Joe mentioned something about an eclipse as they drove.
“Ellipsis?” James asked, distracted by the endlessly winding road.
“No, eclipse,” Joe countered.
“Solar?” James asked.
“What’s that smell?” James asked.
Joe looked over into the back seat.
“The dog’s pissed himself again.”
James pulled over and opened the back door. The dog was standing on the seat, panting. He began wagging his tail, oblivious to the day’s significance.
“Come on, out. Out!” James shouted.
“It’s a bit late to be getting him out, isn’t it? I mean, he’s already done his business.”
“Get something to soak the piss up,” James snapped.
The dog was old. His back legs went from under him as he jumped down off the back seat. James pulled him forward as he struggled to get up. The dog righted himself, took a step forward then hunched to take a shit. The shit took longer than anticipated and the dog fell backward into the pile.
“Fuck!” James shouted.
Joe found some tissue and gave the dog a quick wipe down.
“Will I put him back in?” Joe asked, watching the dog dodder by the roadside.
“Leave him the fuck there,” James said. “What good is he to us now?”
Joe shook his head then clapped to get the dog’s attention. He placed him in the back seat again.
The dog was panting. His breath smelled. The more they drove the louder the dog’s panting seemed to become.
“It was a nice funeral,” Joe said.
“Nice? Our mother is dead.”
“I know, James, I know. What I meant was that everything went as planned. And, it was what she would have wanted herself.”
“She would have preferred a hurricane and a tsunami to wash the whole fucking cortege out to sea.”
“Oh, you think that’s funny? Well, it might just be, but not right this minute. For now, let’s just call it the truth. That’s what she would have wished for herself and all those poor fuckers who showed up to see her off. For all I know she could still be with us doing her voodoo.”
“You believe in that sort of thing?”
“She had the malevolence to last an eternity. If ever there was the one she was it. Hey, what’s that?” A man was standing on the roadside leaning against a car.
“He’s flagging us down.”
James pulled up parallel to the man’s car, stopping. He rolled down the window.
“Can we help?” he asked.
“I need a lift into town. There’s no phone coverage out these parts,” the man said.
“Back the way you came,” the man replied.
“What’s wrong with your car?”
“She’s out of juice.”
“Hop in. We’ll take you back.”
The man grabbed a bag off the roof of the abandoned car and got in the back seat of James’ car.
“What’s that smell?” the man asked, once inside.
“Dog everything,” James said.
“You’re not from around here,” the man said.
“No. We’re down for a funeral,” James replied.
“Were you standing out there long?” Joe asked.
“It can be a lonely road at the best of times,” the man said.
The man began talking, pointing out through the car window and telling James and Joe about who owned which field and what crop was growing in it this year and the price per pound of each crop. Wholesale of course. James and Joe weren’t interested. They didn’t care and couldn’t tell the difference between a field and a meadow. The man never shuts up.
“Hey, lad, stop a second. Let me out here,” he shouted suddenly.
“We can’t stop. We have to get home before dark,” James replied.
“It’ll only take a minute. Hold up there boy, now. Let me out.”
James reluctantly slowed down then pulled in.
“Hey boy, look at that. Call the Guards. Them is my cattle.”
“So, they’re your cattle. What’s that got to do with us?” James asked, irritated.
“They’re stolen. He robbed them. I knew it was him. Look at that. Them is my cattle! Call the bloody Guards would you for fuck sake.”
James looked at his watch. He nodded to Joe to get his phone out. The man grabbed the phone from Joe and dialed the number. There was coverage after all. The man then jumped out of the car and climbed the gate into the field.
It was fifteen minutes before a squad car arrived with two guards in it.
“What’s it now, John Boy?” the sergeant asked, meeting the man at the gate.
“Are you not at the service of the people? Do I not pay your wages? Look!” He pointed toward the herd of cows grazing. The sergeant put his arms on the top of the gate and sighed. The other guard stood by the squad car.
“What are we supposed to be looking at now? I haven’t got all day.”
“Those are my cows. He stole them from me.”
The sergeant turned to look at his colleague, taking his hat off and rubbing his hand through his tired hair.
“Is that not your field?”
“And what if it is?”
“Whose cows would be in there if not yours?”
“But he stole them, I tell you. He stole them.”
The sergeant began walking back to the squad car before turning to James and Joe.
“Can I help you lads?” the Guard asked.
“No sergeant, you’re grand. We were just on our way. Thanks,” Joe said.
The squad car took off with a skid, flipping gravel into the ditch. The man turned and rested his arms on the gate watching as the car disappeared down the windy road. James and Joe got into their car.
“Where are you going without me?” he shouted. “You have to take me back into town.”
“You’re nearly there. It’s only a short walk,” James said, turning the car engine on.
“But it’s getting dark.” He jumped the gate as fast as he could and grabbed at the car door handle as James pulled away from the ditch.
“You can’t leave him out here like that,” Joe said.
“Christ!” James said, cutting the engine. “Get in,” he shouted out the window. “We haven’t got all day. We have to be home before dark.”
The man hoisted his baggy trousers up above his waist, rubbed his nose with the back of his hand and spat onto the ground before getting into the car.
They were on the road less than a minute when the man spoke.
“Is one of you farting up there?” he asked.
The two brothers looked at each other and laughed.
“That’s the dog.”
“He’s doing a lot of farting,” the man said.
“There’s nothing we can do. He’s not our dog.”
“Whose is he?”
“My mother’s,” James replied.
“And where’s she?”
“We left her back in the graveyard.”
“And what did she leave you?” the man asked.
“Nothing!” James said.
“The dog,” Joe added.
“Who got what she had?”
“You’re getting a lift. Just leave it at that,” James said.
“I see,” the man said, shutting up.
On the outskirts of town, they came to a petrol station. James pulled in.
“I’m not going into that place,” the man said.
“Why not? It sells petrol doesn’t it?” James said.
“Look at the prices!”
“You only need a sup to get you moving again.”
“No, not doing it. Mick Conaty owns this station anyway.”
“Who the fuck is Mick Conaty and why should I give a fuck who owns it?” James said.
The man didn’t respond, instead of turning his head to the side and staring hard out the window. James banged the steering wheel with both hands and continued on into town. He stopped at the next petrol station.
“It’s either this one or goodbye,” James said, turning the engine off and pulling the keys out.
“Grand,” the man replied. “But I’ll need a container.”
“I can’t carry the petrol in my pockets, now, can I?”
“Let me check to see if there’s one in the back,” Joe said. All three exited the car. There was a large plastic container in the boot. The man pushed both brothers aside and grabbed it. Behind the container was a wheel brace. The man hesitated long enough for James and Joe to move away. He grabbed the wheel brace and slipped it up his jacket sleeve.
Joe and James had a smoke on the street while the man filled the container with petrol.
“What are we going to do with this fucker?” James asked Joe.
“It’s on our way home. No harm done. Don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world.”
After paying, the man stopped outside to talk to someone he knew.
“Jesus, this fucker is driving me demented. Look, it’s nearly dark,” James said, returning to the forecourt.
“He’ll be finished in a second. He’s only chatting with a friend,” Joe said, following after him.
James checked his watch. They’d already smoked two cigarettes and had just lit up a third when an employee came out and told them there was no smoking on the forecourt. James, cigarette in hand, walked over to the man and demanded that he leave now.
“In a minute. In a minute,” the man replied. “And you shouldn’t be smoking on the forecourt either.”
James smashed his cigarette into the ground with his foot and headed back to the car.
“What’s your rush?” the man asked, finally getting into the car.
James pulled out onto the road hastily. The car jolted forward unexpectedly. The dog farted.
“I can take that thing off your hands if you like,” the man said, pushing the dog away from him.
“How?” Joe asked.
“Don’t worry how. I just will. Fifty euro and you’ll never smell another fart.”
“How?” James insisted.
“A bog hole.”
“The dog is fine,” James replied.
Leaving the bright lights of town behind them, the man gave James directions back to his car. It was now dark as James meandered down seemingly endless boreens. James questioned the man’s directions twice to no avail.
“Just beyond the ditch there,” the man finally said.
James sighed, slowing down to take the bend.
“Pull in! Pull in!” the man shouted, jumping out of the car before James had come to a complete stop.
“Me car! Where’s me bucking car?” the man shouted, pointing into the darkness.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Joe asked.
“Sure I’m sure.”
“It doesn’t look the same to me,” James piped in.
“Don’t tell me I’m wrong. You’re not from here. This is the place.”
“Doesn’t look like the same place to me,” James repeated.
“I’m telling you it is the same place. The car’s been robbed on me.”
“No, it hasn’t. You’re just mistaken about where you left it.”
“I’m not mistaken. I know who stole it and I’ll get him. Take me into the Guards.”
“I’m not your fucking taxi!” James shouted.
But the man was already heading toward the car and hadn’t heard him.
The two brothers strolled down the road a bit to see if the car was there. When they came back the man had the dog out on a leash.
“He needs to stretch his legs,” he said, when he saw the brothers approach.
James and Joe took the opportunity for another smoke. The man turned his back and allowed the wheel brace to slide down his sleeve and into his hand. He glanced behind him, pulled the dog closer and then hit it a quick sharp wallop of the wheel brace on top of the head. The dog collapsed to the ground, lifeless.
James and Joe reacted as soon as they heard the dog hit the ground, and came running.
“What happened?” Joe asked, lighting a match over the dog.
“He just collapsed,” the man said. “Legs went from under him. Must have been a massive heart attack. I seen this thing happen before with farm animals.”
James got down on his knees and checked the dog’s condition.
“Dead as a doornail. I hope when my time comes that I go as quick,” the man said.
“Are you sure he’s dead?” James asked, standing up. The man knelt down, put his ear to the dog’s belly and then this hand over the dog’s mouth.
“He’s a goner. Struck stone dead he was. He’s gone to doggy heaven and he’s not coming back. Unless you want to give him mouth to mouth,” the man said, laughing.
James and Joe looked at each other.
“Help me throw him into the ditch there,” the man said, grabbing the dog by the hind legs.
“We’re not throwing him anywhere,” Joe said, turning to James.
James shook his head. He looked at the dog and then at the car. The man was already dragging the dog over toward the ditch.
“Jesus!” James said. “We’ll take him home and bury him in the mother’s back garden.”
“That’s decent of you,” the man said, abruptly letting go of the dog’s legs. “But wouldn’t it be as handy to bury him here?”
“Where?” James asked.
“Here! With your mother like.”
“The graveyard’s only a couple of mile from here. It’d be as handy to go there as to take the thing all the way back with you.
“A couple of miles! We’ve been driving for hours and you say the graveyard’s only a few miles away?”
“It feels like that to you because you’re not from the place. Come on. I know the way. I’ll get you there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”
Joe lit another match. James knocked it out of his hand.
A full moon showered light down on the empty cemetery. The man was the first one out of the car. He disappeared through the cemetery gates. James and Joe carried the dog to their mother’s burial plot. The man was already there waiting, standing over the open grave.
“How’d you know which grave it was?” James asked, irritated.
“There’s not much I don’t know. You city lads just don’t get it, do you? Listen! Did you hear that?”
“The banshee. She’s out there keening for someone. There’ll be a death tonight. Mark my words.”
“Banshee my arse. Who do you think we are?” James blasted back at him.
“Two city lads who haven’t a clue.”
“Well, contrary to what you think, we certainly do have a clue.”
