Monday, May 29, 2023

A Painting from my Childhood

I painted this when I was nine or ten and it was up on the wall in my school for years. I remember adults making a bit of a fuss about it at the time. They thought it was very clever that I painted it from behind. I was bewildered because I didn't see anything clever about that. It's a picture of me, my mother and my two brothers. The clothes are historically accurate.

It's the only piece of creative work I saved from primary school. The next thing I have preserved after that are some English exercises from first year in secondary school. We were not a scrapbook sort of family, more's the pity. (My late father's massive archive of material, printed and manuscript, has almost completely disappeared. He never kept anything.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

An Excellent Post on Grounds for Catholic Optimism

 From the always-interesting Some Definite Service Blog.

There's certainly much to be pondered there. Reading it, I realized how little I speculate on how things are going to go in the future.

I think part of this is the fruit of experience. In my own short lifetime, I have seen history take so many twists and turns that I no longer have confidence in my own ability to guess what's around the next corner.

Some examples of things that surprised me:


The election of Donald Trump.

The reversal of Roe vs. Wade.

The election and pontificate of Pope Francis.

The surprisingly successful resistance of the Ukraine against a Russian invasion (I expected them to crumble in a day or so).

The complete evaporation of the New Atheist movement, which seemed so daunting at one time.

I'm sure I could think of many more, if I really put my mind to it. Suffice it to say that things have not at all unfolded the way I expected in my late teens.

Linking to this blog post brings me to another question that's been troubling me for a while. Since this blog is titled Irish Papist, why do I have so few explicitly religious blog posts?

The answer is that I find it harder and harder to say anything that I feel adds to what my audience knows already. I must admit that I have rather the same reaction to (in all honesty) most Catholic writing at this point. Very often I find myself thinking: "Boilerplate, boilerplate, boilerplate."

It seems to me that the Faith is, essentially, very simple. I'm scared of overcomplicating it. I'm also scared of representing my own hobby-horses as part of Catholicism, which is a very easy trap to fall into. (I even think about taking down some of my old posts, for this reason.)

I also think that there's far too much opinion in Catholic writing, and far too little knowledge. I have been trying to add to the sum of knowledge in my articles on converts for St. Martin's Magazine, and my articles on great Irish priests for Ireland's Own.

My blog is more a place for writing at random. I hope that just writing from a Catholic perspective makes it a Catholic blog, and gives it some value.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Some Proceedings of the Glenfeek Historical Society

This is a horror story that I wrote during lockdown. I haven't had time to blog recently, so I'm putting it up here to keep the blog ticking over.

Readers probably haven't noticed that I've added a strapline to the header (check out my lingo): "Blogging from a Catholic perspective since 2011". I was reading a biography of The O'Rahilly, the 1916 hero, and I was struck by all the cultural and political movements that were afoot in the Ireland of the time. My ideal of society is one full of social movements and social philosophies and intellectual currents, and I felt a pang of desire to contribute to this in some way. Then I realized, I have been doing so, in my own way, with this blog. It's not much, but it's something. I'm rather proud it's been active for some twelve years now.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story. I don't have the patience to add pictures.

It was a Tuesday night in January. Manchester United were playing Real Madrid in the European Champion’s League. The semi-final of Get Your Groove On, the latest celebrity reality TV show, was absorbing the attention of living-rooms all over the nation. Consequently, there was an exceptionally poor turn-out for the fortnightly meeting of the Gleenfeek Historical Society--- only five people, a fifth of the current membership.

There were the Wilkinson, a middle-aged couple who had been coming to the meetings for the last year or so. There was Stewart Roche, the young and arrogant university student whose vulpine features always seemed to hold an expression of faint disdain. There was Larry Duff, the President of the Society—chubby, avuncular, beaming, the man who seemed to know everything about Gleenfeek (and almost everything else). And then there was Trevor.

