We’d met in Doolin when I was on my hiking tour around Ireland, right down the road from McGann’s at Gus O’Connor’s. I still remember the Saturday night we’d cuddled at the counter, so entangled I could smell the scent of sea spray and wild grass on the nape of her neck. We made love that night in the bluffs just east of the pub on the outskirts of the town in the cool, thick grass. That morning I’d pretended to continue on my hiking tour; but that evening I was back at O’Connor’s slow dancing with her into the night. Though we fell for each other fairly fast as love stories go, we never really ran into any relational snags—except for my liking to party.
Damn it, but there I go calling it the way she sees it. I’m not really a partier, going hard until I drop. I know my limits. I just like to drink with others and get a little rowdy on special days. And she knows I don’t fool around. It’s just…she wants me to drink and fool around only with her. Unfortunately (well…unfortunately’s the word I’d use in my current state of mind. Fortunately’s what I’d say when I’m sober), she’s one of those god damn red heads, one of the really dark, super possessive reds who’s as wildly unpredictable as she is sexually wild. I’ve never gotten a good sense of just exactly what she’s thinking, and at times she’s downright baffling: one night necking with me at a public restaurant, the next acting all shy at a local bar we’ve danced in before. She’s a Scorpio, and I suppose her loyalty and my devotion to that loyalty is why we’re still together.
Which is why I’d walked all the way back from the Lisdoonvarna festivities, half-drunk, aching for her pale, gentle arms, to make amends.
When I hit R459, I walked south into Doolin. By that time, it was nearing 3 a.m. and the moon was riding high through dense clouds. My mind was already pretty well clear of the Guinness (just about to the point where I began wondering how I’d managed to knock back so much of that piss-tasting stuff), and when I crossed the bluffs leading into town, the stiff sea breezes smote me with an invigorating chill. But as I passed on south the lively chill became uncomfortable, and fearing a head cold by morning I stopped into McGann’s Pub to get out of the wind and enjoy something sweet and warming.
At the front door I cursed, smacking my forehead, realizing I’d walked all the way to a local establishment that would in no way be open at that late hour. Angry more at my self-deception and lingering inebriation than at the Pub’s closure, I kicked one of the nearby green picnic benches and turned back towards the road.
That’s when I heard a commotion within and saw one of the dark upstairs windows glow with orangey light. Still in surprise, I turned and saw the front door open. A dark figure emerged, silhouetted by the relative brightness, and stepped slowly, almost gracefully, into the narrow street. I blinked and saw it was a girl—a slender, shapely girl with raven-black hair. I gaped, shameless, stunned, realizing it was none of the familiar employees and no local lass. Though neither of us spoke I felt called to, and I walked back until I stood under the pub’s small overhang. At the same moment I neared, she advanced as if to meet me, with such a brash step that I was sure she might embrace me. Anticipating her arms, I reached out with mine. She laughed, a queer, low sort of laugh, stopping just short of my fingertips. She wrapped her body around one of the overhang’s green posts as if to tempt me with her litheness, arms and legs positively ivy-like as they clasped the support. She stuck out her pierced tongue, her mouth rude yet almost playful. She tossed her head.
“Is someone upstairs?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“Were you upstairs?”
She smiled just barely, the corners of her mouth even more playful than her delicate brows. “Come in and have a drink?”
Hypnotized, I followed her in. She closed the door behind me as I stood at the counter, and as she jogged back I stared ravenously at her small bosom, studying the bounce of her breasts and shamelessly comparing their firmness to Nuala’s with narrowed eyes. Leaning on her elbows she stared into my face, her eyes suddenly sympathetic. “On the way home after a long day’s play?” I paused, deliberating the degree of frankness with which I should answer.
“Yes,” I said, meeting her gaze. “How did you know?”
“You seem tired, dazed. Flushed.”
“I am tired, but not flushed from the walk. I’ve been in Lisdoonvarna.”
“And walked all this way?”
“You must be cold!”
“Not really. I’m not—”
Her frankness startled me. “Not fatigued or cold, I mean. But yes, I am married.” “I thought so. You look like you are.”
“Is there actually a look one gets?”
“Yes,” she said slowly, “It’s a calmness, a knowing deep within the eyes.” As she spoke, she leaned forward, holding my gaze, until our noses almost touched. “What’ll it be?” I shivered at her abruptness.
“We’ve got something new you might like,” she continued without waiting for my answer. “It’s a flavored whiskey, perfect for a lonely night.” She produced a tall, rectangular bottle full of a deep, ambery fluid. She grabbed a shot glass and filled it to the brim with one swift tip of the bottle, then sent it across the counter to me. I picked it up and smelled it.
“It smells like cinnamon.”
“Correct! It’s called Sinfire. Tastes like the old red hot candies, but hotter and with a wonderful bite.”
