Before the Monsters came

Image by and can be purchased here:

This was written for a children’s story competition. An author decided the shortlist and then children voted for their favourite. It came 3rd. What was more special was on the day a 5yr old came up to me and whispered “I voted for yours, I know it is about Climate Change, it is so important, I like the ending.” ❤ That’s enough for me.❤ It is included in an anthology by other Longford writers that you can buy here:

Once upon a time, before the monsters came, we lived in peace and all were happy. Plants grew, flowers bloomed and filled the air with perfume. Food was growing everywhere and no one went hungry. Animals, big and small, lived side by side and all was good.

The monsters came in flying machines from the sky and landed everywhere, all over the small round planet we live on. No one knew they were monsters because they looked harmless enough with their two wobbly legs and two skinny arms and big smiling faces. Their shiny ships were beautiful and reflected back the sun and we could see ourselves in them too which made us laugh.

The curious little monkeys wandered over first to examine these creatures. They were always brave but stupid. The monkeys followed them into their ship and everyone waited patiently for them to return but they didn’t. If they did, they were so changed, that we, their friends, no longer knew them. They were bigger and they were angry. No one had seen anger before and didn’t know what it was but we all suddenly felt fear and some ran while others hid. Others looked on, not knowing what to do as no one had ran or hid before in fright. All was joy and fun in this world before the monsters came.

The monkeys ran after those that had fled in fear and chased them, shouting and screaming, making big loud noises that no one liked and the elephants raised their trunks and blew hard to cover it up with their own sound. The noises grew and the fear grew and the monsters stood in their flying machines looking out at the chaos they had created and they were very pleased with themselves. Now that everyone was looking at the monkeys they could take the gold and silver from the world and all the precious jewels that sparkled in the waters for themselves, they even sucked the black oil from the ground. No one noticed, no one cared because the monkeys were chasing them all.

A monkey caught a cat and bit her on the back and the cat released her claws she used to climb the trees and scraped the monkey. Their anger grew and others joined the fight and then the first creature in this world blew out like a candle but its spirit stayed to watch the show and I’m here still. A wolf howled at the sky and the sun hid behind the moon. Everything went dark. Nothing would ever be the same again because the monsters came.

The plants closed up their leaves and hid their food and animal began to eat animal and the monsters laughed as they took what they wanted and left this world to do the same on other planets. Some monsters stayed and ruled over all the creatures and the plants that had remained. The plants and creatures changed to fit this darker, scary world where winds blew strong now that there were no sparkles to distract them from their racing flight. The monsters built themselves houses, towns and cities around the planet and continued to take and never give.

Our planet vomited up lava because no longer was the gold and silver in her belly keeping her tummy cool from all the heat of her warm coal. Sometimes she trembled in rage at the memory of the beauty she had been and cracks grew across her skin and swallowed up whoever happened to be passing by. The blissful life her creatures and plants had lived had changed because the monsters came.

But just as the monsters changed our world, our world changed the monsters too. Not all, but many of them noticed how the plants gave generously of their fruit and healed their wounds when they were hurt. More noticed how despite the fear and anger they had brought that creatures still approached and gave them love. Some monsters saw how the beauty of our world could make them smile and love and feel the Joy that once was everywhere before they came. They felt sorrow and regret and cried and asked our planet to forgive them for the pain and she gave them singing birds and butterflies, daffodils and roses, bees and beetles too. She showed the monsters all the good that they can do within this world, how to give instead of take and love instead of hate, how to fix instead of break and the monsters learned and so can you.

Mide of Tuatha

This is a story I wrote for an anthology, full of other lovely works by local Longford writers. You can get it here:

Here is a video we did through Scéalta Beo with Creative Ireland – Longford:

Mide was curled up on her father’s lap, at the campfire in the middle of their enclosure. She was listening to her elders talking of the ancestors, their great feats and desperate defeats. She loved hearing the stories of how the people that created their home, their Crannóg, first came to this area on foot, from over the mythical hills of Brí Leith carrying all that they could with them. They wanted to start afresh in these lakes far from the fires and fighting. 

They left in the night after spending months of preparation, gathering seeds, making food that would last the journey and beyond until the seeds had been planted, grown and harvested in their new home. They cured meat, made butter, made clothing, learned and taught each other skills they would need. In truth they had been preparing for many years before they left as they knew that their world was changing rapidly and in order to keep their people, their families and community safe, they would need to leave their ancient home and start anew elsewhere. 

