10.22.2017

A Creepy Celtic Creature for Halloween

Note: This short story is from my collection Fadó, Fadó: Selkies, Kelpies, and Other Celtic Creatures, which you can get for just $2.99 on Amazon!

Rún An Fhaolaidh

The Faoladh’s Secret

 

 

There are no wolves in Ireland. Not anymore. They were hunted out of existence many years ago. Yet, every now and again, there are whispers. Sightings. Rumors.

Every seven years to be exact.

It’s a number with great meaning for many in Ireland, but most particularly for a clan named Whelan who lived in Kilkenny.

You see, there were seven Whelans, and seven Whelan cows in their seven-acre field. And the youngest, Cian, was only seven years old when his sister Grainne died—drowned, seven years ago, in the River Nore, along with her beau, Fintan O’Toole.

And it wasn’t just the sevens that made everyone else in town think the Whelans strange. There were other odd things about them, too. Like the fact that they’d boarded up the children’s room when poor Grainne drowned. There’s sentimentality, the neighbors would say, and then there’s the absurdity of squeezing six Whelans into the cottage’s two remaining rooms.

But the neighbors aren’t nosy, no sirree, and if Mr. and Mrs. Whelan wanted to force their grown son to sleep on the floor in his grandparents’ room, then far be it from them to criticize. And though Cian had indeed been sleeping on a hay mattress on his grandparents’ floor for half his life, he didn’t mind. For his brother Enda was on the floor beside their parents’ bed in the main room, and that, in Cian’s opinion, would be far worse.

In fact, Enda and Cian often quite forgot they were strange, that their family was harboring quite a dark secret, and fancied themselves normal.

Until the seventh year after Grainne’s death.

That’s when everything went crooked.

For the Whelans did indeed have a dark secret. And secrets in Kilkenny didn’t last long.

It all started with Dahey Lynch, which is a sentence many a man has uttered to his wife in trying to explain how he’d come to be brawling in the middle of the street in broad daylight. But this time, it wasn’t a tussle Dahey started. It was a panic of a different sort.

He came running into town one day, hollering and whinging. Now, Dahey had been to Tralee to see his family, but was supposed to return nearly three days past, so everyone was quite confused, but quite happy to see him. However, their smiles faded as they realized what exactly he was hollering about.

“I was lost!” he shouted, as a group gathered around him, young Cian Whelan and his grandpa among them. “On me way back from Tralee, I left the road for a wee, and got lost. But a great big wolf stepped out of the brush and showed me the way!”

This made Cian go cold. For there was one more strange thing about the littlest Whelan that he didn’t talk about.

No, he never mentioned it, for the one time he’d told his mam, she’d scolded him fiercely and told him never to speak of it again. But sometimes he thought about it, late at night, as he listened to his grandfather’s snores.

And the it that he thought about was the giant gray wolf he’d seen seven years ago.

Cian had been sitting out back of the house, trying to block out the shouting in the house, which is all his mam and dad had done in the days following Grainne’s death, when a wolf stepped out of the trees. Cian had stared, terrified and transfixed, for he’d only ever seen a wolf in storybooks. Because there weren’t any left in Ireland. As everyone knew.

But there one stood, staring back at him with golden eyes.

It had stared for several more moments, listening to Cian’s family fight, almost as if saddened by the sound, before ducking back into the trees and slinking away. And when Cian ran into the woods after it, as curious boys are wont to do, there was nothing there. So, he raced back to the house at once and told his mam, his father having just stormed from the house himself.

But she didn’t react like Cian had expected. She didn’t run out back and ask him to lead her to where he’d seen the mysterious creature last. No, instead, her eyes filled with tears and she begged him not to mention what he’d seen to anyone else. Not even his father.

“And he—he spoke!” Dahey spluttered, pulling Cian from his memories and putting him right back there on the street in Kilkenny.

“What?” Cian’s grandpa shouted with a laugh.

“The wolf spoke to me!” Dahey yelled. “In Irish! I swear it!”

Cian frowned. Maybe Dahey really was mad after all. The wolf he’d seen all those years ago hadn’t spoken. That was absurd.

“He had a great, deep voice, and he called me by name!” Dahey yelled. “When I’d never even said it!”

“You been drinking, Dahey?” one of the neighbors asked, shaking his head.

“O’ course not!” Dahey snapped. “I knew ye wouldn’t believe me!”

“Then why didn’t you bring ’im back wi’ch’ya?” insisted Nessa Creighton, one of Cian’s best friends. A spunky girl with red plaits, she crossed her arms over her chest, challenging Dahey’s story.

“Because he ran off as soon as he’d shown me back to the road, din’t he?” Dahey snapped at her. He looked right silly arguing with a fourteen-year-old girl, but Cian didn’t have the heart to make a joke. He was still unsettled.

