A short piece of flash fiction submitted for the Halloween Contest on the Horror! Group on Scribophile. The prompt had to be based on the Wikipedia entry for Halloween. This led down a rabbit hole of links, until I ended up with this:
Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?
Lady Wynn slid the cast iron pot across the stones and further from the flame before lifting the heavy lid. A cloud of steam rose to the timbers and thatch, smelling of bacon and onions. She plunged her wooden spoon into the mash and stirred. The potatoes were drying out, leaving a hard, yellow skin around the outside, but she had no more milk or butter to add. Instead, she threw another handful of fresh greens- a particularly succulent species of ground Ivy that grew in the churchyard- into the pot.
“It must do,” she thought. “I hope he gets here soon.”
She replaced the lid, but did not move it back to the fire and tottered over to the small, rough door set into the front wall of the stone house. she opened it up and peered out into the darkness.
Her house was separated from the road by a low stone fence. She had set a lantern on the fence, to draw any travellers to her this night, and it provided the only illumination as dense clouds rolling off the sea to the west had hidden the moon.
Across from her, the ruins of the McGovern’s farm was a tangled mass of trees and overgrown hedges blowing in the autumn wind. Catty corner, the old Catholic Churc was Dark. The Priest seldom visited anymore, preferring to stop directly at Wynn’s house to serve hear her confession and serve her the Eucharist. She wondered if it was bad memories that kept him away. And on the last corner, was the little graveyard, but the less said about that…She crossed herself and closed the door.
Lady Wynn made her way back to the rocking chair next to the fire and picked up the bolt of fabric and scissors. She needed to have the Murray’s christening gown finished. The poor dear was due in a month, but she had seen the omens. The baby was coming soon, but was to be healthy. At least, that’s what she had told the Mr. And Mrs. Seldom were things so cut and dried in this age.
Soon enough she dozed off, and was startled awake by the sound of a horse drawing up on the road, followed by the chickens being startled awake. The candle hadn’t yet burnt down, so it wasn’t too late for the visitor, but still she reached under the chair and pulled the pistol into her lap, making sure the flint was cocked.
Her visitor rapped lightly on the door.
“Come in, darn you. I’m awake now.”
The door opened and a dandy fine traveller in wool slacks and a velvet coat stooped to come inside, removing his cap as he did so.
“Excuse me, Madam. I saw your lantern and need some assistance. I seem to be lost.”
She gave him the eye, then uncocked the pistol and set it underneath her before standing.
“Fine. Have a seat.”
“I don’t mean to intrude-”
“But here you are then.” She waved the spoon at him and then pointed to the rough hewn table. “Let’s get you some dinner and warmed up and have you on your way.”
The traveller sat down and removed his linen gloves as Wynn spooned the colcannon into two bowls. She set them on the table, then returned to a small oak cabinet in the corner, retrieving spoons, cups, a pewter jug of water and a basket of cold rolls.
“I’m much obliged madam. I don’t mean to interrupt your evening.”
“Oh, it’s long past evening now, isn’t it. I wouldn’t be a good Catholic if I didn’t help those unfortunate souls who find their way here, now would I?”
He frowned and stirred the Mash. Wynn Sat down across from him.
“You’d be Irish then? I thought your folk were down in Swansea.”
“Most are. A few tried to make a go of it here in the Black Mountain. I’m About all that’s left.”
He brightened up at that.
“Oh Good. I was on my way from Newport to Herefordshire and I-”
“Got lost on the moors near round Abergavenny, where you were to stop for the night.” She sighed. ” It happens to you lot a bunch.”
He frowned again and stared into his bowl. Perhaps I took it too far, Wynn thought. I’ve insulted the lad.
“Never you mind. We’ll get you sorted out. There’s a pub down the pike a bit, tell them Old Lady Wynn Sent you and they’ll keep you for the night and send you on your way.”
“I’d be much obliged ma’am.”
Just then the wind kicked up and gusted around the stone house.
“I hope it’s not too far. I’ve already had quite the adventure and don’t know how much more of this I can take.”
“Oh, it’s just a little wind and darkness on All Hallow’s. Surely a strapping lad like you don’t worry about fairy tales.”
