. The tracks were definitely real. Spread out evenly across his display, the tracks were all at about 28, feet and tracking south at around one hundred knots.

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Strange because the upper atmospheric jet stream along the West Coast of the United States normally travels from west to east. He was sure that was the case even now. Unless caught in a jet stream, airborne objects at 28, feet do not travel that slowly. They would more than likely fall out of the sky instead. Stepping back from the display, Senior Chief Cline just watched as the strange tracks seemed to slowly float.

The Carrier Air Wing was already recovered onboard the U. Nimitz for the evening so the Senior Chief was not really too concerned about safety of flight. He decided to continue monitoring the contacts though. He had seen strange atmospheric phenomenon several times before over the course of his twenty one year career. These contacts could be almost anything.

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Canadian Geese flying south, ball lightening, weather balloons, ice, even a major CEC system malfunction. Senior Chief Andy Cline did note, none too happily, that no one else in Combat seemed to be paying any attention to the strange tracks. He would definitely bring this up later but wanted to observe his team in action for now.

After many months of training, he had always tried to teach his young team to expect the unexpected. To remain alert and curious at all times. If they did not know the identification of an air contact then they should be automatically trying to find out. Something no one seemed to be doing right now. Please make sure your relief knows when he shows up. As the Air Defense Commander, the U. Princeton was in charge of defending the airspace around the strike group. All weapon employments would be simulated of course, but the exercise was designed to provide air defense combat training with a very high degree of realism.

After taking another look at the strange contacts, Senior Chief Cline decided to get some rest. Tomorrow was going to be another long and busy day. He left Combat and headed down to the Chiefs Mess two decks below. Dave Campbell as he scribbled notes on a notepad at their temporary campsite.

I didn't want to draw attention to them myself because I wanted the watch standers to notice the tracks on their own. Like they are supposed to do," replied Andy. Please continue with your story Andy," replied Dr. The sun was beginning to set behind the trees, darkness quickly overtaking the thick forest.

Ken Johnson switched on a couple of compact fluorescent camp lights bathing the clearing in good light. Unable to sleep, Senior Chief Cline made his way back up to Combat. He had gone through again and again in his mind what the source of the strange contacts could be. What on earth fly's like that? Certainly nothing that he had. After making a lame excuse that he couldn't sleep to the questioning tactical action officer on watch, Senior Chief found an empty console at the back of Combat. The contacts, six of them this time, were still there. Although they were presumably different contacts than the group he had monitored a few hours ago, they were making that same strangely coordinated progress from north to south.

This group too was at 28, feet and traveling around one hundred knots. No one in Combat was paying any attention to the tracks. Senior Chief verified the War Diary was still on, took out a pad of paper and started taking notes. Something very strange was definitely happening. Senior Chief Cline spent the last few hours of the early morning quietly observing the peculiar radar contacts.

What do you think? In response, Senior Chief Cline hooked one of the tracks. The information instantly displayed on the console. You … you pointed them out several hours ago, remember?

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Senior Chief Cline just looked at him. Although he had been in Combat since very early in the morning, no one had said a single word about the contacts, especially not him.

The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories

All of a sudden it seemed the entire air side of Combat was talking amongst themselves about the curious tracks. They were all behaving as though the contacts were common knowledge and a subject of great interest during the long night watch. But, that simply was not possible. He had been there all night and no one had even seemed to notice the tracks, let alone talk about them all night.

Campbell interrupting him once again. They both seemed to be agreeing on something but were doing it silently. Campbell carefully. I have notes! They all claimed they looked like giant Tic Tacs and kicked their asses in dogfights! When the. We know their capabilities, believe me. However, they were approximately five hundred miles to the northeast of your ships until you spoke to the TAO.

Andy saw that the scientist was deadly serious. He also knew that he should not be making this decision lightly. He got up off the log and looked into the trees, the last rays of the sun stabbing his eyes. Just what in the hell was going on? What did they want from him? On the other hand, he had come this far hadn't he? This would probably. He turned to face the scientists. Out in the Nevada desert we have a complete mockup of the Nimitz Strike Group, or more precisely, all of the sensors and computer systems. We can track everything that the actual strike group can with our multiple radars, electronic support equipment, and identification gear.