“Pshaw,” a neighbor said as the others began to disperse, convinced there was no actual news to be had here. “There are no wolves in Ireland, Dahey!”

“Yeah! No wolves in Ireland!” people mumbled as they walked away.

Only Cian knew better.

 

*

 

That afternoon, Cian and Nessa discussed Dahey’s unbelievable story while languidly lying on their backs beneath a bush. Well, Nessa discussed it, altogether too near Cian, while his heart hammered in his chest. Nessa had been his friend for most of his life, but it was only in the last few years that her presence had started to make his palms sweat. Sometimes he imagined she looked at Enda an awful lot, but that didn’t change that Cian thought about her and her beautiful hair when she wasn’t around.

Yes, Cian had started to like Nessa in a way he’d never liked anyone before, and it had quickly morphed into something more. He didn’t use the word love—except in his  own head—but  it  was having  an  altogether  strange effect on his being. This thing he felt for Nessa, it made him want to talk to her for hours on end, ask her for every minute detail of her day, and spill all his deepest secrets. And Nessa had always been such a good friend he thought just maybe he could start with one secret in particular.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” she was saying, twisting a twig above her head into the shape of a heart. “There—”

“Are no wolves in Ireland,” Cian interrupted. “I know.” He gulped. “But…”

“But?” Nessa asked, her pretty eyes blinking at him.

“But I saw one once.”

Nessa gasped. “You didn’t!”

“I did.” Cian nodded for emphasis. “A long time ago. Just after Grainne died. Right out here, on the edge of the woods.”

Nessa’s mouth made a little O, and she stared at him for a few long moments. Cian began to scold himself, for surely someone like Enda wouldn’t see things like wolves in the woods. Or, if he did, he wouldn’t tell pretty girls like Nessa about it. Cian was just about to declare it all a great big joke when Nessa breathed, “Did it speak?”

Relieved, Cian laughed. “No. I think that part was made up, at least.”

Nessa didn’t laugh. She looked dead serious as she said, “I want to see a wolf.”

They lay there, beside each other, for many long, silent minutes. Cian didn’t know where Nessa’s mind was, but he was thinking about her face when he’d told her. She hadn’t scolded him to stop telling tales or being silly. She’d believed him. It made him want to tell her all his other secrets, too—or, at the very least, reach out and grab her hand, which was so close to his. But he didn’t do either of those things.

At long last, Nessa grumbled, “These brambles are fierce hard on my plaits, Cian.”

They were hiding in the back of the Whelan house, tucked away in a bush, because Cian’s father was shoeing the new horse with Enda’s help, and if Cian was found lolling about, he’d be forced to help, too. There was little Cian loathed more than shoeing horses—except maybe helping his mother in the house. Which is why he groaned out loud when he heard his mother yell, “Cian, where’ve you gone to? I need ya!”

Nessa poked his side and grinned. “I think yer wanted.”

“Not on my life,” Cian grumbled, sitting up. He wasn’t about to go help his mam, not when Nessa was about, but he couldn’t stay here, sprawled beneath the bush, either. For he had a bit of a reputation for bush-sprawling, and this was the first place his mam would look. And if she didn’t, their dog Jack, forever at her heels, would find him in a heartbeat.

Rolling out from under the foliage, he leapt to his feet, helping Nessa out after him. She climbed to her feet, too, ready to run, a smile on her face. She also wanted to spend more time with him. Not Enda. Him. Cian’s heart beat faster.

There was only one place he’d go if he were alone—a place his mother would never look. But he couldn’t take Nessa there.

Or could he? She’d just accepted one of his biggest secrets with interest. And Fintan O’Toole, Grainne’s beau, had been Nessa’s cousin. She would understand the grief surrounding the young couple’s death. If there was anyone in the world he could share this particular secret with, it was her.

He looked back at her and saw her great, big, expectant eyes, just as his mother called him again—her voice louder, closer this time.

There was nothing for it. He had to trust that Nessa would accept his family’s dark secret. He dashed toward the back window.

“Grainne’s room?” Nessa asked, as he jimmied the window open, a skill honed over years of practice.

It wasn’t always Grainne’s room, of course. It used to be all the Whelan children’s room. But things had changed when she died.

Cian lifted himself inside, landing nimbly on the floor, and then helped Nessa climb up behind him. He shut the window and ducked out of sight as his mam’s voice came from just outside.

“Where’s that boy got to?” she muttered on the other side of the glass, clearly annoyed, before stomping away to the tune of Jack’s playful yaps.

When Cian turned around, triumphant, Nessa stood, stock-still, in the spot where she’d landed on the floor, her hair glowing brilliant in the sun through the window. But the look on her face…

He had to explain, and quickly. “Nessa—”

“What—Cian—what—” A choked sob escaped her throat, cutting off her words.

Cian had been wrong. She wasn’t going to accept this particular secret.