I laughed, incredulous. “Sinfire?”
She leaned once more on her elbows. “Oh it’s not sinful. Only people are.”
“Does that include you?”
Her eyes flashed, but she smiled. “Perhaps.”
I pretended to cough. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Yes, short for Cynthia.”
I cocked my eyebrow. “Explain something to me. How is it you guys are open so late? Was there a party here in Doolin I hadn’t heard about?”
“Hey,” she said, licking her lips. “Why so curious?”
“McGann’s has never been open this late. Ever. Even on St. Paddy’s Day.”
“Well…it is now. Just for you.” She flexed her shoulders.
I set the shot glass down. “Cyn, I don’t mean to repeat myself, but I’ve lived here for over five years. This pub is one of my favorites and…it’s never been open this late. I’m just on my way home and, call me crazy but I’m curious: why’d you open up for me? Seems like you ran down from the upstairs just to serve me.”
“When I see a nice fellow all alone in the street, should I let him pass by? It is St. Paddy’s Day.”
I tapped the counter. “Are you new here? I was here last week and all the same staff were here: Tommy, Dean, Jim, Darren.”
“They were all here when I got here, too,” she said, fiddling with the bottle of Sinfire.
“You know Darren? Are you a regular here? I’ve not seen you.”
She poured herself a shot and sipped the aromatic whiskey. After licking her lips again, she stared into my eyes as she had when asking me about my marriage to Nuala. “I do. I’m his girlfriend.”
“Ah. So you’re not from here.”
“No. But I am here now.”
Her sudden change of tone made me shiver. “So, Darren was here and just left you to clean up after him?” I said, trying to lighten the conversation with some transparency. “Some inside info from a long-time friend: he always does that to his girlfriends. You seem to be his latest dumping ground. No offense, I just tell things like they are.”
She smiled, her mouth wry with dismissive amusement. “He’s…quite the fellow. But sex nearly makes up for every flaw.”
Her frankness again startled me. I took the bottle from her and poured another glass. “I guess some don’t mind that. I guess feminism means you can choose to overlook what you want.”
I knew I’d gone a little far with that statement, so I quickly smiled with more than my usual grin. Her face remained unchanged and piercingly determined. “Does the same hold true for men?”
“Of course it does,” I admitted, over-exuberant in order to compensate for my boldness.
“So…is that why I keep catching you staring at my chest, despite yourself?”
“I’m not staring at your chest, Cyn.” I laughed, amused.
“Yes you are. You just can’t stop looking at these babies bursting under my shirt.”
“Well, despite you being excessive with your descriptive adjectives, no I haven’t been staring. I looked once, and that was because you wanted me to see. And I didn’t see much.”
She furrowed her brows. “Oh? Do you think I’m judging you?”
I looked up, surprised.
“Because I’m not,” she continued. “I might be cynical, but I’m not a bitch. I guess you could say I’m one of those girls who likes being stared at. A lot.”
“Well, you haven’t stopped trying, I’ll give you that.”
“Your wife, does she—”
“Cyn—I don’t mean to be rude but that’s none of your business. I mean she is none of your business.”
She smiled, amused. “Look, I know you’re heading back to her. But you’re in here now. I know you’ve been comparing her to me. And I know the only reason you’re staring is because you must see something she doesn’t have. Is it my ass? My hair? My tiny body? Do you have a fetish for small things? Some guys do and they hide it, trying to blend in with all the other men who chase the fake and disproportioned. Is she fake and disproportioned? I can tell you that I’m not. In fact, I’ll show you I’m not.”
She placed her hands on her hips, playing with the hem of her top. Before she pulled it over her head, I spun around, downed my shot, and headed for the door. “Cyn, no disrespect but you’re a little too eager for me. It’s been a long night. Thanks for the…cinnamon stuff. Just like the candy.” I reached for the door.
She suddenly appeared in front of me, mouth open, eyes half open, hand pulling her hair back behind her ears. I hadn’t heard her scramble. I hadn’t even heard her footsteps. How she reached the door before me left me cold with a feeling I hadn’t felt for years: fear.
She laughed again with that queer, low laugh. “I can drain all that male energy and leave you gasping for more.”
I stared out the panes in the white door, fear reducing any curiosity I’d had for her to mental ash. “The gasping part I believe. I don’t like being out of breath.”
She exhaled, her frustration growing. “You do have a fetish for small things don’t you? I know you do. It’s why you married Nuala.”
“How the hell do you know that? How do you know her name?” I exploded. I grabbed her shoulder. “Did Darren tell you this shit? Did you drain him of all sense and got him to gossip. What a Nancy!”
She chuckled, shaking under my grip. “I don’t need Darren to tell me anything.” “Bullshit, he told you!” I feigned incredulity. But the fierceness in her eyes told me that she somehow knew. No one had told her. She wasn’t lying. She just knew these things about me. I reeled and let go of her, afraid she might tell the fuzz I’d raped her.
“Cyn, let’s just call it a night, huh? No harm done, I appreciate the drink.”
“Call it a night? Call it a night? I want you. I have made that impossibly clear and you just want to walk away?” She reached out to touch me.
I moved to grab her wrist, then let go, again afraid she’d accuse me come daybreak. “Want me? You don’t even know my name? Girls usually want that so they can raid your accounts,” I joked. She didn’t laugh. She grabbed my neck and gripped hard. Her hand was like iron. My skin began to burn with that stinging sensation only things of extreme cold confer.
“This can either be heaven or hell. It’s all what you let it be. I want you. You don’t have to want me. But I think it will go better if you do.”
Fear made the tension in my neck become unbearable. I held up my hands. I strove to suppress the terror welling in my eyes. I tried to think of some way to placate her enough to get free of her grasp. I yielded and stared into her face. Her eyes glimmered like glass, and in the dimness of the pub her hair seemed incandescent, lit with rippling purple flames that formed a deadly crown on her head. She licked her lips, playing with the piercings in her tongue.
“Kiss me,” she begged through gritted teeth.
“Kiss me…prove you love me and no one else…and I promise you’ll live.”
I glanced out the door. Then at her. “Alright,” I said. My lips shook. I struggled to breathe. I reached up to touch her chest. She smiled, seeing my willingness. Still holding me at bay, she chuckled. “I like a man who tries through pain.”
I grinned, feigning amusement. I stroked the arm that restrained me. “I also like a woman who can handle pain.”
Before she could let go I drew my nails across her forearm as hard as I could manage. She shrieked in surprise. I managed to reach with my other hand and scrape her once more in the same place. Now she howled, pulling me with her against the door. She bit her tongue and the blood seeped out of the corners of her lips. Her grip on my throat weakened. It slipped for just a moment.
I pulled back, pulled though she clutched at me a moment later; pulled though she drove her long nails like knives into my flesh. I yelled, I cursed, I gritted like a madman. She dug deep. But she could not hold on. I was free.
Turning, I ran as fast as I could manage in my dizziness toward the stairs at the back of the pub. I careened up to the second floor. There lay my only chance of escape. She followed, a savage thing gone mad with rage.
I knew I only had the briefest of moments. I charged toward the office, through the hallway—for the window I’d seen illumine from the street on my way home. I charged through the dark room and made for the desk and the metal rubbish bin I knew Darren kept to the right of the chair. It was the surest ram with which to shatter the glass. Before I could reach it, I tripped on something heavy but yielding. I paused, glancing at my feet. In the room’s darkness I perceived a yet darker shape—the body of a man, naked, his clothes strewn about the room. But a chilling guess confirmed to my mind that it was the lifeless corpse of Darren. I suddenly realized the wood floor covered in blood.
The clamor of Cynthia in the hallway roused my senses. I jumped over my friend and seized the rubbish bin. The next moment I saw her slender shadow in the doorway, her black hair illumined still by the strange fire. In its evil glow I glimpsed the ravaged body of my friend. I could not bear the sight. Cyn hissed between her teeth, and leaped for me. I clenched the metal basket and hurled myself against the window. Glass shattered around me. I slid down the slope of the pub overhang. When I saw its edge, I reached out with my hands to stop from falling. My trunk swung over the edge, and I held on long enough to drop to the street on my feet. The instant I landed my legs gave way. My hands stung and bled.
Cyn appeared in the window, grown utterly bestial, a skinny, ragged thing more witch than woman. She screamed from above, but dared not follow. Her eyes swirled with hate, and I knew she would not make chase. Her efforts had failed and now she must escape or risk capture. There had been too great a commotion.
I hobbled as best I could to the Half Door Bed & Breakfast where I knew the proprietors. In a few hours time I was resting in University Hospital Galway answering questions from the police. Nuala was by my side, loyal as ever, strong but tearful at the sight of my wounds. I joked with her that my new battle scars would make me worthy in the sight of Fergus mac Róich.
The police searched for Cyn, but I know they’ll never find her. It’s been weeks now, and they’re already labeling the whole thing an “ongoing investigation;” in another few months time I suspect they’ll shelve it as a cold case. Though I no longer wake in the night gripped with fear at her return, I am not what I used to be. Doolin’s always been a safe seaside town, even when it swells with tourists, but now Nuala and I lock our doors, and I’m replacing the old window locks and adding working shutters to the house. But I am not well. I know Cyn is out there, waiting for me. She won’t come for me in the night; she will wait till I am alone once more, then trap me. Whatever she is—lunatic, demon, witch or succubus—she is patient, tireless in her ravenous desire…and it’s why I won’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, or go drinking in any pub again.