Trevor had been a member of the Society for almost ten years, and he looked forward to these meetings more than anything else in his rather humdrum routine. He had been a teacher at St. Kilman’s primary school for twelve years. Some were surprised that the winner of a first-class degree in English and philosophy was content to spend his days teaching ten-year-olds, but Trevor was perfectly happy with his lot. “Give me a book and a strong cup of tea”, he liked to joke, “and I don’t need anything else.”

He loved Gleenfeek, where he had lived all his life. It wasn’t that there was anything special about the suburb, which had been a village until some forty years ago. There was very little notable about it. Bartholomew Glendenning, whose ghost stories still featured in some anthologies, was almost its only famous resident. And even he wasn’t all that famous.

But what did Trevor care about Gleenfeek’s lack of fame? All of its avenues and alleyways were precious to him, because they were his own. It was thick with his childhood memories; the library, the chipper, the park, the cinema. It was his world. A little world, but all he needed.

The formal part of the meeting was over, and the little group was assembling in the café in Gleenfeek Community Centre. The girl at the counter was glued to her phone, watching Get Your Groove On. She barely looked up at them as she served them their coffees. Stewart Roche had already gone home; he rarely hung around for coffee. He had spent the entire meeting arguing with Larry on the origin of the name Glenfeek. Stewart insisted it came from a Gaelic word for “raven”; Larry insisted it was a reference to a St. Fiach.

“Not a big fan of the football?”, asked Larry, joining Trevor at their usual table. Trevor liked to sit by the window, watching the traffic pass down Fenian street.

“I never really got into it”, he said. “I’m more a snooker man”.

“Ah yes”, said Larry, chuckling, as the Wilkinsons took their seats around the table. “If I remember right, you won the Gleenfeek Under-Twelve Pool Championship two years in a row, back in the eighties.”

“You always remember right, Larry”, said Geraldine Wilkinson—a pudgy, mousy, shy woman whose self-effacement concealed a voluminous knowledge on a wide range of subjects.

Larry smiled complacently. “Well, you know what they say. History isn’t what happened. History is what you can remember.” It was one of his favourite quotations.

“You’re pretty patient with Stewart, if you ask me”, said Scott Wilkinson, a red-faced man with a ginger moustache. He rarely spoke at meetings; Trevor presumed he simply tagged along because his wife came. “That young fellow needs to be taken down a peg or two, if you ask me.”

Larry smiled indulgently, his light blue eyes twinkling behind his bunched-up cheeks. “Oh, that’s just his nature. His father was the same. Crossing swords with old duffers like me is meat and drink to him.”

There had certainly been quite a few jousts between Larry and Stewart—Larry was always genial, Stewart faintly supercilious. Trevor remembered the meeting where Stewart insisted—going purely on the evidence of place-names—that Glenfeek had once been a centre of pagan human sacrifice. There were rumours that the young man took a morbid interest in such dark subjects—even that he collected paraphernalia associated with serial killers.

“Hm, yeah”, said Scott, looking faintly agitated. “But there’s something about that fellow. Something that creeps me out. You know what I mean?”

“Creeps you out?” asked Larry, with an amused smile. “That’s interesting. And it reminds me of Trevor’s enigmatic few words at the end of the meeting.”

Trevor smiled. “You’re going to have to wait”, he said. “I need to do some more research.”

“How very intriguing”, said Larry. “Playground chants are a particular interest of mine, but I never would have suspected Glenfeek had its very own.”

“Nor me”, said Geraldine. She seemed excited. “It seems too good to be true. I can hardly wait for the next meeting.”

“Well, maybe it is too good to be true”, said Trevor, turning from the gaze of the others, staring out the window. His smile remained, but he felt strangely troubled. “Maybe I’m imagining things. I need to call a few old school friends, make sure my memory isn’t playing tricks…”

“Ah, the scrupulous historian speaketh”, said Larry, clapping Trevor on the shoulder. “We’ll try to curb our impatience then!”

The conversation moved on. Scott began to talk about his diabetes, and the diet he was struggling to stick to. When he got to talking about his health, he seemed reluctant to ever stop.

Trevor’s attention wandered. The café was empty, aside from them. Linda was still glued to her phone.