“You don’t know the half of it. There was this boar in the road. Frightened the Horse half to death and chased us up here like you wouldn’t believe. I had to fire several shots at it, but it wouldn’t stop.”
A shudder ran down Wynn’s spine and pooled into her feet. The traveler stopped at the stricken look at her face.
“Did you…Did you hit it?”
“I don’t think so. It didn’t stop. I hope it wasn’t one of yours.”
“No. I don’t keep. But listen to me William, are you sure it was a Boar? Any chance it was a sow?”
” I don’t know. It was huge. If you Irish are breeding Sows that big up here…Well, I’ve ne’er seen one like that.”
“And a tail? Did it have a tail?”
“It was chasing me. I mean…We came upon it in the road and it attacked us. The horse spooked, and it chased us down the road. We missed out turnoff and ended up here.”
“Did it have a tail, Wiliam?”
Wynn pushed her bowl of Colcannon away and stared into his eyes.
“I don’t know. No. No I didn’t see a tail.”
The hair on the back of here neck stood up. She thought she heard something along the road. The soft trotting of some large animal. She stood up and turned to grab a poker out of the fire.
“Hey!,” William called her. “How’d you know my name? I didn’t tell you.”
She used the poker to fish two stones out of the fire. Too hot to handle, she used the Ash shovel to turn themover. On one, she was relieved to find her name. The other, the one the Aos Si had told her to write the name ‘William’, was blank. She turned back to him.
“I’m sorry William,” she said with true grief in her voice. “You have to go now. I can’t help you.”
“How did you know my name!” William shouted.
There was an inhuman scream from outside. Wynn placed it down the road, but moving fast. Willam’s horse snorted and stamped outside. The house had no windows in the front, so Wynn flung open the door. The horse was panicking, pulling on it’s reins.
“That is the cutty black sow. This is her night, and you’re doomed.”
There was a scream again, closer this time, and William’s hand went to his hip, But his pistol wasn’t in his belt. He must have left it in its holster on the saddle after firing at Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta the first time he encountered her, Wynn knew.
“I’m so sorry William. You need to go untie your horse before it’s here.”
William swallowed hard, his eyes wide.
“No. I think..I think I’ll impose on you and spend the night here. If you’ll let me?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t do that. You know I can’t do that. She’ll just come inside, and then I’ll have to clean up the mess anyway.”
A gust of wind blew the lantern on the wall out, plunging the scene into darkness. The wind was roaring through the bushed across the road, but even so, the next time the sow bellowed she heard it plainly. It was on the other side of the little cemetery.
“Please William. She’s waiting.”
“What Did I do? What Did you Do?”
“Nothing. Nothing. You got lost. It wasn’t your fault. People get lost up here all the time.”
“Will I make it to the Pub?”
She found the lie came easily. Easier than to the Murrays, anyway.
She saw the light go out of his eyes: she hadn’t fooled him. His whole body sagged as he realized what she meant. But somewhere he found the courage, and straightened himself up.
“Well, Then.” He placed his cap on his head and tightened it down. ” I best be off then.”
He ducked through the door, then turned back to her.
“I’d hate to be a bother. The Colcannon was delicious.” He stopped to give her a quick kiss on the top of her forehead. “I’m really, truly sorry to be leaving.”
And with that he was bounding across the yard. He leapt over the fence and in one quick movement had untied the horse and leapt on its back. He gave her a wave as the horse reared up, and turn and raced down the road.
Wynn peered into the darkness at the graveyard. Was that Her? She thought she saw something moving among the tombstones, a larger, darker shape. She squinted harder. Was that two red dots, two eyes?
The beast screamed again. This time she definitely heard it leaping from the graveyard to the road. It raced past her little house, and she felt it radiating both hellfire and an icy cold chill at the same time There was a quick, overpowering stench of graverot that forced her back fro the open door and made her cover her face, then it was gone.
She listened for a moment, but was loath to lean into the open door and into the night. Soon, the wind died down, and there was nothing but quiet.
She sighed again and closed the door.
Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I.
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I’m to cry.
Oh, wasn’t it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot.