The Tragic History Of Aisling Ó Rathaille
(Or The Myomancer)
By Aodhagán Ó Rathaille
Aisling was never a strange child – not when we considered the very many stranger people that dwell around here. She kept herself to herself but then who could blame her? And as dutifully protective parents we were needless to say delighted that she preferred her own company to that of the unquestionably sinister orphans with which this island is undoubtedly over populated.
When we moved into The House, I confess there were noises ; the wind moved through the pneumanated marrow of the place and the timbers gave it voice. That is what we assumed. And The House was so very beautiful back then, standing proud on a set of impressive rock arches near the cliff edge like a last bastion of sanity and hope erected by some bold and indomitable architect.
So very pretty. So very very sad.
Aisling loved The House. She even asked us to have built for her an ornate replica for her bedroom and she filled it with dolls and spent almost every hour playing happily with it. It was a task to get her to go to bed and even, on occasion, we would wake in the night to find her busy arranging the furniture there ‘just so.’
I say dolls. I think it was late October when we noticed they were puddle rats.
“I’d like you to play a game with me,” Aisling said. We were in the parlour after church, entertaining half the town as usual. Aisling hardly ever invited audience or participant to her private pastimes and so, as doting parents, we were naturally intrigued by this sudden change in temperament. As were the children in the party for I believe they looked to Aisling as something of a paradigm, you know? Some Poetic Vision of childhood…
“I’m going to tell your fortunes,” Aisling said brightly. Everything about her was bright. Her black curls gleamed in the candleglow and her neat pleat skirts caught the radiance as it blistered over the grain like fire woven into the fabric. The afternoon had promised to be a dull one but now the winged thing’s mantra thrummed through the heart of the little gathering and we fairly giggled and tweeted our way up the simple white painted staircase to the nursery.
How I had failed to notice the changes that my daughter had wrought to her beloved dolls house I cannot say. Where she had found the time, the skill, and the mechanical components I am also at a loss to fathom. Suffice to say each of the tiny intricate replica rooms was now a tiny intricate chamber of death.
Parental duty no doubt dictates that if One’s child appears to have constructed a portable torture chamber worthy of the most depraved and fanciful minds of The Inquisition itself, One ought really to put One’s foot down and confiscate the damn thing at once.
Somewhere in the more primal recesses of my mind I am certain I acknowledged this wise course of action. But I did not act upon it. I simply stared. We all stared.
“You, Harriet. You may go first.”
The small child nodded in a small way and shuffled forward.
“Choose a Guide,” Aisling pointed to a birdcage by the window and if our jaws were not already hanging a little slack they now hit the floor in unison. The cage was crammed full of puddle rats, each dressed in a hideous array of silks, satins and lace. Each like a little animate doll. Why had we not noticed them before? Where was the stench that notoriously accompanied these rabid rodents? A faint perfume of heather and primrose hung about the room and as little Harriet cautiously approached the cage, the muttering began.
I have said before that we thought the old house plagued by vocal drafts, but as soon as I heard those lispering, whispering voices I knew these creatures had been living in our walls from the moment of our arrival.
What they were saying I cannot tell you but perhaps Harriet knew for she seemed obviously drawn to one particularly large female rat in a lavender skirt and poke bonnet.
Aisling smiled and withdrew the rat from the cage, sending the others into a wild frenzy of shrieks and howls. Carefully she placed the rat into the centre hallway of the house and then we all watched and waited and felt uncomfortable and hoped that someone else would intervene or voice the ethical objections we knew they must be feeling… but no one spoke or moved except the puddle rat.
It spent a theatrical amount of time sniffing the doors to each of the rooms and pondering the staircase before finally climbing it to the top floor and perishing with dignity in the bath full of acid.
Aisling turned to the traumatised Harriet and beamed “Tomorrow you will go tree climbing. You will fall and break your collar bone but if you dig under the place where you fell you will find a small casket buried there and inside it is an emerald brooch.”
Our guests erupted in ecstasy; the drama, the terror, the excitement … some demon had a clasp on their hearts for sure as they eagerly jostled and shoved to be next in line for The Game – for that was obviously what it was, a game, a fancy, a titillation to alleviate the boredom of another Hopelessly damp October afternoon and at length when each had had their turn we closed the door on the backs of a crowd whose bellies were full of nondescript vegetablish stew and whose souls were elevated by a tasteful mix of revulsion and whimsy.
The next day young Harriet went tree climbing, fell and broke her collar bone and, when her parents dug rabidly beneath the twisted tree she had fallen from, they discovered a casket that contained an emerald brooch.
Our lives were changed forever.
Day in, day out the door rang off its hinges with townsfolk wanting their fortunes told by our little Aisling, until in the end we took the damn thing down completely and let the queue of desperate bodies trail out down the garden path and along the street.
Aisling seemed to thrive on it all at first, at least we thought she did, looking back I suppose we simply failed to see what was happening. I said before she seemed bright that day back in October – everything about her seemed to shine. As the days and weeks and months went by this strange ethereal glow became increasingly intense until it were better likened to an unearthly luminescence. Her eyes no longer captured the gleam of light external but were lit from within by a feverish flame and seemed never to focus upon anything apart from her beloved puddle rats.
The rats kept coming. We never saw them appear but the cage was always full to bursting with them and the people kept on coming too. Everything seemed fine, after a fashion, and we certainly couldn’t complain about the gifts and gratitude lavished upon us by all those who had been assisted by Aisling’s predictions, but fate will notoriously turn …
It had apparently been a long and uncharacteristically clement summer, though we had seen none of it, and it was coming to a close when Aisling suddenly Took Ill. That was the story we put about. The doctor came but we sent him away with a nonchalant wave and a confident smile; she would be fine, just fine in a day or two, nothing to worry about, do call back on Thursday for tea…
Upstairs we drew the shutters as Aisling frothed and raved and foamed and screamed, her pupils like dinner plates and her whole body robed in some vile, pulsing, misamatic aura that reeked of heather and primroses. She didn’t speak, but when she opened her mouth the spittling, spattling voices of the puddle rats spoke through her – they were not happy, they wanted The House for a temple, they wanted the townsfolk for slaves, Aisling was their Oracle, their Priestess, their Queen and they would rule this island through her flesh…
The island of Hopeless was blighted, they said, and overrun with monsters, clergy and demons, but all was not lost if only we would listen to the puddle rats, who only desired to be our benevolent custodians and guides…
If we chose not to embrace our Salvation however, the Hopeless Situation would only become increasingly dire; we would be visited by the Plagues of Egypt, the Plague Of The Black Death, The Plague Of The Red Death, The Plague Of Justinian, The Plague of The Continent and The Common Cold, which of course no man can endure.
We nodded sagely, we soothed, we simpered, we cringed, we cowered, we begged, we eventually took the matter to the town elders. My wife and I have always been law abiding citizens, when it comes down to it, and we both agreed that, doting parents or not, when we signed the Birth Certificate it said nothing about ‘Duty Of Care In The Event Of Sinister Rodent Possession’.
The overwhelming consensus of our fellow townsfolk was that we did not, really, all things considered, wish to be ruled over by vermin – who does? And so we did what every other town in human history has done, and I hope will continue to do, when faced with a den of rats attempting to lord power over them ; with no piper in sight, we set flame to our torches, sharpened our pitch forks and, in the depths of night, we marched upon The House.
I cannot say if the creatures sensed the intention of our Midnight Court or heard our lusty cries of “Tie an anchor of brandy to her, To give a dram to the seals! ” and so forth, if mayhap the unseen Fates chose to intervene for their own amusement , or if what happened next was mere coincidence … as we crossed the scrap of heath towards the cliffs, the links between the rock arches on which The House stood, began to crumble into the pulsing waves below.
If you are a Student of Geography , a Celtic Bard or a fanatic of Bostonian Gothic Fiction you will have seen that coming from the outset, but we did not and so the entire town simply stood, impotent weapons in hand, watching as the bridge between ourselves and our demons came crashing down into the sea.
It is decades now since those events took place. The House still stands upon its rock stack, so covered with lichen, moss and fungi that it seems to have grown up out of the landscape rather than having been built upon it. Whether or not the creature that was once my daughter still resides within I cannot say but every now and then, when a family becomes desperate and no other course of action can be found, a lone rowing boat may be seen, late in the evening or under a shining sliver of yellow moon, making its way across the foam towards the stack.
And this night it is my turn to set oar to rowlock and brave the surf, I am not much longer for this world and my conscience is resolved to make certain the fate of my beautiful daughter before the devils come and claim my soul for good – for how else will I be able to claim the epitaph ‘Father Of The Aisling’ upon my tombstone?
Written by Lou Pulford, set in Hopeless, Maine.