Because the Whelans had a dark secret.

There, on the bed that had been hers in life, Grainne’s body lay, spread out as if sleeping. Her gray fingers were clasped upon the bed cover, and her hair, still as shiny and gold as the day she died, was spread upon the thin pillow that hadn’t moved in seven years. Her eyes were closed, as if they might flutter open and wake from this deep slumber called death at any moment.

“Cian,” Nessa breathed, and he could see her hands were trembling like leaves in the wind. “Cian…what…”

Since he was seven years old, Cian had been taught that he wasn’t to enter this room that had been his once upon a time, nor tell a non-Whelan soul that Grainne’s body was there. Instead, the whole town thought Grainne’s body lay at the end of the River Nore, never to be recovered, with the body of poor Fintan O’Toole.

“My parents…” He shook his head, and his folly unraveled before him. He realized then that he didn’t have an explanation. He couldn’t tell Nessa why his sister’s corpse was kept hidden in their house because he didn’t know why. Lord above, why did everything about the Whelans have to be so strange?

“S-seven years,” Nessa spluttered, stumbling away from the bed. Her back hit the window, and, as if it woke her from her stupor, her gaze darted to Cian. “She’s been dead seven years! What—why?”

“Nessa, I don’t—” He broke off as she pushed the window open. “Nessa, please, I just wanted—”

She was halfway out the window when she screamed, “This is insane! This is deranged! She’s dead, Cian! You keep her corpse in your house? Your family is insane!”

And that, at least, was something Cian couldn’t dispute.

 

*

 

When Cian went to Nessa’s house that evening, her mother told him she wasn’t home. He knew from the sad look in her eyes that it was a lie, but she didn’t look disgusted, so he knew Nessa must not have told her mother why she wouldn’t see him anymore. And if she hadn’t told her mother, she probably hadn’t told anyone else either.

Cian let out a relieved sigh.

And when he realized how relieved he felt, that relief began to morph into something more sinister.

Anger. Cian was angry.

Because he was not the one who’d hidden his sister’s corpse away in a room of the house, only to board up that room and tell the world the girl had drowned, despite no sign of a water mishap on her body. He wasn’t the one who lied to every neighbor about poor Grainne’s body being buried somewhere beneath the rushing water of the River Nore. He wasn’t the one to avoid the O’Toole family any time they met in town.

It was weird, it was disturbing, it was unnatural. And what about Grainne? She deserved a proper burial, to have her soul put to rest for good.

He rubbed a hand over his face, feeling jumpy. When he was younger, he’d sneak into the room to talk to Grainne, because at seven, he’d convinced himself she could still hear him if he whispered quite near her ear. He’d always known it was strange, of course, keeping his dead sister’s body in the house, but that wasn’t even the half of it. One day when he was nine, he climbed in the window, and there was a great gash across Grainne’s leg, bleeding as if fresh. Another day, there’d been a large bruise on her forehead. But at nine, he knew if he asked his mother about it, he’d be in more trouble than he’d ever known for going in there at all.

He shivered, the anger running through his veins. Why had his parents done this to him, saddled him with such disturbing memories from his past—and jeopardizing his future with a sweet, normal girl like Nessa? As if he’d ever had a chance with her. It was clear as day she was smitten with his brother. And that just made him angrier.

Because she would surely never speak to either of them ever again.

When he got home, he didn’t even say hello to his family, gathered around the table for dinner, but instead charged right over to the door to Grainne’s room. Jack was there, nose to the crack beneath the door, as usual. He was always sniffing around the door, a habit as old as Jack himself. Cian shook his head. The whole house was mad. Without a word, he began wrenching at the boards his father had nailed over the doorway long ago. Seven years ago, to be exact. With three big tugs, the first sprang free.

“What are you doing?” his mam demanded, on her feet and across the room in the blink of an eye. Jack whimpered.

Spoons clattered into bowls. “Stop, lad!” his grandfather called.

Cian didn’t stop. He felt his mam’s hands on his arms, but he wrenched them free and removed another board.

“Stop, Cian!” she cried, and he thought he heard real sobs in her throat. He didn’t turn to see if there were tears.

He removed another two boards at once.

“What are you doing?” It was his father’s voice. Calm, steady, always in control.

Cian wheeled around. “It’s unnatural, what you’ve done here!” he screamed at his family. Enda stood, nervous, by the table, and his grandparents looked worried, but it was his mother who looked like she was about to fall to pieces. Then Cian looked at his father. The man never let emotion show on his face, but this time, his features were lined in ice. “She doesn’t deserve this!” Cian yelled at him. “And neither do I!” Whirling around, he wrenched the last two boards from the doorframe and stormed inside.

“Cian, I will tell you only once not to enter that room!” his father thundered.