They had scouted far and wide and were happy that somewhere safe and secluded, somewhere hard to get to was found. They headed off under nightfall to this place to sit out the madness and emerge when all had settled again and was right with the world.

Mide snuggled into the sheepskin rug her father had gently put around her while the stories were told as they were every night, since the beginning, of how her people walked quietly through the bog and over the hills to this lake, a lake that others thought too still and full of death. The stories of stillness and death would keep them safe here when the hunger and desperation hit harder in the world. 

Her people had found new life in this lake, not much at first but life and therefore hope. The lake was rebirthing as the goddess Etain rebirthed in the ancient stories of Brí Leith and so they knew it would serve well as their new home. They fueled the stories of stillness and darkness in whispers to the others so that the many would not come this far and they would be safe, at least for a time. Desperate times brought out the primal tribal feelings of protecting your own. Even with this they had taken in other families and people deserted by their own as deep down they were a kind and caring clan. They also sought out strong and fit people trained in the skills of protection and battle if the need occurred.

Some of their clan had spent time creating the group of manmades islands that had become their home by building up the mounds of mud within the lake and once they were completed they then began the building of the huts and fencing all around. They took their time over the naming of their new home and after much debate agreed to call it Tuatha, which meant, in simple terms  the people, the tribe, the community but their ancient language was never ‘in simple terms’ and so Tuatha meant much more – it is a sense of place, something they needed more now than ever before.

They built their logboats and created a secret path for those who might be on the shoreline needing to get back inside the enclosure quickly. When crossing on the underwater stepping stones it looked as if they walked on water. It was Godlike, Mide was told by her father.

When all the community arrived at the shoreline they began to take the animals over first to the large natural island further in the lake. It was a difficult task, they had to go in two boats each side and get the animals to swim along between them, one by one until they reached the other side. The island, which was hidden from the shoreline, would do their livestock.  They hadn’t brought many, the rest they had bartered with others for items they knew to be needed while the others thought they were quite mad getting rid of the only treasure worth having anymore.

Once they had established themselves in their Crannógs and everyone was assigned their tasks they settled into life and many forgot the destruction they had left behind them. The days blended into each other. Each night at the campfire the Elders told the stories of the past so that no important lesson or skill was forgotten and read from the few ancient manuscripts they had managed to save from destruction. They taught the young to read the symbols and all the knowledge of the past at the evening gatherings. They lived there peacefully together doing their daily tasks, growing their seeds on the island, farming the land and gathering what grew there. 

Every so often a brave one went out to find out if calmness had been restored on the shores and the family waited, worried and excited to find out what news they brought back. Some never came back and they were mourned and stories were told of their lives and added to the nightly learnings. When they did get back everyone watched to see were they followed for days and weeks later. They rarely brought good news. The hardest time for Mide was when her mother didn’t return but hearing her story every night made her feel like she was there with her and her father and she liked to sleep dreaming of her smile.

The first brave scout that came back told of war and dying, of diseases and hunger, many areas of silence. Gradually they told of slow new growth but not enough for all the many needing food. 

They brought strange tales of magnificent structures made by the old people, of strange instruments found and brought some home with them. Some of the elders knew what they were for and taught the clan to use them. The elders waited excitedly for each return to see what treasures returned. Mide, her father and all the new generation were just curious and at times thought most of it was pointless rather than useful.

The last came back so long after they left that people weren’t sure if they really were their kin, but they knew the way and the path across the water so they surely were. If doubt lingered about them no one said as no one wanted to send another being away. There were too few now. 

They hoped in time they would find more communities like their own to trade, learn new skills from and share their knowledge. They hoped that those that had survived had learned the lesson well how cooperation rather than competition was the natural way and working with Mother Earth would serve them better than against. The biggest lesson they all learned every night from the elders was not to casually destroy Mother Earth for she will fight back and she will win.

Mide slowly drifted off to sleep, dreaming of her mother, warm and safe within the strong arms of her father. The large egg she was fiddling with fell out of her hands, rolled towards the fire and suddenly began to crack. The family looked on in bewilderment as a furry robot creature hatched out of the plastic shell making sounds they hadn’t heard before. Was this instrument for communicating like the many slim black boxes they had found but didn’t work? They had taken them apart to use whatever they could from inside. One reached out to do the same to this when Mide woke and grabbed it.

“No don’t break it! This is mine!”

A Journey

Mary jumped on the bus, hood up, head down, hand clasping her bag. The bus driver didn’t give her a second look as she sat down and visualised her plan of action. Inevitably it wouldn’t work out well for her but while she still had time to change her mind she knew she wouldn’t. Her life had taken a complete change of direction but maybe this had always been her destination. She sat back, calm and relaxed, thinking of the events that had paved this road before her.

As a small child, Mary had imagined her future as a successful businesswoman, millionaire. She may have a child or two but no more. She definitely wouldn’t have a litter like her tired mother. A strange ambition for a seven year old when all her friends were dressing up as Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. She was always a realist and never believed in fairy tales.

It wasn’t that she didn’t respect her mothers choices. She seemed to be happy enough in her motherhood and part-time job. She couldn’t have continued in her original, time demanding career if she wanted to give time to her children she was always heard saying though Mary didn’t remember her spending more time with her than any of her friends parents had with them. Mary had noticed the wistful regret of maybe a different life in her mothers words so she planned her own life journey from an early age and no one was going to divert her from it.

She only read biographies, history and “real” books, no fantasy nonsense for her, She noted down all the steps her idols had taken, the sacrifices of these successful women. Women who used their brains and not only survived, but excelled in this man’s world. She played sport to win and keep fit. She was a winner and would always be a winner. She had few friends, she only wanted to mix with driven people, fools need not apply, She was an old head on young shoulders her teachers commented, her school report was always excellent.

Boys did not distract her, though with her long golden locks, sea blue eyes and natural deep red lips she had many admirers. She kept her distance. She knew from watching her mother that often the man’s dreams come first. She came top of the class, top of the country, in her leaving cert. She got her first choice and a scholarship.

The day her journey veered off the path into the murky woods of uncertainty she had followed a ruthless, intelligent and charming wolf. She wasn’t prepared because she had never read a fairy-tale in her life, never read anything but facts, statistics and measureable truths. That day, Mary was sitting in her lecture listening intently to the words of Professor Whyte. She knew all about the famous economist Professor Whyte, she had read all of his papers. She had watched his programmes and read his autobiography.

Perhaps it was because she already knew the economic premise he was discussing, having read on ahead, that she had time to admire his fit body, sparkling eyes and inviting smile. Having never given herself a moment to wander down the rabbit hole of infatuation before she hardly noticed she was slipping into that inviting mossy darkness as she doodled his features on her page. He, however, had been scanning the new recruits, innocent first years, preferably loners. He was looking for new blood, having discarded his last just before she went in for her finals.

Mary was staring into his eyes ready to leap in and drown. She was already beginning to justify in her mind her sudden daydreaming episode, something she never did and scorned openly in secondary school.

“I know this already, I’ll study it later, I’ll snap out of this enchantment shortly and get back to my schedule.”

She had a schedule, a timetable showing her productive plan for every minute of her waking day. Dr. Whyte was about to change all that.

All the rest of her class moved out and on to the next lecture as she lingered on doodling and dreaming of the handsome prince before her and he stayed back, slowly gathering his books and his lunch. He stopped, looked at her and tossed a juicy red apple which she caught and sat holding it, like a rabbit paralysed, staring into his headlights. He smiled, walking out the door.

“ Bye Dr. Whyte, thanks for the apple.”

“ No problem Miss..”

“Mary, Mary Malone.”

“ Ah, Mary, not Molly then? Call me Phil, I’m not into titles. See you soon.”

Mary found herself bumping into Dr. Whyte, Phil, regularly. She had him for lectures twice a week and a tutorial but he seemed to be everywhere she looked. It was unnerving, especially as she had only allowed herself to daydream that one day and now thoughts of him kept interrupting when and as often as they wanted. She found she liked him more and more each day which was not on her plan.

Phil was liking this chase, he thought it was going to be an easy one that first day but this rabbit was resisting, more harelike the way she bounded off as soon as she saw him. He was getting under her skin. She was difficult to pin down, she didn’t attend the usual student haunts and seemed to socialise with her classmates only during and in between class.

“Ah, Mary, how are you?”

He was leaning up against a doorway in the corridor as she was scurrying along to get to class.

“Stop a bit and chat, you are well on time as usual. I’ve been worrying about you, I worry about all my students. You need to live a little, let down your hair, go out with your friends, go to The Yellow Brick, that’s where everyone hangs out I’m told, I go on occasion myself, might even venture there tonight. Funny, normally, I’m telling students to do the opposite.”

He laughed. She stopped and looked at him.

“What do you mean? I’m fine. I don’t really enjoy that sort of thing, I’m just here to learn.”

“It’s not all about books Mary, You seem like an ambitious sort, you need to learn to network, be at the right events, socialise, it’s how we humans work I’m afraid, even if you don’t like it.”

He hit her right between the eyes, she was doing something wrong, not moving in the right direction to her dream, yes she was top of her class, had been since day one but she knew he was right. Sooner or later she had to play the game, be seen at the right places, rub shoulders with the people of influence and she hadn’t ventured out once.

I’ve been so busy.”

“Yes, busy, busy, top of the class. I’ve been watching your progress and well done but you know what they say, all work and no play.”

“I play camogie, that’s a team sport.”

He laughed,

“ And do you enjoy it? ”

“Yes, yes, I’ve always loved camogie. I score a lot, I like winning. We won a lot, my school team.”

“Yes, you like winning, how about you sign up for something social, eh Mary? Tick that box too. “

and off he went knowing he had upset her. He had the measure of this little rabbit, he had met many like her before.

Irritated, she wandered into her lecture not thinking of anything but his words.

‘He makes me seem so superficial and calculating, I’m not like that at all, I’m just focused and that’s a good thing.’

She watched others laughing and joking together making plans for the evening despite a paper being due next week. How could they leave so much to chance? Even later as she studied she couldn’t let it go and in the end she pushed her chair back from her desk and stood up. She changed her clothes, brushed her hair and put some make up on, not a lot as she only had a minimal amount in the first place. Then she went to prove to him and to herself that she could have some fun, throw caution to the wind just like everybody else. She promised herself she would be home by midnight at the latest as she had so much work to do.

He smiled his charming smile when he saw her enter the pub and then he ignored her and continued his conversation while she squirmed and wondered what she was doing here. When he felt she had enough and might flee he approached his little rabbit and saved her from herself.

“Well, this is a surprise, I thought you thought pubs were a pointless exercise”

“I thought I might relax, socialise a bit,”

“Yes, you are doing great at that over here in the corner on your own.”

He laughed,

“Here, let me buy you a drink, you can join us, its not all tutors, there are some of your kind with us too, students I mean not social butterflies”

He snorted at his own joke and directed her to the table. He introduced her and wandered to the bar.

She never was so giddy or frisky, she usually only drank to be polite and only ever one but this night’s partying lasted longer than she intended, she wasn’t sure what was in that concoction she had been drinking, it was sweet but very intoxicating. Against her better judgement, she had none by the end of the night, she went with Phil to his office to discuss some paper he was working on. She had agreed enthusiastically, delighted he thought she was clever enough. One thing led to another and they slept together that night and many more to come and soon her every spare moment was in his company. They did discuss his paper and she won many arguments on it and he even seemed so grateful for her input that she spent more time on his work than her own. As her grades fell his work flowered and bloomed.

She got through first year reasonably near the top. She held her own in second year and third but in her final year she was waking up to the manipulation she had willingly allowed happen. His work had been exceptional during her time with him and much of it was hers but no recognition would come her way. She overheard a lecturer comment one day how Phil always worked better with a muse and it irritated her no end. He was distancing himself from her, saying she should spread her wings, she shouldn’t want to be tied down to him. Before, he had made plans for life with her. She noticed he was spending more and more time around the first years, more than he had in years, in fact since her first year.

It was the day she saw him propped up against a doorway, greeting a young girl in the way he greeted her before, that she remembered the girl who had been staring at her and him the way she was now staring at the scene unfolding before her. That day she changed the course of her journey forever.

She descended from the bus, made her way to the door and knocked. Phil opened it and smiled.

“I’ve written a letter to the Dean and I’ve contributions from many more young women you manipulated along with evidence of their work that you claimed as your own. He should get it this morning, round about now. My journey to hell has ended, but yours is only starting.”

She opened her bag, took out the gun and pulled the trigger. He stood in horror as her young frame fell to the ground before him, her white hood slowly changing to crimson. The phone rang.

This reminded me of Edna O’Brien’s writing in its portrayal of the harsh realities of being a young woman in an environment ruled by a powerful man; the ending was unexpected but unforgettable!” Judge’s comment in ICA Short Story Competition, 4th overall, 1st HIGHLY COMMENDED.