Anyway, on December 17 and 18, , we were using our mockup to continue with a series of experiments trying to determine how effectively a U. Navy armada would be able to detect and track the objects. Andy, somehow you alone were able to see the objects exactly as if they were flying over the real ships, your ships in the Pacific Ocean. He decided to just continue after seeing his blank stare. At that instant in time, a previously unproven theory in quantum physics invoked itself and an alternate reality simply copied itself over the past several hours.

Even though you could not have understood what happened at the time. He had that same look of awe again. We can only guess as to why, but a second set of quantum particles, the twins to our research objects, existed in unreal space above the real strike group even as their real twin particles existed over our mockup in the Nevada desert. He knew the explanation was confusing and he didn't want to lose Andy. And, our objects in the desert instantly reappeared over your ships. You apparently have a very powerful gift," the doctor replied.

He was thinking about everything he had just heard, and reviewing in his mind again the events from three years ago. The red sky in the west was barely visible now through the tall trees, the forest almost entirely engulfed in darkness. The heat of the warm June day was beginning to lose the fight to the coolness of the coming night. The scent of pine forest baked by the fullness of the day's sun was diminishing too. Or, perhaps he was just getting used to the once familiar pine smell again. The two scientists remained silent, giving him time to think and assess the profound significance of what they had told him.

It was some time before Andy was ready to speak again. You have been involved with this, with the government, from the beginning. So, why exactly did you come here? Why would you risk everything just to tell me this? Then, we have a test we want you take that will answer your other one. Quite simply, we are here because the government refuses to listen to our warnings. They want to use you, and so did we at first, to assist them in quantum experiments.

The fact is that this research is so new that. Andy, you have been under constant observation by the government for several months now, as insurance to your safety. They were still trying to figure out the best way to approach you, but we managed to get to you first. Seeing none, he continued. It was a surprise to everyone that See'r's, apparently, also have the ability to invoke alternate realties. Worse, the mathematical models strongly suggest there is no limit on the magnitude of those events should they occur.

In other words Andy, given the wrong laboratory experiment you could unintentionally replace a city, the entire world, or even the entire universe with another reality. Basically, we could very easily fuck up and unleash the power of the Big Bang itself! If you so much as gain the awareness of the alternate reality by observing the unreal twin pairs of quantum particles like you did three years ago, the co-realities could immediately trade places with each other. Everything and everybody could simply disappear in the wink of an eye! The problem is that we.

The government seems quite willing to play with fire, Dr. We made the decision to give up our lives if necessary in order to warn you. Johnson thoughtfully. Opening the box he removed a device that resembled an oversize pair of sunglasses. He also removed a handheld device that looked like an iPod player. They designed it to test for Ideal Observers. Although not quite quantum experiments, the mathematical models that run on this device are very close approximations of them. The test subject simply dons the device and the test begins.

As each math model runs, each step in the math problem. This process simulates the act of observing the quantum experiment, without the danger involved with the real thing. When the current question is finished, the answer will be represented by an everyday object. Like a cat, a banana, a lamp, or a boat - could be anything. He paused to see if Andy was following this explanation.

Each math model is repeated at least twice randomly. An Ideal Observer will observe the same result time after time because they are able to do so without introducing observer perturbations. A non-Ideal Observer would never be able to observe the same result because the perturbations they introduce always change the final outcome. Andy looked at both of the doctors and then reached out for the headset. Johnson got up and helped Andy set it comfortably on his head. Immediately, the test began. Quite suddenly the view inside the headset device went dark and he felt hands removing the device.

Campbell standing beside him with the headset in hand. Johnson simply turned the iPod looking device so that Andy could see the display. He knew his life was over. There was no where he could hide from this, hide from them, and he knew that too. Campbell solemnly. At that moment, as if an electrical storm had just passed overhead, the clean crisp smell of ozone suddenly invaded the scent of pine.

Right now! One in the last known position of the doctors, the other to search the woods around that technology park. Take the doctors alive if possible, kill them otherwise. The panicked Air Force officer had no options left. Andy was surprised when the office door opened quietly, it was locked and he was expecting it to be blown off its hinges instead. He lay on the couch in the office pretending to be asleep. He was fully dressed back in the clothing and personal possessions that he now knew to be bugged.

Just who in the hell are you guys? We found the doctors in the forest. Preceded by the smell of ozone, a tall Gray suddenly materialized out of thin air in the corner of the room. The Air Force Officer immediately recognized the Gray, he was one of several aliens that worked alongside his government researchers. We will continue to honor our contracts. Even Grays are afraid of God you fool! The officer just glared, fully aware they were powerless to harm or interfere with the alien. Sailors can certainly experience excitement, adventure, camaraderie, and great accomplishment.

They can also experience boredom, fatigue, frustration, disappointment, and great failure. This is a story of a sailor who is experiencing the latter and contemplating suicide. The author uses the all too real fictional account to expose the reader to a few of the less glamorous aspects of life at sea onboard a modern U.

Navy warship. Ensign Mike Bassett stared blankly at his feet in the darkened bunkroom, a man completely defeated. Barely illuminated by the soft red glow of several night lights, he sat hunched over at his tiny desk with his forehead resting on his forearm. He felt at least a little seclusion in the cramped six-man bunkroom reserved for junior officer personnel. Ensign Bassett was stealing a few moments rest, hiding really, before heading up to the bridge for another long mid-watch.

He listened to the sleeping sounds being made by his shipmates, jealous they could apparently forget their troubles and sleep. Unwilling to join them and even try, he instead sat and listened just feet away in the small, cramped space they all called home. Purposefully still, Mike faced his torment. His screaming mind the only thing he allowed to betray the fragile quiet.

Mike Bassett was in a terrible battle with his thoughts. He sadly realized that in spite of his best efforts he was failing miserably. Since arriving onboard the U. Chosin things had gone disastrously wrong for him. His first job as a junior naval officer and he was ready to quit. It was worse than that though, he was nearly ready to give up entirely. Not yet ready to contemplate how he might do it, he had already accepted the idea of death as a quick end to his misery.

The suffocating, merciless anguish he felt would. Mike sat motionless, letting the shame and quilt of his suicidal thoughts struggle with the tantalizing promise of nothingness. As the drama played itself out again in his mind, Mike knew that shame and quilt was also the only thing keeping him alive right now.

With workups for the quickly approaching deployment to the Middle East well underway, Mike had not slept in almost two days. When did he have time to sleep? For Ensign Mike Bassett sleep was completely restless anyway, a too short and unsatisfying escape from the reality of now. Mike's understanding of his future was growing as well. He was learning why so many people decide to end it all. Starting as a small grotesque seed of thought, his empathy for suicide victims pushed ever deeper in his mind, and was now firmly rooted his psyche. He no longer considered himself a better person than those who succumb to struggle and willingly take their own life.

In fact, he now felt ashamed and embarrassed that he had ever felt that way. The outrage of being stuck in heavy traffic last summer now returned to him with the feeling of a large. How could he have ever been so callous as to will a poor homeless lady to hurry up and jump? All because she was tying up traffic on the Coronado Bay Bridge and he wanted to get home. Was he really that heartless, that, unknowing? A starkly brutal awareness, almost acceptance really, was growing within his tortured mind.

The finality of death both scared the hell out of him and urged him on towards it. He wanted to die and the shocking trueness of that fact made him want to hide from everyone and everything, just like he was trying to do now. Mike wondered how much longer could he believe his own lies and continue faking it on this ship. Continue acting like he was alive when in reality, he already considered himself quite dead. In the darkness of the sleeping bunkroom, Mike's mind continued to race, wrestling with itself, breaking down his remaining will to survive.

Even pleasant memories now seemed to collude against him, joining the bad in a vote of death. His death. What should be anchors of hope in his life, were instead weighing him down, dragging him to the bottom. Good thoughts, good memories. Even memories of Sherry had now turned against him. The young Vietnamese girl he dated lived on 43rd Street, just north of University Boulevard in a small rented apartment she shared with twelve family members.

Perhaps it was just the spontaneous memory of her or else the unmistakable smell of fried garlic really was floating up from the galley one deck below. Memories were one thing, but were smells also conspiring against him? He could actually taste fried garlic, burnt in cloudy week-old oil, just like the first time he entered Sherry's apartment and the strong odor immediately invaded his mouth and eyes, saturating him like it did everything else in the tiny place.

Small it was too, with nowhere for stench to hide, just like this musty bunkroom. Like him, Sherry lived in a confined space, where almost every act is public, and no way to be alone. With everyone working different schedules of the day and night, she was always surrounded by activity. Her clothes and personal belongings stacked neatly by her small encampment on the floor. Not that much different than his small bunkroom with only a coffin-sized rack in which to sleep and an urnsized locker in which to store belongings.

Like it must be for her too, Mike had no place and no where he could truly hide. His at-sea living conditions and. At least Sherry could walk out the door, jump on the trolley, and go somewhere else. Like over to his apartment where she made love to him with a naked fierceness that always startled him. Even now the arousing memory of her tight, girlish body threatened to interrupt his dark mental panorama. Unlike her though, Mike had no where else he could go - no matter how fiercely he desired it.

Except, of course, to The Final Place. Worst of all for Mike right now was the fact he had nowhere to go and hide. He remembered a puppy he owned once that had taken ill. Bierce just keep edging in these horribly astute little witty observations. It's great. Second, it's a historically wonderful depiction of the gold rush era and its fallout.

It's also a horror story, and that part of it isn't quite as strong. It relies too heavily and twice on "The experience was just so awful that they dropped dead. I'll forgive that though, because reading this was just wholly a pleasure. But all doesn't end well The watch was inherited from a great-grandfather who was never seen again, after being arrested by 'that damned traitor, Washington, and his ragamuffin rebels! Sick and alone, in an eerie house that seems haunted, he tells a cautionary tale The moral here may be, 'carpe diem,' but Bierce also gets in a bit about the foolishness of the 'upper class' giving themselves airs.

Here, a group of doctors make a bet that basically, anyone who's not a doctor or a soldier, who spends the night alone with a corpse will be unable to take it, and will go insane. So, the guy who takes the bet sets himself up to stand vigil I dunno, the story seems to ignore the long-standing and respectful and non-horrific tradition of standing vigil over the dead Adding an extra star just for that.

A machinist has seemed unduly preoccupied with the philosophy of life, of late. He's been bringing up topics such as whether machines might be sentient to his friends. Little do they know these questions are not just academic - they have something to do with the invention he's kept concealed in his workroom.

Many thanks to Dover and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own Apr 23, Beattie rated it really liked it Shelves: boo-scary , autumn , halloween , paper-read , re-visit , shortstory-shortstories-novellas , underratings. Description: Famed for the mordant wit and satire of his essays and newspaper columns, Ambrose Bierce — also possessed a fascination with the macabre.

This stimulating and provocative collection of twelve of Bierce's finest ghost and horror stories abounds in crimes of Description: Famed for the mordant wit and satire of his essays and newspaper columns, Ambrose Bierce — also possessed a fascination with the macabre. This stimulating and provocative collection of twelve of Bierce's finest ghost and horror stories abounds in crimes of passion, restless specters seeking revenge, haunted houses, forewarnings of doom, and sound minds deranged by contact with the spirit world.

View 1 comment. I enjoyed most of these stories a lot. Then you have mocking of 'upper' classes, superficial friendships, revenge and so on. The Eyes of the Panther A young woman refuses to marry a man even though she clams she loves him. One does not always marry when insane opens the story and it seems she believes she is insane.

Then she tells him a story from her family's past.


The Moonli 3. The Moonlit Road One of my favourites. It tells the story of jealousy and murder from three different POVs. The best part is that neither of the three is simply retelling the story. Each has its own mark. The Boarded Window This story also takes place in a remote cabin in the woods as the first story. It explains why the only window is boarded shut. The Man and the Snake There is a legend that some snakes can charm people holding them captive. Visiting his scientist friend who is an expert on snakes, Harker Brayton's mind will be put to test as far as this legend go.

You are never given a complete explanation of what had. His dreams are terrifying and very vivid. Later he finds out that his dreams were very close to the truth. The Middle Toe of the Right Foot A duel in a haunted house reveals whether the place is haunted or not. A Psychological Shipwreck Hallucinations on a ship turn out to be creepily close to what happened miles away. A Holy Terror I loved this heart-breaking historical horror story. The time setting of gold rush is perfect. He tells a story of the watch to his friend who decides to do an experiment without telling Bartine. He doesn't expect what happens next.

Beyond the Wall Everyone has a regret or two. A man visits his friend after years of travelling around the world. The friend is ill and lives alone. He tells his guest the story of his greatest regret. A Watcher by the Dead This one is a story of a bet gone horribly wrong. Hearing a scream, the hotel staff rush to the room and find the man dead… next to a stuffed snake, with shoe-buttons for eyes.

Seeking refuge, he settles into the remains of an abandoned house for the night; as his fire burns low, his mind is filled with strange dreams… Awakened by wild thrashing in the house, he grips his shotgun tight and keeps his fire well lit for the rest of the night. It turns out that the cemetery has a cache of gold hidden under one coffin, and the man begins to unearth it… only to find the coffin was buried upside-down, when its contents fall through the rotting wood onto him.

When the wife falls victim to fever, her husband tries to nurse her back to health, but to no avail.

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With her body lain in state on their table, the grief-stricken man loses his senses; he snaps back to reality to find some savage beast—another panther—coming through his open window. His stories embrace their dark imagery, full of isolated places in the American frontier wilderness—moonlit forests filled with savage panthers, abandoned houses in the rocky California chaparral.

The literary devices he uses are chosen to throw the reader off balance and keep them on edge; the stories have abrupt beginnings, and often end with a line just as abrupt; he makes vague references to time, setting his stories in a near but unspecified past; his descriptions are limited, vague but chosen with enough distinction to imprint an idea on your mind. His influence on H. Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers is documented, though he never gained the same reputation as Lovecraft or Poe—impacted in no small part by his misanthropic personality, while his strange disappearance left his legacy wide open.

Anyone attracted to the horror genre ought to read some of them. Full review, and other book reviews, on my blog. Ambrose Bierce remains--in my opinion--one of the early masters of the "quiet, atmospheric" ghost tales. So many of his stories have stood the test of time and are STILL able to bring genuine chills to the reader, no matter how many times certain selections are read.

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This collection brings together twelve of his ghostly tales, ranging from the well known "The Boarded Window" to lesser known "Moxon's Master". The majority of these tales play on man's innate fear of things that come naturally: Ambrose Bierce remains--in my opinion--one of the early masters of the "quiet, atmospheric" ghost tales. The majority of these tales play on man's innate fear of things that come naturally: the dark; a decaying, abandoned structure; an unexplained sound breaking the silence of the night. There are those things we universally "fear" without any sort of reason to accompany them.

These are the things that Bierce so masterfully uses to manipulate our emotions and bring about that dread of the unknown. Highly recommended to fans of atmospheric horror. As usual, I am disappointed by this newest book's lack of scary. I find that I have gotten to the point where most horror novels aren't truly horror anymore; rather, I spend the entire length reading at night in the dark to try and get the proper creepiness factor in place.

There were a few times here where I got a creeping chill, but then there was never any pay off. The author was gifted at build up, setting the suspense and characters. But then he's just drop off suddenly, a couple sentences As usual, I am disappointed by this newest book's lack of scary. But then he's just drop off suddenly, a couple sentences as my only indication the store was over. I wanted more and I would have been so much happier if the stories just told a tiny bit more.

I think this is my usual issue with short stories though. I always want more than I am given. Thanks, NetGalley! View all 5 comments. Dec 05, Randolph rated it really liked it Shelves: fiction , horror , strange-stories. Bierce is so terse yet so erudite its hard to fault even his weaker fare. He's not as concise as Saki but close. They both share a strain of wicked humor. This entire book was good, there wasn't a single dud in the book. Ambrose Bierce was a Victorian author of the weird and macabre specialing in ghost stories. Though during his life he was more renowned as a satirist, journalist, and editorialist.

Thankfully, we've remembered him for his eerie tales. I've come across his stories in anthologies several times but this is the first author specific collection I've read. I had come across three of these stories before, but they make good re-reading. Bierce is comparable to Poe but easier to read. The sto Ambrose Bierce was a Victorian author of the weird and macabre specialing in ghost stories.

The stories in this collection have been selected from the editions of "The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce" and show a mix of his ghost and, as the title calls them, "horror" stories but I wouldn't necessarily give them that classification, but more general simply "weird tales". I liked the weird, macabre tales the best and I'd recommend him to your reading list for those interested in Victorian ghost stories or tales of the weird. It's a good story but it made me think too much of the original movie "Cat People", perhaps they got the idea from this story.

A son is called home from college urgently to discover his mother has been brutally murdered. Shortly afterward his father, while out on a walk with him, takes off and disappears forever. Even though it is not cold, her breath mists while she waits for Licia to answer her question, to admit her, even. The woman is wearing a rhinestone denim shirt buttoned to the neck and cinched in a knot at the waist, scuffed leather ankle boots with broken buckles. When Licia last looked in on William, he was at his desk, finishing a bottle of wine. Since taking special leave from his job he has been writing longhand in a yellow notepad, poems he will not show to Licia.

Licia wants to call out to William that it is nobody; but this woman seems anything but a nobody. In the kitchen, Licia makes tea and invites the woman to sit. The woman is very talkative, speaking directly, mostly about small details, asking what things are for, what they are called. When the woman asks about the cuttings in a vase, Licia is shocked that she cannot remember the name of the flowers.

Instead, she tells the woman that her husband cut the flowers from a tree in the garden. After he died, William took it from the old house and brought it here. The woman, as soon as she was invited to sit, walked around Licia and flopped comfortably into the chair, her foot rocking a faint tambourine noise from the broken buckle of her boot.

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The woman is wrong about the jam jar tea. They had always drunk their tea from jam jars when they worked on the bog. The woman says that tea tastes better outdoors, any traveller can tell you that. She goes to the table and sits beside Licia. She talks about her father and mother and her family, life on the road.

She has five sisters and four brothers living. Two sisters and a brother died when they were very young. She is not specific about ages, or causes of death. Some details are contradictory. With her elbows on the table, her back straight, she holds the cup in front of her face in the mesh of her long, pale fingers.

She drinks a second cup of tea in silence and, after a few minutes, asks Licia if she has finished hers yet. Licia shows her she has finished before reaching for the pot for a refill. She tilts the cup, studying the pattern of leaves. A tiny flash of blue light catches the rim.

From bottom to top. Licia feels slightly faint, and then there is a sudden whooshing noise. William has pulled back the sliding door. He stands there, a bottle of wine in his hand, his shirt open to the waist. The woman goes to the range and fetches the teapot. He puts the bottle down and sits at the table. Walking the roads is no life for a young woman, she tells him. Today, she says, she has walked all the way from Kilcock to Clontarf. She slips off her boots and shows him her blisters.

William hesitates when she stretches out her long leg and holds her foot in the air above his knee, and then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, he takes her foot in his hands and rubs the rough sole of her foot with his thumbs, carefully avoiding the water-filled blisters on the ball of her foot. The woman moans a little when William hurts her accidentally. The woman has put her boots back on and is sitting between William and Licia at the table.

William is drinking the wine again and talking volubly about his lifelong passion for British vintage sports cars. The woman is interested in what he is saying. She tells him she knows how to service a 4x4, and she nods her head when he talks about straight sixes and V8s. But Licia wants to shout at him, to tell him that no one gives a damn about his useless knowledge, his relentless competencies.

She pitches the dregs of her tea into his face. Wet leaves slide like fat ants down the prominences of his cheekbones. The woman stands up and walks to the French doors. I lost me first when I was seventeen. A boy. Me husband bet me a week later for the first time. A few months later I was in the club again. Seven times it happened before I left. Me father bet me after that. In the car park of the Bush hotel. Nearly finished me with the scelpin he gev me with the electric leads.

That was Daddy. I stays east since. West is too chancy. A cousin might see you, you know.