But he was already inside, so they didn’t see him flinch. His whole life, Cian had been instructed never to enter this room, never to touch his sister’s body, but the look on Nessa’s face when she’d seen it was etched permanently upon his mind. If his best friend couldn’t accept this, then neither would he.

“Stop!” his mother wailed, grasping for his arms, but she was easy to shake off. Jack growled, but he was too small a mutt to instill fear in anyone.

Cian rounded the bed and slid one arm beneath his sister’s ice-cold neck. He was just about to slide the other beneath her knees when he heard a click and glanced up.

Right into the barrel of a gun.

“Do not,” his father breathed, “move.”

Cian froze, every muscle petrified. His father had never so much as raised his voice in this house. When had everyone gone mad? Or had they always been mad, and he’d just never noticed it?

The only sound now was his mam’s sobs in the corner of the room.

“Remove your arm, as slowly and carefully as possible,” his father said, his eyes wide and darting between Cian’s face and the arm he had round Grainne.

Cian did as he was told and stepped carefully away from the bed. The mouth of the rifle followed him.

“Now leave the room,” his father instructed.

As Cian stepped carefully toward the door, his father positioned himself between his son and his daughter’s body. When Cian reached the threshold, he ran to the front door and out into the night. He didn’t come home for a long time. But when he did, Grainne’s room was boarded up again, and in front of it, his father sat in a chair, fast asleep, the rifle across his knees.

Cian hadn’t cried in a very long time, not since his sister died, but he cried himself to sleep that night.

 

*

 

When he opened his eyes again, it was dark outside. And when he heard the hushed whispers, he realized why he’d woken in the first place. Outside, his grandpa was whispering something fierce.

As he stood, he saw his grandmother was missing from the bed, too. He crept to the window, but he could tell from his grandfather’s voice that he was out round the front. So he tiptoed into the main room. Immediately, he saw the chair in front of Grainne’s room was empty. And a glance to the corner showed his parents’ bed was empty, too.

But Enda stood, his ear to the front door. Cian hesitated, for he still felt a painful jealousy for his brother, but that wasn’t Enda’s fault, was it? Sighing, Cian joined his brother at the door.

“What are they talking about?” he asked in a whisper.

“Dunno,” Enda murmured. “Something about Grainne.”

“I told you, din’t I?” their grandfather grumbled, his voice reaching a pitch that could surely be heard by the neighbors.

Their mother reacted instantaneously. “Shhhh!” she hissed.

Their father whispered something, but his restraint wasn’t yet washed away by age. They couldn’t hear him.

Whatever it was, their grandfather replied, “You better tell them boys before you lose all your children.”

“We can’t,” their father said, annoyance making his voice louder.

“They’ll go lookin’,” their mother hissed, “and you know how dangerous that is.”

“Go lookin’ for what?” Enda whispered to his brother.

Their grandfather scoffed. “Sure it’s dangerous, but if you stop treatin’ ’em like children, maybe they’ll stop actin’ like it. What’s the alternative? Ye just goin’ to wait and have ’im drop in the fields one day? Leave ’im out there to rot then? For all the neighbors to see?”

Enda and Cian exchanged a nervous glance.

“Of course not!” their father snapped.

“Then tell him! He needs to be prepared, don’t he? Tell him before I do!”

Then his heavy footsteps sounded on the dirt path. Enda and Cian scrambled back to their respective mats.

 

*

 

It was only seven days later that little Tara Creighton, Nessa’s littlest sister, went missing on her way to the shop.

The whole town turned out to search, and search they did, for seven fruitless hours.

Until Cian himself found her stumbling out of the woods down near the stream.

Nessa was the first to come running at Cian’s call. “Are you hurt?” she demanded, her palm on her sister’s forehead.

She was so preoccupied searching her little sister for injuries that she forgot Cian was there. Surely she’d have sent him away if she’d realized. But others were crowding around them now, pushing and shoving to get a look at the foundling. Was she hurt? Was she okay? What happened?

The questions came hurtling at the poor little thing, but Tara was quite as spirited as her sister and seemed to be basking in the attention. There were leaves and twigs in her plaits, and her day dress was a mess Mrs. Creighton would surely have to burn.

“You’ll never guess what happened to me!” she cried, her eyes alight with excitement. “I got lost!”

“Lost?” somebody repeated. For how did one get lost on the way to a shop one had visited every week of one’s life?

“Well, I saw a hare,” Tara admitted, “and I went chasing after it, and I lost it round about the stream”—here she pointed with her left hand, as if anyone didn’t know where the stream was—“but I decided to keep walking anyway, in case I could find it again. And then when I got tired, I realized I didn’t know how to get home. So I turned around and walked some more, but maybe I didn’t turn quite far enough, because no matter how far I walked, I never reached home.”

“Arah!” someone grumbled. “What a waste of a day!”

“Wait!” Tara cried, afraid of losing her audience. “That’s not the exciting bit!”

“Then get to it, girl!”

