The following handwritten account – found in a farmhouse in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare – was initially accredited to flamboyant Z War hero John Fletcher as it had been signed with his name.
At the time it was widely discredited as a forgery as its manner and tone did not reflect Fletchers famous idiosyncratic style, nor did his apparent timidity in the text match the warriors’ well known ferocity. However, new anecdotal evidence has recently come to light that hints at this documents possible authenticity.
The following abridged version, appearing here in print for the first time, was originally intended for inclusion in the biography: “John Fletcher: Corpse Killer!” but was excised by the publishers who feared that this unverifiable adventure would leave them open to litigation should it prove false. Also, Fletcher’s controversial actions during the War might subsequently have become open to serious revisionism.
Because it was the major turning point in my existence I think I should begin my tale at the very instant when Eamonn O’Sullivan’s legs exploded below his knees. You see, at that life changing moment I was slapped in the face with the sobering fact of my own mortality. I experienced that utterly bleak realisation that I could actually die. Me! Johnny Fletcher! And it was the instinctive terror of this imminent eventuality that sent me reeling off balance through the gap in the roadside wall before Eamonn had even hit the ground, or Mad Dan could compose himself enough to reload his shotgun.
There was no pride, or thought, or sentiment in my actions. There was only mindless self preservation. I fled away up the slippery wet hill; babbling and stumbling over the drenched rocks and grass, my reactive bowel movement mushing sloppily between my arse cheeks; galvanised by the constant anticipation of my back getting shredded by buckshot.
I also carried a mental snapshot of Eamonn toppling over in the road as he bent stupidly to look at the damage that the shotgun had caused. I was sure that one of his legs had detached itself entirely but the blasted rags of his trousers had held it roughly in place.
“Jesus, Jesus…” His disbelieving screams cut through the howls of the wind and followed me up the slope, but I didn’t pause or hesitate; I just ran, sometimes upright, sometimes on all fours. I fell a few times too, but I didn’t care as long as I was putting distance between myself, the gun, and the criminal lunatic who wielded it. As I topped the ridge I heard the sharp bangs of two more shots and Eamonn fell silent mid-scream.
The cottage wasn’t too far beyond the ridgeline so it was less than a minute before I crashed heavily into its locked rear door and hammered frantically on its panels.
“Let me in! Let me in!” I shrieked in high pitched panic, “It’s me! It’s Johnny! It’s Johnny!”
Wait though, that’s kind of in the middle of things. I’d better backtrack and explain my circumstances.
When all of this occurred I was in my early twenties; a lonely Dubliner coming to terms with the collapse of civilisation as I nervously roamed the relatively corpse-free roads of County Clare. But it wasn’t long before I foolishly allowed myself to fall in with a group of four thieving, self-serving survivors.
To cut a long story short our relationship began on a desolate roadside when, in an attempt to rob me, they ended up recruiting me instead. Its funny how these things happen isn’t it, but at the time any company was welcome company as far as I was concerned. None of them smoked though and as it had been a week since my last Marlboro I was suffering from some annoying withdrawal symptoms.
It’s possible they could have simply robbed me and left me destitute except that Cora, their leader, took a shine to me; and no big surprise I suppose, what with my looks and availability. She didn’t say so in so many words of course and as time moved on I knew she was just waiting for the right moment in which to make her big move.
Now, despite Cora’s dishonest influence I never really believed that Michelle, Ella or Eamonn, my new companions, had any genuine criminal leanings because they practiced a simple form of non-violent menace when they robbed. I also discovered that they only went thieving when absolutely necessary – like if Ella broke a nail or a cloud crossed the sun, and so on. In effect their criminality was inspired by sheer laziness, but it meant that they had less foraging to do than most.
Our base of operations was an abandoned cottage we had come across as we wandered – or marauded, as Eamonn jokingly said (I’ll get to him in a minute) – along a winding, tortuous road carved into the rocky Clare coastline. Eamonn wanted to call it the Lair, but I just called him a twat and happily that was the end of that.
The cottage sat strategically in the centre of a wide hairpin bend and it was sheltered from sight by a small rocky outcrop. The front gate faced the east side of the hairpin and a limestone ridge overlooked the west, so we had a nice all round field of view. This location was pleasing to me as I had, like Cora, a leader’s eye for strategic things.
I might as well begin this account on the ridge behind the cottage where I was keeping tabs on the walled, semi-flooded road 100 metres below.
Novembers westerly’s were ripping in from the Atlantic and there I stood – a stalwart figure silhouetted against a fading sky – exposed to the sodden worst of it. These were dangerous times and I was making sure we weren’t surprised by any wandering Dead. The air smelt bad despite the buffeting wind and that told me that an unseen nest of them lurked nearby.
The winter’s blast burned my face as I squinted into the heart of the storm. Long lines of tortured cloud marched finger-like towards me out of the west and the horizon, barely visible behind sheets of rain, glowed vaguely metallic with the merest hint of sunset.
I was so bored by this mindless chore that I fell into a pleasant daydream in which I was the destroyer of the entire corpse population. I imagined that I swept down the land at the head of an army like a latter day Attila the Hun and masterminded the liberation of Ireland from the Dead in a series of brilliantly coordinated attacks. This daydream somehow – as daydreams do – drifted a little off course and ended with me imagining I was singing the definitive version of “Spancal Hill” to an admiring group of eyelash fluttering Nordic sex-pots in a cosy, fire lit pub in Miltown Malbey.
Suddenly I was startled out of my dreams of fame and glory by the skittering of disturbed shale on the slope behind me. I spun around with a cry of fright; competently dropping my axe as I did, only to discover to my relief and irritation that it wasn’t some sneaky, maggoty corpse creeping up on me – it was only that eejit Eamonn, here to take his turn on watch.
Eamonn was, in my opinion, a pain in the arse. He was also Ella’s boyfriend, and how he managed to attract a honey like her defies all the known laws of physics. He also enjoyed a bond with the other girls I could never quite understand. There’s no accounting for tastes, I supposed.