“Anyways, are we going to bury this thing tonight or what? It’s getting late.” He pointed to two shovels he’d gotten from the gravediggers’ shed. James grabbed one and Joe the other.
“Bury him good and deep and no one’ll be any the wiser when they come back to fill it in.”
James went to look for another cigarette but found he’d none left. He flung the empty box into the dark behind him.
“Addiction’s a curse,” the man announced. “Come on then, get digging. We haven’t got all night.” The soil was soft and easy to shovel. James and Joe took turns in the grave, excavating.
“What’s that now then?” the man said when he heard the spade hit something solid.
Joe clambered out of the hole in a hurry.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. “I just hit the coffin I think.”
“What did you expect to hit? You mother’s china set?” the man joked.
James nodded at Joe to climb back down and continue.
“No fucking way. You’re on your own with this one, James,” he said, backing away.
“You’re nothing but a chicken,” James said, jumping down into the grave again.
He had the remaining soil cleared in minutes, the coffin lid now visible in the moonlight.
“I thought it was a darker brown than that,” Joe said, staring down into the hole.
“What are you talking about?” James said, taking a quick glance about him to make sure they had the correct grave. “Hey, where’s that gobshite gone to?” he shouted.
Joe turned to look.
“He’s probably gone for a piss.”
A car engine started up over on the road.
“Who the hell is that at this time of night?” Joe asked.
“Fuck!” shouted James.
“Oh, fuck me!” replied Joe.
James scampered across the coffin lid slipping on the damp soil and cracking the lid as he climbed up the side. By the time he’d caught up with Joe, Joe had tripped and fallen over one of the headstones.
“My head. I’m fucking bleeding,” he screamed.
James helped him up. There was a gash on his forehead. Blood oozed from the cut. James lit a match for a closer look.
“You’re fine. The banshee didn’t come out tonight looking for you. You’ll live.”
He led Joe out through the cemetery gates to the lonely road. The car was gone. They trudged back slowly to the grave.
“Look!” Joe shouted, pointing to the sky. “I told you. It’s a lunar eclipse.”
James looked up at the sudden darkness.
“Take a closer look, you idiot. It’s cloud.”
“It could’ve been an eclipse.”
“Yeah, coulda, shoulda.”
James grabbed a spade while Joe went to get the dog.
“You don’t think he took the dog as well, do you?” Joe asked, searching about for the animal.
“Keep looking. He can’t have gone far. He’s dead for fuck sake.”
After a minute or so Joe tripped over a lump on the ground.
“He’s over here!” he shouted.
James followed the sound of Joe’s voice.
“Jesus, I don’t remember leaving him this far from the grave. Do you?” James asked.
“He’s right up against the cemetery wall. That’s not possible, is it?”
They lifted the dog over and laid him on the edge of the grave. James searched his pocket for cigarettes as he watched the cloud slowly clear the moon.
“Oh no!” Joe shouted.
James turned and saw the dog slip off the edge into the grave. The dog belly flopped onto the coffin lid, widening the crack James had put in it earlier. They looked down at the dog coming to rest and saw their mother’s partially visible face made bright by the now fully reinstated moonlight. They rushed to their respective spades and plunged them frantically into the clay. Clumps of damp soil hit the coffin-like muffled echoes. From the thumps and thuds of falling sods came a piercing yelp.
“The banshee,” Joe screamed. “The man was right.” He threw his shovel to the ground and took off. James ran after him and dragged him back.
“You’re not going anywhere. Grab that spade and get to work.”
There was a second yelp. Both men stood frozen by the graveside. James leaned over and looked down into the hole. His head jerked back suddenly and he was forced to use the spade to stop himself falling into the grave.
“What? What is it, James?” Joe asked, trembling, and cowering behind his brother, holding onto his jacket. The yelping turned to a faint whine.
“Come on for fuck sake. Hurry up. Get shoveling! Get shoveling!”
– Larry Deery
Larry Deery lives in New Mexico. He writes short stories.