“Well, I happened upon a stag, din’t I!” she exclaimed. “And I thought for sure I was a goner, for ’e was squaring up to me, for I must’ve frightened him! But then, out of nowhere, a great big wolf came bounding and scared the stag off!”

There was a collective gasp around the gathered neighbors.

“And I thought it was a boy wolf at first, but she came over to me when the danger was gone and said to hold her fur and she’d show me the way home, and it was a girl’s voice.”

“Here!” someone shouted. “She’s been listening to Dahey’s stories!”

“Have not!” Tara shouted, her tiny fists on her hips. Cian hated to admit it, but he was wont to agree with the naysayer. Tara wasn’t yet six, and she had the imagination of a storyteller.

“Yeah? Prove it, then!”

But Tara was also a Creighton, and they each had the tenacity ten times their peers. The little girl opened her palm, and in her hand was a tuft of gray fur.

Her audience gasped.

It seemed, to the casual observer, quite like the nonexistent wolves of Ireland were becoming restless.

 

*

 

In her joy at having her sister back safe and sound, and her confusion over her sister’s tall tale, Nessa quite forgot to shoo Cian away. So he sat with the family as they received neighbors and celebrated Tara’s health late into the night. Of course, Enda was there, too, but Nessa was far too occupied to give either brother much of her time. Cian was equally disappointed and relieved. When the brothers finally returned home, their father sat at the table, their mam curled on her bed in the corner, her back to the room.

“What’s happened?” Cian asked, glancing at his mother’s back.

“Nothing’s happened,” his father said, gesturing for them to have a seat. “But there’s something I need to tell you lads. Straight away. I wanted to wait as long as possible, but…” He cleared his throat.

Wary, Cian took a chair across from his father.

“I can’t explain what I’m about to tell ye,” their father began. “But I need ye to trust me.”

A strangled wail came from their mother’s bed, and both boys turned to look at her, but their father didn’t flinch. Only Jack sat at her feet, concern clear in his furry little face.

“The Whelans have a curse upon them,” their father went on, his voice shaking. “But we aren’t the only ones. For as long as time itself, the Whelans and the Maguires have had this curse upon them.”

The Maguires? Cian glanced at Enda. His face was just as pale as Cian’s felt. Nessa was a Maguire, and Fintan O’Toole—through their mothers.

Jack’s nails tapped on the floor as he went over to the door to Grainne’s room, only to sniff around and return to Cian’s mother. Then he did it twice more. It sent a chill down Cian’s spine.

“It’s said that a saint was the one to do it, many centuries ago. For reasons lost to time.” Their father took a deep breath. “I don’t want you two to be afraid—”

A scratching on the front door made them all fall silent—even their mother’s sobs. Jack looked at the front door, ears perked, but stayed put, in front of Grainne’s door.

“Heavens,” their father breathed, “not yet.”

But when he launched to his feet, they didn’t move him toward the front door.

Cian leapt to his feet in fright, for his father was halfway to the bolted doorway to where Grainne lay. Jack scurried away, scared, and Cian and Enda were behind him in an instant, the both of them tearing off the boards together, though they didn’t understand the fervor. Their father threw open the door as Cian wrenched the last board from the frame, and they scrambled into the room, Mam and their grandparents close behind.

Grainne lay, as ever, atop the bed, but their father kneeled at the bedside and gazed at her like he never had before. Almost as if he was waiting for her to…do something.

“What—” It was Enda, voicing what was in Cian’s mind, but his voice cut off as he collapsed into a heap on the floor.

“Enda?” Cian wailed. But he seemed to be the only one in his family to notice.

For Grainne sat up in bed, her eyes wide, her hands held in front of her face like she’d never seen them before.

“Mam?” she gasped. “Dad?”

Their mother shrieked, and their father burst into tears, and Grainne disappeared in their collective embrace. Their grandmother stroked Grainne’s feet and murmured, “My pet, you made it, you’re okay, my pet,” over and over again while their grandfather cried nearby and Jack leapt onto the bed to lick Grainne’s face.

Cian just stood there. Frozen to the spot. His sister, who’d disappeared before he could fully form memories of her, was alive and breathing, her lungs rattling like death itself. And there his brother lay, as still as the tomb. “The curse?” Cian whispered.

Had the curse brought Grainne back from the dead? And taken Enda in the same moment? But no one heard him.

Cian’s breath came fast, his chest heaving, and he backed out of the room. His father’s sturdy hands clasped around his arms, holding him up.

“It was his time,” his father said, his calm, steady tone returned. “Just like it will be your time eventually.”

“My-my time?” Cian spluttered.

“Son, we are the faoladh,” he said. “The Whelans and the Maguires, we are the last wolves of Ireland.”

“The what?” Cian breathed.

“Your brother’s time has come, and yours will, too, in seven years.”

Cian shook his head, horrified. Finally, something broke through the haze in his mind. A scratching. The scratching at the front door. It was followed by a howl.

Breathing heavily, Cian started for the door, but his father wrenched him back. “No!” he cried. “Don’t open it.”

“What? Why? What is it?” Cian wailed.

His father turned Cian around to face him and lowered his head so that his wide eyes were all Cian could see. “He will leave in the night and keep to the woods as his human memories fade away. And then you must promise me you won’t go looking for Enda. He’s not himself now. Though the faoladh are kind creatures, they are wolves. Should they be crossed at the wrong time, serious injury can occur. Many a man has met his death at the hands of a hungry faoladh who didn’t know his own heart. I know it will be tempting, with him living so near, but you must not think of him as your brother for these next seven years. You must promise me you will not search him out!”

Cian gaped at him. Enda was out there—right now—and that’s where Grainne had been all these years!

“Cian!” His father shook his shoulders.

“I-I won’t,” Cian whispered.

His father released him, and Cian stumbled. He was only several steps from his brother’s body. Enda looked as pale and lifeless as Grainne had looked for seven years. His eyes were closed, as if he were sleeping, and Cian supposed, in a way, he was. But his limbs were splayed so unnaturally, it made Cian’s chest hurt, even if he knew his brother lived still. He reached out, wanting only to rearrange his brother into a peaceful resting pose like his sister had taken for years.

But his father’s hand clasped his shoulder. “I’m, sorry, lad,” he said. “But we cannot move his body, for if we do, his soul won’t be able to find it again. If he survives these seven years as a wolf, he will return to us. I swear it to you, my son.”

Cian took a stuttering breath and nodded. Grainne was alive. And Enda was gone. For now. And Cian hadn’t been seeing things seven years ago. The wolf on the edge of the woods, that had been his sister. And Dahey and Tara. None of them had been lying.

Grainne was standing now, their mam’s arm wrapped protectively around her middle. Grainne stepped slowly, as frail as their grandmother, who came behind her, her arms outstretched as if Grainne was a toddling babe who might fall at any moment. Grainne’s skin was still wan and her hair limp around her shoulders. Her eyes moved from Enda’s body to Cian, who stood, shaking, near the doorway.

“Don’t worry for him, Cian,” Grainne said, and her voice was as scratchy as gravel. “He isn’t alone. The next in the Whelan line has joined the next Maguire.”

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Cian nodded. And slowly, it dawned on him. His brother was indeed the next Whelan. And Nessa the next Maguire.

As the thought hit him, he realized the scratching had stopped. Cian went to the front window and looked out. He saw the large gray wolf in the garden as it stepped toward the lane. There, a smaller wolf waited, its head hung low. Then, together, they bounded toward the forest.

 

Read more stories from Fadó, Fadó: Selkies, Kelpies, and Other Celtic Creatures for just $2.99 on Amazon!

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7.4.2017

The Third of July

It’s Monday, July 3rd, but I’m not busy making Fourth of July plans—pool parties, barbecues, family & friends. Instead, the day before Americans turn out en masse to celebrate the country, I spend the morning in a waiting room with new American immigrants.

It’s silent, and the chairs are hard.

We, the American citizens and permanent residents — the other halves — sit out here as one by one our loved ones are called. We’re separated by a glass door. There are teenagers, college students helping their parents fill out forms. Parents escorting their young children. Entire families applying together.

More often than not, the children are the citizens. The parents want to join them here. It’s summer. There are a lot of kids being toted along. “Yes, you can bring the child in with you.” The workers are kind. It’s a relief. We’ve all dealt with the opposite too often on this journey.

I watch one tiny girl go in, grabbing the strap of her mother’s purse for security. We’ve already been through metal detectors. This is a different kind of security. Her eyes round, she looks around, to the side of the room I can’t see for the frosted glass. What’s back there? I wonder. Whatever she sees, her eyes relax, and I feel myself relax.

Today, it’s just fingerprints and photos. One tiny step in the long, expensive process that is applying for permanent residency in the United States of America. Next time we’re in this building will be harder.

“Fingerprints or interviews?” the security guard had asked when he caught us looking at the building map in the lobby. It’s the interview I’m scared of. Speaking so openly of our life with a stranger. I’m not an outgoing person. And I already know the immense strain of handing your fate over to a bored government employee.

Some people are up there, on the third floor, doing just that as I fidget down here, waiting. They’re running fifteen minutes behind, but even that is familiar, comfortable. It doesn’t calm my nerves any, but I know our journey is easy compared to others’.

I’ll probably go to the parties today. Enjoy my family and friends. But my mind still wanders in the quiet moments. I wonder what that little girl is doing for the Fourth. Is her mom nervous about her interview?

This Fourth of July, please remember those Americans sitting in a stuffy waiting room for a loved one to get fingerprinted — and send your good vibes to all those American hopefuls.

Sincerely Annie

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12.27.2016

What it’s like to explore the INSIDE of a glacier

While in Reykjavik recently, we had the incredible opportunity to visit Langjökull, the second-largest of Iceland’s four glaciers.

We’d passed the glacier on several other tours, and that was one of the most surreal experiences. You’re looking out the window at the mountains and the vast sky above, when something twinges in your brain and you realize that white sky you’re looking at isn’t sky at all.

Like an optical illusion, the image twists and it slowly becomes apparent that the snow-white bit behind the mountains is land.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Looking at Langjökull from afar.

As it was an unbelievably mild December—any Icelander you ask about the weather will point out the obvious: global warming—the chance of seeing a real, nature-made ice cave was small. So we opted instead for the man-made ice cave created by the tour company Into the Glacier.

While it sounded way less cool than a natural ice cave, it turned out that this man-made cave provides an unprecedented look into the life of an ice cap!

Into the Glacier

The journey from Reykjavik was long, but we started to get excited when we reached Húsafell, where we met the staff and they outfitted us with snowsuits and thick shoe coverings. (It felt like wearing two pairs of shoes.)

From there, a bus took us to the monster truck that would transport us to the glacier. It was a James Bond-like experience just to climb onto one of these things.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

The monster truck then transported us up into the mountains, at which point a crow started to follow the truck. The tour guide (who told us to call her “Goody” since we couldn’t pronounce her name) explained that a pair of crows were so used to the trucks that they often followed them.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

One of the crow friends hanging at base camp.

We stopped at base camp for one last bathroom break, and Goody explained how the glacier has its own climate. I didn’t really understand what she meant until we all climbed back on the monster truck and headed on. The ground switched from dark brown to snow-white instantaneously, and within minutes, it was snowing and the monster truck was buffeted by wind.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Where mountain meets glacier.

It was slow going across the glacier, and when we finally stopped and stepped outside, I felt like we were on National Geographic.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Langjökull glacier Iceland

What planet is this?!

Visibility was low, and I couldn’t even see the entrance to the cave. When I did see it, I started to get a bit scared.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

What have I gotten myself into?

I was about to descend beneath 20-25 meters of pure ice.

Thankfully, Goody explained that the glacier was really quite safe. For example, during an earthquake, the glacier is the safest place to be, since it actually sits on top of the land and will move with it.

And so we descended.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Christmas lights guided us down.

The first stop was to outfit our shoes-within-shoes with spikes.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Because I’m not clumsy enough as is.

Then we were off!

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Since there’s no way I can possibly explain this experience in full, I’ll go with the highlights:

1. The layers. The glacier is made up of layers upon layers of compacted snow and ice. And, like the rings of a tree, the layers are easily discernible from inside. This makes it easy to date the glacier.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Look at all those snowfalls!

On our trip, we got to see the thick line of dark gray along the cave walls that was made by a layer of ash settling on the glacier when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010. This was especially fun for me, because I was one of the thousands of people stranded in mainland Europe during the eruption in 2010! You can read about my experiences back then here and here.

Want to know the funniest part? While all air traffic of Europe came to a screeching halt, things went largely unchanged for Iceland, because Eyjafjallajökull is at the southern edge of the island, and the wind carried most of the ash to Europe.

2. Drinking from a glacier. Goody advised us to bring a water bottle, and I was one of the few who did. When we reached a small fissure in the glacier, beneath which ran a babbling stream, she took my water bottle and dipped it right in. I got to drink ice-cold water straight from a glacier! Take that, Ice Mountain!

Langjökull glacier Iceland

The freshest water I’ve ever had!

3. The echo. The deeper we got into the glacier, the louder the echo. To demonstrate the effects, Goody sang us an Icelandic lullaby. It felt like a moment straight out of Lord of the Rings.

4. The fissures. Of course, ice breaks. We’ve all seen it crack. And it’s no different for an ice cap. Within the glacier, there are giant fissures—big enough for a truck to drive through. And the ice cave give us the opportunity to walk through them.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

One of the fissures.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Another fissure

The ice cave has to be constantly maintained, because snow keeps covering the entrance. Workers continually have to dig it out, which means the entrance tunnel is far longer than it originally was.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

The ever-growing entrance tunnel.

Even with maintenance, the guides say the cave will be gone within 10 years.

And the glacier itself? Global warming is taking its toll, and Langjökull is expected to be gone in about 100 years.

It’s a sad state of affairs, as smaller glaciers act as harbingers or early indicators of changes to come. If you’d like to read more about that, check out this site that explains it much better than I can.

Into the Glacier works to offset the carbon footprint of their operations by planting 5,000 trees a year. In fact, the entire country is incredibly sustainable and forward-thinking. It’s inspiring, and I hope the rest of the world will take note.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Sincerely Annie

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12.13.2016

You won’t believe how many Santa Clauses there are in Iceland…

Going to Iceland a few weeks before Christmas is one of the most magical things I’ve ever done. (Despite the complete lack of snow. Thanks, global warming.)

It turns out Reykjavík is delightful and weird, and delightfully weird. One thing I noticed almost immediately was the presence of moving graphics projected onto the walls of buildings when it was dark outside (which, in December in Iceland, is about 20 hours a day).

When I finally asked an Icelander about them, he replied that those were the Santas.

Yes, Santas. Plural.

Iceland does, in fact, have 13 Santas. They’re trolls, actually, who come down from the mountains in December. And they all bring presents for the kids. All 13 of them!

They’re called the “Yule Lads,” but in modern times, this traditional folklore has mixed with the Christmas practice of the jolly red guy and is now commonly referred to as the “13 Santas.”

Source

They’re pictured here with their mother, father, and the Yule Cat. Source

Before I introduce you to the lads, you need to meet their mother, Grýla, who’s favorite delicacy is children.

Yes, you read that right. At the heart of Iceland’s jolliest season of the year is a troll woman who gathers disobedient children and cooks them in a stew.

Photo by Annie Cosby

As one shop owner explained to us, “Well, she used to eat children, but then we got psychology, and we had to stop saying that. Now she just puts them in her bag and takes them away.”

Source

Oh, that’s soooo much better.

To make matters worse, Grýla has a pet cat (called Jólaköttur) who eats children who don’t receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas.

https://theyearofhalloween.com/2014/12/24/he-hunted-men-and-didnt-want-mice-jolakotturinn-the-yule-cat/

Yes, this cat eats kids for reasons completely beyond their control. Source

Do you see a theme here? Icelanders are frighteningly fixated on eating children.

But I digress.

If you think all of the above is weird, wait til you get a load of the Yule Lads’ names: (my favorites appear in red)

  1. Sheep Worrier (Stekkjastaur) harasses the sheep but finds it hard to walk due to his two peg legs. (Which begs the unanswered question: How did he get down from the mountains?!)

  2. Gully Gawk (Giljagaur) hides in gullies to wait til the barn clears out so he can steal milk.

  3. Stubby (Stúfur) is just short. Kinda boring.

  4. Spoon Licker (Þvörusleikir) is one of my favorites. He steals spoons to lick.

  5. Pot Licker (Pottaskefill) steals your leftovers from pots.

  6. Bowl Licker (Askasleikir) … I think you see where this is going.

  7. Door Slammer (Hurðaskellir) slams doors in the night “to give you a fright,” according to that same garrulous shopkeep I talked to.

  8. Skyr Skimmer (Skyrgámur) loves skyr, which is an Icelandic dairy product like yogurt.

  9. Sausage Swiper (Bjúgnakrækir) hides in the rafters and steals your sausages.

  10. Window Peeper (Gluggagægir) is another favorite of mine, because how creepy is this?! He looks through your window to find things (or food) to steal.

  11. Door Sniffer (Gáttaþefur) is a class act, too. With his abnormally large nose, he sniffs at your door to find out when you’re cooking.

  12. Meat Hook (Ketkrókur) uses a hook to steal meat.

  13. Candle Stealer (Kertasníkir) follows kids to steal their candles (which were edible back in the old days).

The awesome images above come from an awesome book about the legend written and illustrated by Brian Pilkington.

So how does it work with so many Santas? The first Yule Lad comes on Dec. 12, and one follows each day thereafter, until Dec. 24. Children leave their shoes on their windowsill each night, and a small present is left in them—if the child is good.

If an Icelandic child misbehaves, he or she doesn’t receive coal, but instead … a potato!

The Yule Lads

I don’t see that as a punishment, but as my favorite shopkeep told me, “As a result, many Icelandic children do not like the potato.”

Potato or not, each Yule Lad stays exactly 13 days. The first leaves on Christmas Day, and the exodus continues each day after. It really prolongs the holiday season!

So, what do you guys think of this Christmas tradition? I think, had 10-year-old me been raised in Iceland, she would have been terrified of Christmas! (And cats.)

Sincerely Annie

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10.31.2016

The HEARTS OUT OF WATER series is complete!

As you already know if you’re signed up to my email list (it’s not too late to do it!)Learning to Love, the last book in the Hearts Out of Water series, is now available!

In other words: the series is complete!

Hearts Out of Water by Annie Cosby

You can snag it at any of these online retailers:

AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

I also wanted to let you know that there are some seriously cool extras on my website for you to learn more about the Irish legend that spawned the story, and explore the photos and playlists that inspired it.

Hearts Out of Water series by Annie Cosby

Check it out at AnnieCosby.com/HooW-series!

Thanks so much for reading, and never hesitate to contact me to talk about, well, anything!

Sincerely Annie

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