Eamonn had apparently shown some balls and ingenuity in helping the girls escape the main outbreak; or so he said, but just between ourselves I found this a little hard to believe. You see, when I joined this gang I know that I boosted the male I.Q. by at least 90%; so the concept of Eamonn as a resourceful hero was a tough one for me to imagine. Nevertheless, in fairness to him, he was the only rooster in the henhouse until I blazed my way onto the scene.
“Hey, Harry Potter,” he shouted happily above the howl of the wind. “Did I give you a bit of an ould fright there?”
I have a large scar on my forehead as the result of a bike crash when I was ten. Because of this I was nicknamed Harry Potter in secondary school and I hated it, and the very first time I met Eamonn he calls me Harry Potter too. Absolutely typical of his small insensitive brain but I refused to put myself at a disadvantage by allowing this stool sample to know he annoyed me.
“I knew you were coming.” I lied. “I detected the smell of lady goats as soon as you left the cottage.”
“Ah, go on,” he smirked, “You nearly jumped out of your skin, you bollocks. Look at you, all red in the face.”
“That’s windburn,” I lied again. “Anyway; you, Ella and the goats. Tell me, does she join in or just hold them down for you?”
“Ella says I’m not allowed to talk about that.” He joked.
Smug wanker; to hell with him, my shift was over and a cosy cottage full of fairly attractive, unwashed women were waiting and Eamonn was going to be wet, frozen and frightened in the pitch dark for the next six hours. With a bit of luck he might even get eaten. My heart warmed.
“I’m off.” I grinned. “But I’ll look after Ella for you. I’ll be sure to remind her that you’re snug and warm up here with your goat.”
I hadn’t gone ten metres when I realised I should have said: “I’ll remind her that you’re snug and warm up here inside your goat.” He shouted something after me but I ignored him, as usual, until he unexpectedly clattered down the shale after me.
“There’s someone on the road!” he hissed.
We hunkered low behind the ridgeline and stared through curtains of rain at a bedraggled figure labouring weakly through the floodwaters below. He had cleared the hairpin to our left and was heading north towards Ballyvaughan. It was hard to make out detail in the falling gloom but he didn’t move much like a corpse. He was close to collapse though; judging by his painfully slow pace.
“He’s alive,” said Eamonn excitedly. “Let’s rob him! Go and fetch the girls.”
Rob him? Bloody hell, Eamonn, I thought. Forget it. He’s just a waterlogged, exhausted refugee. He carried a backpack, a walking stick and was doubled over against the blasting elements and… Wait, did Eamonn just given me an order there?
“You go and fetch the bleedin’ girls,” I snapped. “Don’t be telling me what to do.” Gobshite. I decided I’d pull his leg a little.
“Anyway,” I said confidentially. “Forget the girls. Its time us lads took the lead. We’ll rob this guy without them. We’ll show them!”
“No way, Johnny!” He stared at me in shock. “You know the rules!”
I laughed inside. Ah yes, the rules.
Group Rule Number One: We only commit hold-ups with a full gang. No exceptions!
Group Rule Number Two: We never, ever, attempt to rob anyone we suspect might beat us.
I mean really; what thwarts me at the end of the world? Feckin rules! I always assumed that Cora just made them up to prevent confusion if a criminal decision was required in her absence.
Also, and let me be very clear here: I had absolutely no wish, desire, or intention of mugging this poor bastard below – but Eamonn didn’t need to know that. I earnestly and honestly willed the wretched guy to trudge swiftly and unmolested on his way.
“Eamonn,” I said. “You’re absolutely right; we shouldn’t break the precious rules.” Another shocked glance there; very good. “But just look at his tiny shuffling steps, see? He can hardly walk. Look at him pushing against the wind; drenched to the bone. We’ll tiptoe down, just you and me; the lads, take his stuff and tiptoe back up again. It’ll be easy-peesy.”
“Certainly not,” Eamonn insisted, “I dunno; we can’t.”
“Sure we can! Think of what Ella’ll say. She’ll probably get weak at the knees when she hears about your impulsive decision making – and maybe Michelle too. Hey, just think – you’d never know…a thing like this and pow! You’re in there with Michelle, too.”
“Cut it out, Johnny. We can’t, we just can’t!”
“Imagine the two of them together… at each other! And all because you were manly enough to say; damn the rules! Good god,” I whispered to him in awe. “Just imagine that? Come on… I’m going!”
I pretended to stand but he grabbed me quickly by the sleeve and pulled me down again. I spoiled my own joke by bursting into delighted laughter at his reaction. I was pleased enough that I decided it was time to go home.
“Okay. Right, let’s do it!” Eamonn snapped suddenly.
“What?” I blinked. “You’re kidding?”
As he nodded affirmation I reckoned I must have accidentally tapped into a favourite fantasy of his. As I thought about this the possibility dawned on me that this survivor might have some cigarettes on him, and the idea of a smoke was as attractive as the notions I’d just planted in Eamonn’s tiny head about the girls…
Besides, I reasoned, as it was officially Eamonn’s Watch any consequences of breaking the rules would be… well, they’d be Eamonn’s responsibility, wouldn’t they?
A crumbling dry stone wall sloped away from the ridge at a right angle to the road and we used this as cover to scurry down. We crouched in wait for our victim by a collapsed gap in the roadside wall; me clutching my axe and Eamonn his blackthorn stick.
After a few minutes passed we began to swop wet, puzzled looks. Where was he? I was just about to make Eamonn take a peek when…
“Are yis okay down there, lads?” boomed a deep, cheery voice from directly over our ducked heads.