His eyes travelled along the café walls, lingering on the framed children’s paintings opposite them. Why did he find children’s artworks so haunting? The magic of art, somehow, seemed especially vivid in a child’s painting; their crudeness made the miracle of representation more striking. That picture hanging by the toilets, for instance; it was just about recognizable as Stonehenge; how, then, did Trevor feel that the essence of Stonehenge shone through this daubed painting, even more than it might in a photograph?

This idea had haunted him all his life, even in his own childhood. It became more vivid the longer he worked among children. The magic of theatre was, somehow, more potent in the simplest school Nativity play than it was in any professional production he’d seen. The rawness of poetry was more palpable in the naïve verses his pupils read out, than it was in the polished cadences of a Yeats or a Tennyson lyric. Children seemed closer to the elemental fire of reality than adults did— the glow was brighter, and the shadows darker.

That chant he’d heard in the schoolyard, for instance…


He looked up. All three were watching him, expectantly, and with serious faces.

“I’m sorry, I was miles away”, he said.

“I was just asking”, said Geraldine softly, “how the kids are all doing after… well, you know.’

She didn’t have to explain any further. Three weeks ago Linda Coffey had died—the school’s golden girl, academically brilliant, athletically gifted, angelically beautiful. A brain aneurysm, out of the blue, during camogie practice.

“Oh”, he said. “I think they’re OK. You know kids. They’re amazingly resilient.”

“Something like that happened when you were at school, didn’t it?”, asked Scott, with his usual directness.

“Yeah”, answered Trevor. “My friend Damien. He was exactly the same age as Linda. Just as sudden. A stray rod that flew out the back of a lorry…”

“Ah, Damien Walshe”, said Larry, slowly and meditatively, stirring his coffee. “What a wonderful kid he was. What a brilliant mind. I think he would have reached the top of whatever he chose to do.”

There was a long silence. The rumbling of traffic from the road beneath only made it seem deeper.

“Well, as my good mother used to say”, Larry continued, smiling, “they’re not really gone. They’re with us still.”

Trevor looked into the old man’s kind, soft eyes. He was not at all religious, but for that moment, he felt a serene belief in the truth of those words. Larry had that way about him. He was like the grandfather everybody wished they’d had.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The streets were quiet when Trevor made his way home. Geraldine and Scott had left early. Larry and himself had lingered until the café closed, talking about all sorts of things—but especially the history of Glenfeek. They had spent a good fifteen minutes reminiscing about the Magnificent, the local cinema that had closed in 1987. Trevor could remember what films were showing on its last day; Larry seemed to know every film that had ever been shown there, even though it had opened before he was born.

He sauntered home, playing his favourite mental game; conjuring up all the memories he associated with this doorway, this corner, this alleyway. Ah yes, this was where he had first spoken to Sally Higgins, the girl he had passionately loved through half his boyhood. And in that house across the road, where the Morrisons had lived; that had been the base of operations of The Chapter, his secret society whose sole purpose was to be secret. And that cake shop used to be snooker hall where he carried all before him…

Feeling peckish, he walked towards Happy Valley, the Chinese restaurant that had opened just after the first Gulf War. A few chips and some chicken balls, nice and greasy, that would be just the ticket…

He stopped outside. Stewart was standing at the counter, talking to some pretty girl in a baseball cat, his arm wrapped around her. She looked far too pretty for him—Trevor would have called him a fairly ordinary-looking guy, even scrawny. Well, Trevor didn’t feel like talking to Stewart now, anyway. He turned away. There was always the microwave.

But just as he turned away, Stewart happened to look up and catch his eye through the takeaway window. He grinned at him, and winked. Trevor smiled back, faintly and reluctantly. He didn’t mind old men or attractive women winking at him, but it seemed like a liberty from a whippersnapper ten years his junior. And why did that smile seem positively wolfish?

He resumed his way home, his air of nostalgic reverie suddenly broken.

He hesitated as he came to Casement Road, the long residential road with its distinctive traffic bridge. This was the other side of childhood associations; many were magical, some were disturbing. Casement Road had always given him the spooks. Perhaps it was because, lacking shops or businesses, there were no glowing hanging signs or shop windows to make it more cheerful on a dark evening. Perhaps it was because his parents had always warned him against crossing the traffic bridge on his own; there were rumours of perverts waiting there to prey upon little kids.

It might have been the fact that Damien Walshe had died there; it was along this road that that random piece of scaffolding had pierced his skull. But, strangely enough, Casement Road had spooked Trevor out years before that happened.

He walked on, deciding to go the long way around.

* * * * * * * * * * 

A stomach full of microwaved shepherd’s pie, and a few strong cups of tea, left him feeling more cheerful. He ate it before the television, watching an episode of Fawlty Towers that happened to be on. He remembered watching this episode with his father, the day before his fourteen birthday. The warm glow of nostalgia was back.

As soon as he had finished, he cleaned out a space on the kitchen table and took a yellow cardboard folder down from the top of the fridge.

This was something he hadn’t even mentioned at the meeting, hoping that it would be all the more effective when he finally made his presentation.

He opened the folder and pulled out a garishly coloured, crudely-crayoned picture. It was the work of Nicola Quinn, one of his pupils.

He laid it on the table, in the light. Once again, he felt a little involuntary shiver, examining it. It was no great work of art, even allowing for the girl’s age, but it was powerful in a way that owed nothing to technique, or to realism.

It showed a tall figure, who towered above the trees and houses which lay on either side of it. It had its arms extended towards, the viewer. Two huge wings extended from either shoulder. The girl had taken considerable care in delineating the feathers; it was the most accomplished part of the drawing.

The figure hadn’t got much in the way of a face. Two yellow discs, wobbly and ill-proportioned, represented its eyes. Between them, equally sketchy but recognizable, a huge and curved beak extended forwards.

Nicola was not much of an artist, and this wasn’t much of a picture—by any formal standards, at any rate. But something about it held the attention. Somehow, the clumsy strokes of the girl’s crayon had given life to the figure, especially its face. It was easy to forget that it was simply the creation of a schoolchild’s imagination.

He spent a while staring at the face. There was something strangely haunting about it, but it was difficult to analyze. Was there malice in its eyes? No, perhaps not malice, but a kind of terrible energy, like that of a storm at sea. It was somehow frightening and seductive at once.

The next moment, Trevor laughed at his own silliness. After all, it was just a picture. Even if it was so evocative that he had taken it home with him.

Of course, it wasn’t just the picture itself that had caught his attention, and that made him think it was worth the attention of the Society. It was what Nicola had said when he asked her about it…

He got up and made a cup of tea. There was no point denying it, he thought—the picture spooked him. He had become very aware of the night’s silence. Right now he would have welcomed some noise from his neighbours—even some barking from Suzie, the annoying Jack Rusell across the landing. But there was nothing, except the thrumming of the radiator and the whistling in the pipes.

He sat back at the table, keeping his eyes averted from the the picture. He took a long draft from his tea, and drew his mobile phone out of his shirt pocket, placing it on the table beside the drawing. I now present to the jury Exhibit B, he found himself thinking.

A few taps of his thumb brought up the voice recording he had made four days ago.

He heard his own voice first, in the characteristic tone adults use when speaking to children. There was a hum of high-pitched voices in the background, the sound of the playground from time immemorial.

“So sing what you were singing just now. Just the way you were singing it.”

There was a chorus of nervous giggles, a protracted silence, and then the voices of several boys and girls, singing:

Tick tock, tick tock, boo hoo, boo hoo,

Old Mister Rook will come for you.

You cannot run, you cannot hide,

His beak is long, his wings are wide.”

In the video, while singing the last line, the four children traced the shape of a beak in front of their noses, and then spread their arms to imitate wings. Then they began to giggle again.

“Very good”, came Trevor’s own voice. “Can you sing it again?”

The performance was repeated, louder and more confidently this time. The volume of his phone had been set rather low, but the children’s voices seemed to reverberate in the apartment.

“And where did you get this song from?”, he heard himself asking, on the recording. “Where did you hear it first?”

There was a long silence. In the video, the children stared up at him, blankly.

“I don’t know”, said Tanya Doyle, eventually. “It’s just a song.”

“Yeah”, said Colin Murray. “It’s just a song. It’s probably old, or something.”

A few more fruitless attempts to trace the origin of the song, and the video ended.

Trevor sat there, unmoving, for a considerable time. A part of him was savouring the chill that the recording inspired in him. It reminded him of his childhood, sitting in the field behind the old folks’ homes on long summer evenings, pleasantly exhausted from soccer kickabouts, listening to ghost stories and urban legends. If you say the Lord’s prayer backwards…

He’d heard the children chanting the words while he was supervising the playground. At  first he had listened out of curiosity, and then he’d felt something stirring in the depths of his memory. Yes, he had thought, he had heard those words before. He had heard them in this very playground, as a child…

Without thinking, he glanced at the winged, beaked, black figure in the drawing in front of him. Old Mister Rook will come for you… 

When he’d asked Nicola the subject of her picture, she’d answered: “Old Mister Rook”. Just a name she’d made up, she said.

He rose from his chair. His chill had gone from pleasant to markedly unpleasant. The apartment remained deathly quiet. This was a good time to have the comforting noise of a television, Trevor decided.

He turned it on, and flicked through the channels until he found a documentary about the history of aviation. He watched a minute or two of some bearded academic jabbering about the Wright Brothers, then went back to the kitchen.

The children had said that they didn’t know where they’d heard the chant. In all his years of supervising the yard, he’d never heard it before. Or, if he had, he’d never noticed it.

He’d searched for the words on the internet already, of course. There were plenty of websites listing schoolyard chants, even specifically Irish ones. But no mention of Old Mister Rook.

He finished his cup of tea and glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was still only a little after nine. Not too late to make a few phone calls.

But before he did, he paced up and down the kitchen, staring at the tiles on the floor to avoid the picture on the table, racking his brains. The drone of biplane engines from long ago filtered through from the sitting room. When had he heard the chant before? In the school-yard, but when?

He thought and thought, but nothing came. Irrelevantly, he found himself thinking of Larry’s words earlier: History isn’t what happened. It’s what you can remember.

He took out his phone and scrolled through his contacts. The first school-friend he came upon was Ruth Ho. It occurred to him he should probably text or email, rather than calling out the blue, but he was impatient to know. He hit “call”.

It wasn’t long before Ruth picked up. “Hi Trevor. What’s up?”

“Not much with me. How are you?”

“I’m pretty good”, Ruth replied. She sounded surprised. They hadn’t spoken in about three years. “I’ve just come back from a year in Sweden, actually.”

They chatted for a few moments, catching up, before Trevor finally said: “Listen, Ruth, I have a bit of a weird question. Do you remember hearing these words chanted in the school-yard in St. Kilman’s?”

He recited the lines to her. He realized that he was trembling. There was a long silence.

“Nope”, she said, eventually. “That doesn’t ring any kind of bell. Should it?”

“Maybe, maybe not. I remember it from school. I think…”

“Hmmm. No. No. Sorry. Nothing. But now I’m fascinated…”

Trevor gave her the vaguest possible context for his question, and wound up the call as quickly as he could. He had a lot of other calls to make. Luckily, he’d kept in touch with almost all of his classmates.

It seemed that most of them were at home tonight, as well. Perhaps they’d stayed in to watch Get Your Groove On. There were fifteen former classmates in his contacts list, and he managed to get through to twelve of them.

To no avail, however. Not a single one of them remembered the chant. Some of them, trying to be helpful, suggested other chants they remembered, but none of them resembled it at all.

He actually got a job offer in the course of his calls. From Brendan Burke, who’d not only gone to school with him, but to college as well. Now Brendan had started a comic shop in Cork, and he wanted Trevor to come work with him.

“But I don’t know anything about comics”, Trevor had protested.

“Not true. I remembered you had good taste in comics. Besides, that’s not the point. You’re smart.”

“But I’d have to move to Cork”.

“That’s the beauty of it, buddy. It would get you out of Gleenfeek. Before it’s too late.”

“I’m happy here.”

“Yes, that’s the problem”, said Brendan. “You’re stagnating, my man. All of the extravagant promise of your youth gone to waste. You’re even having delusions about schoolyard chants, you’ve been cooped up so long.”

“Hardy har, buddy. Thanks for the invitation, but I don’t feel like dealing with a bunch of nerds all day.”

“I’m serious, man. Give in your notice tomorrow. Get on a train within the month. Stay in my house. Make a leap. Do it.”

It took Trevor ten minutes to get Brendan off the phone. He felt a bit rattled. What was so wrong with staying in one place?

When he had made all the calls, he made another cup of tea, and watched the video again. A sense of unreality was beginning to oppress him. Could he really have imagined the chant? Or was it just that nobody else remembered it?

Suddenly the silence of the night was broken. Someone was making a racket in front of the apartments—a man and a woman, shouting.

Trevor hurried to the living room, and discreetly pulled the curtains aside a little.

It was Stewart. He was standing in the street, exchanging profanities with the woman who’d been hanging out of him earlier in the evening. She was telling him she never wanted to see him again, that he disgusted her, that he made her want to puke, and similar sentiments. Stewart was obviously trying to end the exchange, limiting himself to the occasional taunt in response. Eventually the young woman flipped him the finger, and stormed off.

Stewart stood there, glaring after her. Humiliation and fury were written on his face. He kicked a rubbish bin and shouted an obscenity. Suddenly, he didn’t seem sinister at all. He seemed pathetic, childish, little more than a sulky teenager. Trevor felt embarrassed on the younger man’s behalf.

Then phone, which Trevor had left on the kitchen table, began to ring. Trevor let the curtain edge drop, and walked back to pick it up.


“Trevor?” It was Amber, one of the first classmates he’d phoned earlier. “The weirdest thing just happened. I remembered. I remembered the chant.” She sounded excited.

“Really?, Trevor asked, exhilarated.

“Yeah, really”, she said. “A little bit after you called. I was just doing some cleaning up and… well, I guess it came into my head. As though it was yesterday.”

“I was beginning to think that I’d imagined it”, said Trevor. “This is great!”

“Yeah”, said Amber. There was a quaver in her voice. “It’s so weird. So weird. I can see and hear it so clearly now.”

“I only remember the words”, Trevor replied. “Nothing else.”

“It was in fifth class”, said Amber. “It was… well, it was around the time that Damien Keane died.”

Trevor felt as though someone had punched him in the stomach. He grasped for something to say but nothing came.

“What is it, Trevor?”, Amber asked. “Where did we get it from? What does it mean?” She seemed troubled, perplexed.

“I don’t know. I can’t find it anywhere else. I’m beginning to think it’s unique to Glenfeek.”

“But how could that be? I mean, it’s been twenty years. It doesn’t seem—” She stopped, suddenly. “Hang it, that’s the doorbell. Don’t hang up, Trevor. I won’t be long.”

Trevor stood there, the phone to his ear, waiting. His heart was thumping.

The minutes passed. He looked at the clock. It was almost twenty minutes past eleven.

He walked around the kitchen, his mind racing. He cursed whatever fool was at Amber’s door, under his breath. 

Tick tock, tick tock, boo-hoo, boo-hoo,

Old Mr. Rook will come for you…

He walked to the sitting room, impatiently, fretfully. The room was silent. The television screen was dark. He must have turned it off without even thinking about it, earlier on.

Still straining to hear anything on the phone, he picked up the remote control and hit the power button. An image appeared on the screen. It was a crow, standing on the bare branch of a tree, against a grey winter sky. There was no sound.

Trevor hit a button to change the channel, but the screen went dark again.

He stood there, still holding the phone to his ear, hitting button after button on the remote control. But the screen remained dark.

“Amber?”, he called down the phone. “Amber? Are you OK?”

Silence on the other side of the line.

A sound came from the kitchen, making his heart leap. What was it? It was hard to make out. A tap, a rustle, a scratch…?

He walked out, slowly, reluctantly.

The kitchen was empty. Nothing had changed.

He finished his cup of tea. It was cold. His skin was tingling.

You cannot run, you cannot hide

His beak is long, his wings are wide….

He looked back up at the clock. Amber had been gone fifteen minutes.

He heard the sound again—more like a scratch than anything else. It seemed to come from the table.

He looked down at the painting.

The crayoned colours of the picture seemed more vivid than before, almost as though they were glowing. The figure in the centre seemed darker, more solid.

He noticed a bridge in the background of the picture—a bridge hovering high in the air, past the dark figure’s shoulder—a traffic bridge. He hadn’t noticed it before.

Time stood still as he stared into the drawing. The space around him, the kitchen and the rest of the apartment, suddenly seemed unreal, insubstantial. The scene in the picture, for all its strangeness, seemed all-too-real—more real than the visible, tangible world.

And then the apartment around Trevor was gone.

He was standing on Casement Road, the traffic bridge before him.

It was daylight, but the light was dim. He would have said it was the first light of dawn, except that time seemed to have stopped. Everything around him was utterly still—unnaturally still. The light seemed to hang in the air, and there were no shadows. There was no sound.

He looked around him. The houses also had a curiously timeless air about them. There were no satellite dishes, no telephone wires, no cars. The bricks of the houses looked as though they had just been laid.

He was standing in the middle of the road. He became aware that there were two figures standing some distance in front of him, on opposite footpaths, directly across from each other.

On the right, there was Linda—the dead girl. She was dressed in her school uniform. A golden light radiated from her, uncannily. An angelic smile lit her features. She was staring steadily at Trevor.

He turned his gaze to the left, knowing beyond a doubt who he was going to see there. And there he was: Damien, his long-lost friend.

There was an open wound in the place of his left eye, where the rod had penetrated. The wound was not bleeding, but merely black, empty. He, too, was smiling at Trevor, the same golden light surrounding him as surrounded Linda.

And then there was a figure between them, walking towards Trevor. A huge, black, winged figure. An unnaturally tall man, with the head of a crow.

In the distance he heard a chant, as though coming from the throats of thousands of schoolchildren:

Tick tock, tick tock, boo-hoo, boo-hoo

Old Mr. Rook will come for you…

And then, suddenly, the figure walking towards Trevor was no longer huge. It no longer had the head of a crow.

It was an ordinary-sized man—elderly, chubby, with a kind and gentle smile on its lips.

It was Larry Duff.

“You can stay here now, Trevor”, he said. He spoke in his usual, gentle tones, but Trevor could hear every word distinctly, although he was still some distance away.

“What’s happening?”, asked Trevor.

“Don’t worry”, said Larry, reassuringly. “There’s nothing to worry about anymore. Never ever again.”

At those words, panic gripped Trevor’s heart. He felt an indescribable claustrophobia—the horror of confinement, of premature burial, of suffocation. As though the whole universe were shrinking to the dimensions of a tiny, windowless cell.

He felt small hands, children’s hands grasping him from behind— his arms, his legs, all of him. He tried to pull away from them, but it was impossible.

Larry came closer, closer. He was still smiling softly, the same old kind light in his eyes.

The chant had become all-pervading, and the golden light radiating from the two dead children now filled all the space around him. Larry himself was almost invisible behind the gleam. The last thing Trevor saw were the old man’s arms reaching towards him. By the time he felt them squeezing around his torso, all he could see was the shimmering golden gleam.

He felt the breath being squeezed from his lungs, and, simultaneously, something else flooding into his spirit, something more familiar than the sight of his own face…

It was Gleenfeek. Suddenly he knew Gleenfeek—absolutely everything there was to know about it.

Suddenly he remembered—everything. The story of every soul that had lived and died on that spot of ground since its story began. He was home, forever and ever and ever, and nothing was ever going to change.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The neighbours who found Trevor’s body, the next day, found it hard to describe the last expression that was frozen on his face. Was it horror? Or was it ecstasy? Or both?