I yelped and stumbled backwards. Our would-be prey was leaning casually over the loose stones of the chest high wall and gazing down at us in amusement. His walking stick – oh, bollocks – it was a shotgun; was cradled in the crook of his arm. I was suddenly very frightened. I also experienced that terrible sinking feeling familiar to anyone who has screwed up really, really royally. In my own defence I’ll just say that firearms are a rare thing in these parts and we don’t really factor them into our hold-up plans – unless they’re on show – as this one plainly was but for my…em…Eamonn’s…misidentification in the falling night.
“Well, boys,” shouted the big man in a west Clare accent. “I’m Dan. And that’s me real name, too.”
“Oh, sweet bollocks,” Eamonn whispered fretfully and pulled his hat lower.
“Right,” said Dan merrily. “Drop yer weapons and throw away yer needles, then come over to this side of the wall and gimme a good look at the pair of yis.”
He stood grinning in the centre of the road as we lined up sheepishly for inspection. Water swirled round our feet and gusts of wind pushed us about. We eyed the shotgun warily. At a guess I’d say that Dan was in his mid-forties but it was hard to tell. Up close he wasn’t anything like the dying scarecrow we had seemingly stalked; far from it, in fact. He was the living picture of good health.
He was a scary looking bastard though, despite his happy demeanour. His wide eyes blazed with a terrible vitality that chilled me. Even in the fading light I could see the whites all round his light blue irises. His lower face was hidden by a thick, black beard and he wore a battered peaked cap on top of his ratty, shoulder length hair. His stinking, ragged coat was tied round his waist with a dirty length of nylon cord.
Sometimes you can tell when someone’s mental cogwheels aren’t quite meshing with the real world and Dan’s eyes betrayed his obvious psychosis. And he had a gun.
“Yis look terrible nervous lads,” he observed happily. “Surely yis aren’t frightened by this oul’ thing?” He grin grew wider as he shook the shotgun at us to display his power. I was frightened, but I was also worried that his shouting would attract the Dead.
“Don’t worry though,” he assured us. “I generally only use it on the sadly departed.” He winked at us. “But mostly, ye know, I use it on thieves.”
Dan registered the glance that Eamonn and I shot each other. He feigned great shock and took a large theatrical step backwards, his arms spread wide. I thought for a moment there were corpses creeping up behind us and I glanced fearfully around.
“You boys aren’t… thieves, are you?” He shouted. The palm of his free hand rose to his cheek in fake disbelief.
“No,” said Eamonn nervously, “no of course we’re not. Not at all! Are we Johnser?”
I’m not; I was about to say when Dan suddenly stared hard at Eamonn. He snapped the shotgun shut.
“Don’t shoot!” Eamonn shrieked urgently as he did a little agitated dance. “Jaysus! Please don’t shoot! We’re not thieves!” He stretched out both hands towards Dan as if to magically ward off the gunfire.
Dan stepped forward and pushed Eamonn hard in the chest with the flat of his hand. Eamonn staggered backwards. “Are ye not, mister?” growled Dan, staring intently. “Well, we’ll soon see, won’t we?” He pulled off Eamonn’s hat and glared at him hard. Eamonn suddenly developed an interest in the flood waters sloshing over his toes.
“Look up at me, ye little scut. I’m not finished with ye yet.”
Eamonn’s lower lip quivered as he slowly looked up but he couldn’t meet Dans blazing eyes. I wasn’t sure if it was rain or tears that were rolling down his pasty face.
“Ah, hah!” barked Dan. He backed away and jumped up and down on the spot, splashing water in all directions. “Yes!” he cried skyward. “Ha haaa!”
“Okay amigos,” he said. “Out with it! I saw yis sneaking down the hill. So, what’s was yer intention as regards me good self?”
Eamonn moaned and began to cry. “Please don’t kill me.”
“Answer me!” Dan screamed. We jumped.
“Please listen Dan, listen to me,” Eamonn appealed, taking a step forward; his voice quavering. “We only snuck down ‘cause we thought you might be a corpse. Isn’t that right, Johnser?”
I was too terrified to speak.
“There, see?” Eamonn exclaimed eagerly. “Johnser’ll tell you. We couldn’t be sure in the bad light. He could have been a corpse. Right, John?”
Dan looked at us from beneath his bushy eyebrows.
“Yis snuck down to see if I was a corpse? What does that feckin mean?” wondered Dan. “Lemme see, yis said yis aren’t thieves – right – I’ll have to take yer word on that, so do yis want to feed me? Is that what yis are at? Or are yis arse bandits?”
“Eh, no Dan, we’re not, and we haven’t any food.” Eamonn lied; we had a cottage full of stolen goodies. “We’re hungry too, aren’t we Johnny? We’re living off whatever we can scavenge.”
“Yeah? Well, yis look pretty well fed to me,” said Dan. “But nah. I’m sure it’s just the bad light affecting me eyes. Were yis lookin to see if I’d feed youse? Is that it? I’d say that’s more like it. Do yis live around here, boys?”
Here was hope. Maybe an offer of shelter might buy us time, and the presence of the girls and their charms – or their muscle – might prevent me from getting hurt.
“Yes.” I said.
“No,” said my idiot companion at the exact same instant. There was a moment of terrible stillness and a scary thing happened. Dans face went momentarily blank and then crumbled in confusion. He quickly morphed from cheerful menace to tortured soul. He looked utterly lost as he cried out forlornly.
“Ahh! What? What…Don’t confuse me!” He clawed at the side of his head with a gnarled hand, knocking his cap askew. “Oh jaysus…What are yis at? Who are yis? Oh jaysus! Can yis not just gimme a straight answer? Have yis needles?” The gun lifted in our direction. “Stand back!” he yelled at the top of his voice. “Show me yer hands! Show me yer feckin hands! Throw away those feckin needles or I’ll kill yis! I’ll feckin kill yis!”
“Needles?” cried Eamonn; confused. “We don’t have any needles! Do we, Johnser?”
“No!” I croaked dryly.
A violent internal battle raged in Dan’s brain and the gun swung everywhere. The barrels seemed to grow nightmarishly long and the muzzle diameter expanded accordingly. I was just about to bolt in terror when it rested on me. Oh shite. My bowels quivered.
“Don’t lie!” Dan screamed at us, his face purple in the gloom.
“No lies, Dan” cried Eamonn. “We wouldn’t lie about something as awful as needles. I hate them myself. Johnser hates them, too. Don’t you Johnser?”
I nodded like a lunatic. Eamonn was showing initiative. Normally I’d have been surprised but I was too terrified to notice.
“Are youse laughin at me? Don’t mess with me! Do yis really hate them?”
A tense minute followed as Dan visibly tried to calm himself. He began to slowly deflate as if a stopper had been pulled and the tension gradually drained from him.
“All right lads, all right. Sorry…Sorry about that. It’s just that…em…y’know, I got constantly poked by needle after needle in the hospital and it sort of… got into my head and the thought just runs round and around in there all by itself – out of control.
“Some people hate spiders and rats but, well… with me its needles. It’s stupid I know, but sometimes I think they’re everywhere and they’re gonna jab me accidentally. I can’t touch a surface or sit on a chair without checkin’ it first. It drives me nuts betimes. Like just now…but anyway… anyway, enough of that.” He took a deep breath and changed the subject.
“Your name’s Johnser, right?”
I nodded weakly.
“What’s yer real name?”
“What? My real name? That is my real name. John Fletcher.”
“John Fletcher?” His eyes sparked with interest. “Have I heard of you? Jaysus…John Fletcher. That’s a great name! It has a great ring to it. Hmm…Johnny Fletcher…yeah. I could do with a strong name like that!”
“Use it.” I said to the waving gun.
“What! Really? Can I?” He seemed genuinely grateful.
“Yeah.” I whispered.
“Brilliant!” He laughed happily. “Thanks, this is great! John Fletcher!” He leaned towards me in the semi-dark and frowned. “Hold on, what’s wrong with yer forehead?”
“Bike crash.” I explained.
“Ye look just like that wizard brat.” Dan examined my scar with interest before turning his attention to Eamonn. “And what’s your name, Scut?”
“That’s a crap name. Yer parents surely hated ye,” said Dan, scrunching his eyes shut and hunching his head into his shoulders as if he had swallowed something awful.
“Tell me this though Scut, are ye still bein’ kept warm at nights by that trio of skanky sluts?”
My jaw dropped. Eamonn’s face went grey and slack with fear.
“You are, aren’t ye,” Dan smirked slyly. “Ye naughty, naughty boy, I can tell by your face that ye are. D’ye know what, Scut? I’ve walked every road in Clare pretending to be almost dead; pretending to struggle painfully under a terrible load; pretending to be an easy victim just to fool yis into robbin’ me again. I knew that me little ruse had to work eventually. And it just did! Didn’t it?”
And that’s when he levelled the shotgun at Eamonn and blew his legs off – just like that.
When Cora pulled the back door of the cottage open I lurched off balance into the kitchen. Ella and Michelle stood ready to smash my head in with their hockey sticks. Cora took a pace outside and stared hard into the rainy murk towards the ridge, her dirty blonde hair ruffled by the gale as she strained to see what had terrified me. She shut and barred the door again, her tough face set in a scowl.
“What’s the matter with you?” she flatly demanded.
Cora was an aggressive thirty-something from Sligo whom I suspect had iffy connections in the old world. She wasn’t unattractive; just a little rough around the edges, if you know what I mean; not exactly the type of girl I’d’ve brought home to mother. Quite frankly I wouldn’t have been caught dead in her company back then, yet… I wouldn’t have kicked her out of the old four-poster for eating crackers, either. As it happened we shared some positive traits; we were both highly intelligence, we possessed a certain animal charisma and we both had natural leadership qualities. But, unlike me, Cora wasn’t really a very nice person.
“Eamonn’s dead!” I panted. Ella and Michelle cried out in shock.
“A huge mad bastard came up the road with a shotgun and killed him!”
“Killed Eamonn?” Cora whispered, her face falling. “No! That can’t be. Where…?”
“The other side of the ridge, down at the road.”
“Wait now. Wait just a minute now,” said Cora, “What were you doing on the road? You shouldn’t have been on the road at all.” She must have seen a flicker in my expression. “You went thieving without us, didn’t you? You little prick!”
“We didn’t mean to. He looked like he was all done in so we…”
“So you what?” Cora yelled in angry disbelief. “You idiot! You idiot! We have rules! What about them?
“Yeah, I know, I know…” I fumbled. “But he was just…he looked wrecked and Eamonn… y’know… thought… no need to get you guys involved. Especially in this weather…”
“Eamonn thought?” whispered Ella. “Liar, I don’t believe you.” She was shocked, grief stricken and furious. They all were.
“Yeah, y’know…Eamonn…” I let it hang there.
Ella and Michelle were an attractive pair of cousins who’d been Cora’s tenants when the Dead first walked. I must say that talking to them was about as stimulating as talking to rocks, but pretty rocks you’d show off to your friends – maybe on Facebook, not in real life. They weren’t stupid, exactly; but vacuous and unsmiling. If I was to describe the depth of their personalities I’d have to say flat, end of description. But I’m sure they were great fun at parties.
“You’re a lying, sleazy bastard.” Ella whispered venomously, “Eamonn isn’t a big mouth eejit like you. Dead? No…” Her hockey stick clattered to the floor. She flopped limply into a chair and stared at nothing. Michelle remained weeping on her feet, both hands held to her mouth. Their faces were pale in the soft candle light. I’m sure mine was too.
“Did you come straight back here?” hissed Cora.
“Did he see you?”
“I didn’t look. I don’t know. He could’ve.”
“You stupid dickhead!” she spat, tears running down her cheeks. “You’ve led him right to us. God almighty! You never think, Fletcher! You’re all mouth and no brain. He could be on your heels.”
That terrifying possibility hadn’t dawned on me. I was just about to leg it out the front door when Cora became all businesslike; “Okay, okay, we’ve got to get it together.” She wiped tears and snot from her face with the back of her hand, leaving her features streaked with grime and mucus. “The candles. Quick! Put them out!”
The place was soon plunged into darkness.
“You,” she growled at me with disgust, “go and change your pants, then follow us up to the ridge, d’you hear? We’ll have to keep an eye on this guy.”
“What? Are you mad? We should be scarpering!”
“You do as you’re told.” She ordered through gritted teeth.
“But what if he’s coming this way?”
“Then you won’t have so far to go to find us, will you?” she spat. Christ, she could be sharp. Couldn’t she see how shaken I was?
“Cora, he knows you.”
“He just knows you, that’s all. He knew Eamonn, too.”
It was fully dark and the rain had stopped when I joined the girls on the ridgeline. We lay side by side on the wet rock to enjoy The Mad Dan Show below.
He had recklessly built a fire by the gap in the wall where Eamonn and I had waited for him. Showers of sparks blew uphill like a beacon for the dead and acrid smoke stung our eyes.
Eamonn’s corpse was all bound up and sitting with its back to the wall; his blood-soaked chest was minced by gunfire and the remains of his lower limbs were mangled. He twisted against the ropes and hungrily followed Dan’s every move. And look; there’s Dan’s shotgun, also leaning upright against the wall, its stock resting on a stone. I assumed that Cora had taken note.
Dan held up Eamonn’s leg and discussed its merits with its former owner. He pulled the boot from the disembodied foot and compared it to his own before discarding it in the flames. Then he sat on a large rock and butchered the limb.
He popped a sizeable hunk of meat into a pot and tossed the bony remainder into Eamonn’s lap; laughing as the corpse contorted to reach it. Dan stood and put the pot on the fire, lifted the shotgun, whooped like an Apache and danced round and around the fire.
I felt a cold, sick fear engulf me as his little run-around became a leisurely stroll uphill towards our hiding place. We all shuffled backwards in a clumsy panic and fumbled our way into a dark, nearby stony crevasse. I could see Dan through a tiny fracture in the limestone but he couldn’t see me. I hoped.
He stood on the apex of the ridge and looked around.
“Johnser?” he called over the wind. “Hey, Johnny darlin’, are ye up here?”
He was backlit by the distant fire but I swear I could see his eyes. He had his tongue stuck out and its tip flickered rapidly up and down.
“I can taste ye, Johnser. Umm… C’mon down and join me for dinner, why don’t ye? We can have a big lads chat.”
He turned and walked away. I rested my forehead against the cool surface of the rock and waited for my sanity to fail.
Ella, despite her bereavement, volunteered to keep an eye on Dan while the rest of us returned to the cottage for a council-of-war.
“Was it in Newmarket-on-Fergus or Clarecastle that we met him before?” Michelle asked as we sat round the tiny kitchen table in the cottage. “I remember he had his dad with him in a wheelbarrow.”
“That’s right,” Cora said, “we stopped them and asked for food, well; demanded food, and he just went nuts. He scared the shite out of me so I smacked him across the head with a Hurley just so we could run away. But… I dunno… there was something about him. He just seemed capable…y’know?” she shrugged.
“He seemed nuts to me.” Michelle muttered, and I had to agree. But how about that? Cora fancied him. Her natural affinity with the criminal classes was clouding her common sense.
“Anyway,” she continued, “I thought his old dad was hoping we’d kill him; he had this funny kind of pleading look on his face. But nevertheless, Mongo abandoned him cold to chase us up the street.”
“Yeah,” said Michelle, “and an entire congregation of corpses burst from that church we passed; remember? They just fell over each other in their rush to investigate the commotion and Dan got cut off. He couldn’t get back to his dad!”
“Jaysus. It was just horrible. We could hear his Dads screams but no one could help. That’s why he’s here now, isn’t it? He must have decided it was our fault and he wants to get us back for it.”
“Maybe.” Michelle nodded. “And he knows we’re up here somewhere thanks to Harry Gobshite here, but it’d be too dodgy for him to hunt us in the dark over strange ground. He’ll have to wait until morning.”
“He won’t wait,” I said a bit too loudly. I was peeved because the rude bitches were deliberately talking right across me. “Dan’s down there shouting his head off in front of a bright fire and every corpse in the neighbourhood must be headed this way. They might be digesting him even as we speak.”
“Fat chance,” Cora sighed with her face in her hands. “He’ll have to come tonight then. My god, I can’t believe Eamonn’s dead. This is all your doing, Fletcher. It should have been you instead of him so don’t think you’re going to get away easy, you arrogant pimple.”
I was too frightened by Dans proximity to be particularly bothered by her opinions.
“Eamonn was the only friend you had here.” She continued. “He always stood up for you when we bitched about you. Funny that, isn’t it.”
“Oh, now…” I began.
“Oh, shut your hole,” grunted Michelle dismissively.
“Enough,” said Cora. “We’ll have to get that shotgun off him.”
“Are you insane?” I blurted. “You’ll get us all killed.” You’ll get me killed.
“You shut up. Now, either play your part or pack your bags.” Cora was forcing me to make amends; a notion I resented coming from this lowlife cow.
Her plan was to circle around to Dan’s fire by the road and hide behind the wall while I distracted him. While I distracted him; not Michelle, not Ella – who was a walking distraction machine. No; me! Then, when I judged it to be the proper time I’d give her the signal, she’d lean over the wall and simply lift the shotgun. Ta daa…
“Good god…Okay,” I argued, “fine. We disarm him – and then what? He’ll still be standing there looking at us. Do we shoot him? Do we pat his arse and send him on his way?”
I decided it was high time for me to take charge of this crazy situation. I’d had enough of their impractical girlie stupidity.
“Right,” I said. “I’ve heard enough of this lunacy! We’re not doing any such thing! Instead we’ll do this: Michelle, you go and fetch Ella from the ridge while Cora and I pack whatever food and water we can carry. Then we’ll all slip away towards Lahinch using the storm as cover. Dan’ll never find us again.” I clapped my hands decisively and stared into their upturned, incredulous faces. I could see they were stunned by my manly decision making skills.
“Well c’mon,” I shouted. “What are you waiting for?”
The rain was pounding down as I paused on the ridge for Michelle and Ella to wish me luck, but they just stared at me; so I walked down the slope like a British Tommy defying the German machine guns.
“Yay! Johnny boy!” Dan shouted as I approached his fire. “I hoped ye’d come back but I didn’t expect ye to. Pull up a rock there and sit yourself down. Food’ll be ready soon. Jaysus, but its terrible weather, isn’t it? Ye didn’t hear a forecast by any chance, didye?”
He seemed almost normal so I moved cautiously into the firelight.
“So, ye came back. Now why would ye want to do a thing like that? After all, ye ran away quick enough, didn’t ye?” He laughed and then stared at me with sudden doubt in his luminous eyes.
“Oh…” he said anxiously. “Em…Ye didn’t come to take yer name back, didye?”
“What? No, keep it, will you? Have you any smokes?”
“No. No smokes.” He frowned. “You haven’t any medication, have ye?”
“Medication? No. For what?”
“Ah, ye know…they used to say that I wasn’t a well man. Before… like…but never mind. Y’know, it’s great to have someone down here for an oul’ chat.” He gestured towards Eamonn. “He won’t talk to me at all for some reason. Do ye think I’ve offended him?”
Dan stood up and I flinched.
“Ah Johnser, don’t be nervous, I have no quarrel with you; just them others, so relax. I’m havin’ an oul’ stretch, that’s all. That rocks a little too low for me long legs.” His coat billowed around him in the wind. The cord he’d bound Eamonn with was the same piece that had held it closed earlier.
“C’mon closer in, why don’tcha?” he beckoned, “Get yerself some heat. Sure, you’re drenched to the skin.”
“I’ll just stand here Dan, if you don’t mind.” I said, keeping the fire squarely between us.
“Suit yourself.” He sat again. “They sent ye down here, didn’t they?”
He smiled. “Look, I’ll admit to bein’ mad. I know I am. Sure, didn’t I voluntarily take the meds for years – anything to avoid their cursed needles. I hear voices, you know. Right inside me head. They’re me only company now that me Dads gone. They’re sort of a comfort. They aren’t real of course – I know that – so I just ignore them.”
“I’m really tryin’ to say that I might be mad, but I’m not an eejit, and I’ll thank you not to treat me like one.”
“Good. Now… ye know those three sluts who killed my Dad? Well, them Johnny, they’re the ones I mean. They sent you down here to keep me occupied, didn’t they. And I can just imagine what yer reward’ll be, too.” He chuckled knowingly. “Out with it, Mr. Fletcher; what’s their fiendish plan, eh?”
Dan was crazy but he wasn’t stupid, just like he’d said. He knew exactly why I was there. Why didn’t I just tell the girls to piss off and do this themselves?
“I don’t know what you mean,” I lied. “That is… Those girls; Eamonn mentioned them alright, but I never met them myself.”
“Really? And how long have ye known Eamonn?”
“Dunno, two months?”
“Just two months?” His mouth drooped dubiously. I eyed the shotgun as it stood invitingly against the wall. I could just leap over there and…
“Did ye know that I can read minds, John Fletcher,” Dan said quietly. “Me meds stopped all that but now me powers are back. So don’t you even look sideways at that shotgun.”
“Johnny,” he warned. “What did Eamonn tell ye about them sluts?”
“He, em…oh, you know, the usual stuff…”
“Ah, yes. Dirty stuff. You young lads love talkin about women, don’t yis? Sure, wasn’t I the same I suppose, in me day.” He smile dissolved and his gaze hardened. “But mostly I found them to be a bunch of heartless, bloodsucking bitches whose only joy was to rip the heart from yer chest. Why do ye think I was in that feckin hospital in the first place? For years?” He shook his head angrily.
“Okay then Johnny, Why did Eamonn leave them, I wonder. A lovers tiff?”
“Oh, John…” he was getting bored. I thought I’d better change the subject.
“What did Eamonn do to you Dan?” I asked. “Why did you have to kill him?”
“He didn’t tell ye?” Dan seemed genuinely surprised. He picked up a sizable rock and threw it hard at Eamonn, hitting him squarely on the cheek.
“Hey, Scut!” He yelled. “Ye never told Johnser what yis did to me? Some feckin pal you turned out to be!”
My eye caught a movement behind the wall. It was much too fast to be a corpse so it had to be Cora. I might as well take the opportunity to impress her seeing as she was within earshot. I’d inject a little indignation into my attitude before I gave her any signal.
“Dan,” I demanded loudly. “I want a straight answer! Why did you shoot Eamonn? My god man, just look at him. You stole his dignity as well as his life!”
He raised an eyebrow at my tone. “Ah, now, he can stick his dignity up his arse, so he can. Besides, what’s it to you?”
“He was my friend!” I exclaimed righteously.
“What? He was in his bollocks. You couldn’t stand him; any fool could’ve seen that.”
Time to change the topic again. “Are you really going to eat his leg?”
“Certainly,” he replied. “Did ye know that human toes are a bit of a delicacy round here? Even the Scuts? Ye didn’t? Well, they are. You can have one when they’re cooked. It’s a sort of honour I’m proffering on ye.”
“Thanks.” I said quietly and Dan turned his gaze back to the flames.
“These are sad times Johnny don’t ye think,” he said quietly. “When lack of food forces us to eat human.” He looked at me curiously. “Have ye ever eaten human before?”
“Just this girl I met at a party once.”
He barked a laugh but his smile vanished when Michelle and Ella materialised out of the darkness and frightened the shite out of me. Michelle had her crowbar raised and Ella brandished a kitchen knife. They stopped just behind me. Once I was over the shock I was glad of this distraction, even though they both seemed as scared as me. I had no idea why they were here. I knew Cora didn’t trust me so maybe their arrival was the real signal.
“What the…have you bein’ tellin’ me fibs, John Fletcher?” scolded Dan with a knowing smirk. “Ye sly dog, ye. Ye surely had me fooled. Well, what sort of an eejit am I, at all…”
I stared questioningly at the cousins but their attention was on Dan.
“I hope ye haven’t been eatin’ these girlies Johnny or yer tongue’ll fall out for sure.” He looked around curiously. “C’mere though, where’s the other one? The rottweiler? Keepin’ the bed warm for me is she?”
None of us spoke.
Dan stood. “Well, me little bearded clams!” he said warmly. “Ye’ve brought the sour whiff of the sea with yis; no surprise I suppose, given what yis are. Yer just in time too as Johnny was beginnin’ to run out of conversation. He’s good company but he looks like shite with that Harry Potter head on him. Tell me though girls, what kept yis?”
“Oh wait, I know.” He squinted shrewdly at them. “Ye were putting on yer makeup, weren’t yis? I know those looks. Yis’re thinkin’ that Dans all man, aren’t yis? Well, fair enough. Are yis ready?”
He sniffed at the air. “Yis are,” he smiled. “I can tell.”
He made a big show of hitching up his rancid pants and sucking in his belly. He pointed at Ella. “You’re a fine thing. You can have me first. Yer friend’s nice but I’d prefer you. Are yis sisters? Ye look like sisters.”
More silence. Ella’s moist gaze flicked towards Eamonn’s drooling corpse.
“Well,” sighed Dan sadly, “I can see yis aren’t really in the humour, Are yis? Typical teases. Never mind. I’ve a bit of a headache meself anyway ever since yer pit-bull friend smacked me with that Hurley last year.”
Dan looked at me and shrugged helplessly. “Women,” he remarked.
“Well, seein’ as I can’t get a word in edgeways here I’ll just go ahead and reveal me intentions. First, I’m goin’ to take that iron bar offa you,” he pointed at Michelle, “and then that knife offa you,” he pointed at Ella, “and I’m gonna shove them up your dirty holes. Then I’m going to feed yis both alive to yer oul’ pal Eamonn there. Won’t that be fun? And I’m going to be sittin’ on that wall back there enjoyin’ all the gory details.”
As Dan spoke Cora stood up out of Dan’s eye line from behind the wall in question, leaned calmly over its rounded stones and deftly lifted the shotgun by the barrel. One simple little plan; one slick little move, and voila; Dan was disarmed!
“Well?” Dan roared unexpectedly, “What do yis think of that, eh?”
“Calm down Dan,” said Cora, “or you’ll wake the dead. Although I’m surprised they’re not already here.”
She stepped through the stony gap; the shotgun levelled at him.
“You’ll soon be joinin’ them.” Dan snarled. “I’m goin’ to kill yis all, whether yis are carryin’ needles or not.”
“Needles? What? Shut up, will you!” Cora snapped. “Feckin needles…Jaysus! The dead are coming so we need to be quick. We need to be grown up too so no nonsense, d’ye hear? The question is; what now? I’m asking you this Dan, because really; I’m at a loss.”
“You killed my Dad, you bitch. He didn’t have a chance and I’m going to make sure that none of youse gets a chance either.”
“We never touched your dad; you feckin loony. A bad thing happened and I’m sorry for your troubles. But you,” she hissed through thin white lips, “you wicked, callous bastard, you killed my friend in cold blood. That was cruel what you did to him.”
Dan sized up how she handled the shotgun. It was heavy, but she seemed to have little problem with it. Could he snatch it without getting himself killed? I could almost hear those mismatched cogwheels busily whirring in his head.
“This is really hard for me but I’m willing to call it quits.” Said Cora. “Even though it’s not; your Dad for our Eamonn. Believe me I really want to kill you but I won’t. If you try anything funny though I will.”
Dan said nothing. It was quite obvious that he wasn’t interested in compromise. There was a brief lull in the wind and we all heard approaching moans. Everyone but Dan glanced around but there was nothing visible in the darkness.
“Right,” declared Cora harshly. “Here’s what we’re going to do; you’re coming home with us and we’re going to tie you securely to a nice comfy chair. Then, in the morning, we’re moving out with all our stuff and you’ll never see us again. We might even leave you some food if you’re a good boy.”
Dan looked calmly at each one of us and after a long moment he nodded reluctant agreement, but he hesitated when Cora motioned him forward with the shotgun.
“Dan,” she warned, cocking the hammers. “Move it!”
He ignored her, knelt in the mud at the edge of the fire, and fumbled through his pack.
“Dan, don’t.” she warned again, raising the stock to her shoulder.
He stood and dangled an old set of rosary beads from his raised fingers. They glowed ruby red in the firelight.
“He loved these stupid things, my dad,” he explained in a thoughtful growl. “He kept them close all his life; ever since his first Holy Communion, so he did.
“You mentioned dignity, Johnny Boy? Ye know nothin’ about dignity, ye little ferret. I wanted to bury him, ye see. After yis murdered him I hid for hours before I could safely recover him – even though there was only his scattered bones left. Then he tried to bite me. Me! His Dan; Dignity? Hah! Ye ignorant little bollocks.
“I lifted his biting head in both me hands and kissed him, but not before I promised him I’d find you lot and make yis pay in kind. He was my Dad, ye see? He had never diminished one bit in my eyes since I was a little lad, and he never will.”
I gazed thoughtfully at the cheap glowing beads. Dan had plainly romanticised the shite out of his poor old dad’s memory. I felt a small sense of wonder at this; I mean; imagine an obnoxious monster like Dan being so sentimental. I smiled.
“And after I kill yis I still won’t be finished. I’m going to massacre the dead in such a bloody spree it’ll go down in legend. I’ll rid the world of every last one of them ‘cause they killed him too. Johnny, you can join me if ye like, it’ll be fun; the two of us cutting and killin’ our way across the countryside. And no feckin women!”
I laughed at this coincidence. It was easy to laugh now that he had a gun on him.
“Dan, that’s amazing. I had the very same thought earlier. We could call ourselves the Corpse Killers, something like that?”
“Yes, exactly!” he cried with delight. “That’s a great name. ‘The Corpse Killers.’” He winked at me as he pocketed the rosary beads. Then he pulled an old revolver from the folds of his coat. The smile froze on my lips.
“Well jaysus, lads,” he said in fake surprise. “Wherever did this yoke come from?”
Cora didn’t hesitate. She lifted the shotgun and let him have it. Click, click.
“Ye thick hoor,” sneered Dan. “You’re exactly where I want ye. I daren’t look for yis in strange country in the dark and I couldn’t attract yis down here with me handsome looks so I had to let the shotgun do it for me.”
He raised the revolver and shot Cora in the face. The back of her head blew out in a burgundy spray and she slumped limply in the mud.
“Women,” He said dismissively to her folded body. “Yis are only good for stickin’ yer legs in the air and cookin’.”
Michelle and Ella came alive. They attacked; screaming in rage like banshees. Dan wheeled about, his coat swirling like a cape, and blew a hole in Ella’s magnificent chest as she raised her knife to strike him. Her body crunched face first into the fire in a bloom of billowing sparks, her hair hissing and crackling as it singed away from her skull.
Michelle swung her crowbar down on Dan’s wrist and I heard the crunch of splintering bone. He yelped and dropped the gun. As she lifted the crowbar to strike again he lunged inside the arc of her swing and grabbed her one-handed by the throat. They both fell struggling across Eamonn’s bloody stumps. With a mournful, empty moan Eamonn grabbed Dans cap with his teeth and chewed on it expressionlessly.
I bent and snatched the handgun from beneath their pummelling legs as Dan tried to prevent Michelle’s clawing fingers from gouging out his eyes. I aimed for his head, pulled the trigger and blew a piece of stone out of the wall. The recoil lifted the gun clean out of my hand. I hadn’t expected that.
I registered peripheral movement and saw tottering, shuffling shapes bumbling up the road towards the firelight. I could see their tightly packed, lolling heads bobbing above the stony walls. The cavalry were here at last.
I retrieved the gun, held the wooden grip tighter, aimed at Dan and shot Eamonn in the mouth. Dans cap fell soggily from his shattered teeth. I panicked and fired at Dan again. I may have hit a rock, or a cloud, but I certainly hadn’t hit my target who was now clubbing Michelle’s unprotected face with his good fist.
As the rain drenched corpses lurched closer I bit down on my rising panic. I held the gun steady with both hands, took a deep breath, drew a careful bead on Dan and gently, calmly, exhaled and squeezed the trigger. More shrapnel flew from the wall.
Michelle lay unmoving under Dan’s full weight as he pulped her face. I walked up and put the muzzle of the gun against his head and he froze mid-blow. Michelle appealed to me mutely through one mashed, blood filled eye. I looked directly into Dan’s mad face for the very last time and gently squeezed the trigger.
Click. Again; click.
“Feck, I broke it.”
“Ha, ha, you’re a funny one Johnny,” grinned Dan. “No hard feelings though. Willye just wait there for a second while I finish off this hoor and then we’ll make plans for our future.” He turned from me with profound grunting indifference to conclude Michelle’s murder.
For a millisecond I considered cracking open his skull with the butt of the gun but the fastest of the flopping Dead was already oozing itself wetly through the gap in the wall. Luckily for me it stumbled and its followers slopped limply on top of it to create a wriggling, temporary blockage.
So, in a final act of bravery I dropped the useless gun and ran away.
I strongly suspected that small, inconsequential matters like a woman to kill, a broken arm and a flock of starving corpses weren’t about to slow a self confessed maniac like Dan. I reckoned I had about a five minute head start while he dealt with these trivialities and came after me; if that was his intention – and I had to assume it was.
I grabbed my rucksack from the cottage and stuffed it with food and bottled water and I was just about to leave when I noticed a card of domestic sewing needles lying ignored on the hall table. I wrote a hurried note on a handy post-it and scattered the needles across it.
I have packs more of these needles on my person so just leave me alone.
P.S. About my name – you can’t have it!
Feeble, I know, and as for the P.S. he’ll just do what he likes; and why should I give a shite, but I couldn’t think of any other way to sting him.
As I was blown on my way by the wind through the darkness I imagined that even the great fish out there in the heaving ocean were being knocked unconscious by the fury of the rollers that night.
Also, I deliberately left the front door wide open in the hope that the remaining food might tempt him to stay and convalesce. Maybe he’d move in permanently and settle. Who knows? Maybe he’d call it the Lair.
Postscript: Several years after the above account was discovered Stephen Lynch, a Lieutenant of Fletchers throughout the years of the Z War, told of an incident which greatly puzzled him. He recalled how one afternoon, just as Fletchers infamous Corpse Killer squad were concluding a mopping up operation near Spanish Point, an overlooked cadaver stumbled through an open door and headed straight for Fletcher, arms outstretched.
Fletcher uncharacteristically froze into complete helpless immobility as he watched it approach but luckily for him Lynch swiftly interceded and dispatched the corpse before Fletcher could get bitten.
“Hey, chief! Look!” Lynch laughed. “I think I just killed Harry Potter!”
Fletcher stared at the jagged scar on the corpse’s forehead with his famous blazing eyes. “That wasn’t his real name,” he whispered shakily. “But willye just check and see if he still has any of those feckin needles on him.”