This week, Words Pauses Noises welcomes back Eoin Madigan, a wonderful writer from Ireland who you may remember reading work from a few weeks back. This selection of Madigan’s work, however, is much darker than the first, so makes sure you are sitting comfortably and snuggled up between a soft (and safe) blanket before you dive into this unnerving tale of crime and coincidence in a small house nestled in Belfast.
A knock at my front door, late at night, and I rise from my chair to answer it. A young man standing there; dark suit, green tie, clipboard, smile.
‘Hello there, Mr. …’
‘Mr. Wilson. How are you this evening?’
‘Fine.’ I shrug.
He smiles. ‘I have a very interesting offer for you today, Mr. Wilson.’
‘I’m not interested in any energy switchover or faster internet, thank you.’
I go to close the door but his foot is between it and the frame. No, not his foot, some black thing poking through, about waist height, leaving the door an inch ajar.
The barrel of a gun. Pointed right at my stomach.
‘Mr. Wilson,’ his voice is raised, ‘you’re going to want to listen to our proposal.’
I open the door, my hand shaking. In the hall mirror my face is white and slick with sweat. There is another young man standing with the first one now. He wears a similar dark suit and has a sawn-off shotgun dangling from his hand. The light streaming from my hall catches it. The first man’s handgun is still pointed at me.
‘Our proposition is simple, Mr. Wilson.’ From his tone, he might be offering me a cup of tea. ‘You let us into your home for half an hour and we won’t kill your family.’
My bowels did something then that I did not know they could. I struggle to describe it. A tightening? A loosening? A change, in any case, and not a pleasant one.
The second man signals to the shadows beside the house. Two other men appear, these ones in jeans and t-shirts, lugging a crate of some sort. They barrel past me and drop the crate in the hall. The white tiles groan under its weight. The armed men follow them in and close the door behind them.
‘Your children are asleep, Mr. Wilson, I assume?’
I look to the stairs, the darkness tumbling down it, and nod.
‘And your wife?’
‘Out,’ I say. ‘Out with her sister and a few friends.’ My voice is faint, my mouth as if coated in sand.
‘Very good.’ He smiles expansively. ‘Get to it, gentlemen.’
The two men in casual clothes grab the crate again and bring it into the kitchen. I hear them take keys from the hooks and fumble with them to open the back door. The man with the sawn-off sits on the bottom of the stairs and lights up a cigarette. The one with the handgun, the talker, directs me to the dining room. He has a seat between me and the back door, orders me to sit in the corner.
I hear the two men in casual clothes in my back garden, swearing as they open the crate and unload its contents. I can barely see them through the window, shadows half reflected because of the light inside.
‘You’re wondering what they’re doing.’ He smiles.
I shrug. Ignorance, bliss.
‘What is it, Sunday?’ The talker too sparks up a cigarette. ‘Let’s just say, Mr. Wilson, that Good Friday has come and gone, the sun has set on a somewhat satisfactory Saturday, and now it’s the turn of Bloody Sunday again.’
Politics and metaphor, I think, wonderful. I’m about to roll my eyes but catch myself beforehand.
I see it then, what they’re doing in the back garden, the casual men. They have a tall tripod set up on the patio. Their voices are muffled. One is fiddling with some kind of tablet, some handheld computer. I see its light. The other one is adjusting whatever it is atop the tripod, something that glints. It’s about half a foot wide and three or four long.
My eyes widen when I see him put something into the tube.
‘A ballistic delivery system, Mr. Wilson, yes.’
‘But where are you…’
‘East. Southeast.’ Now it’s his turn to shrug. ‘It doesn’t really matter.’
I cover my face with my hands, shaking my head. I rest my elbows on the dining room table.
‘The brains outside work out the target. My armed associate and I are just the brawn that secures the launch pad.’ He gestures to the house – my house – around him.
Minutes pass in silence. I look at the pictures of my wife and children hanging behind the head of this man who is pointing a gun at me from across my dining room table.
From the back garden comes a muffled cheer. I look out the window in time to see a searing flash of light. There’s a sound like a gigantic patch of Velcro ripping apart, full of vacuum and static. When the light disappears there is only smoke, white smoke to be seen outside the window, billowing.
I hear more scuttling out on the patio, some cursing. A moment later, the two casual men come in the back door lugging the same crate, packed up again.
‘How did it go?’ The talker asks.
One of the casual men rips off a facemask and is all smiles. ‘Grandest. If we got the coordinates right, the nightclubs in Manchester will be ending with a bang tonight.’
My mouth hangs open as I see all three men smile and the two casual ones pat each other on the back.
The talker turns back to me as the others make their exit. ‘Needless to say, Mr. Wilson, we were never here. The PSNI wouldn’t appreciate you sheltering and facilitating freedom fighters, now would they?’
I’m a stuttering mess, struggling to breathe. ‘But the peace process… the Troubles…’
‘…are back on, I’m afraid. Scotland’s secession is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for.’ He takes a deep drag on a fresh cigarette and slaps my face lightly a few times. ‘Not to worry, Mr. Wilson, we were in and out in no time; the Tans shouldn’t be able to triangulate this position to retaliate.’
He walks to my front door but before he steps out he pauses and turns to me. ‘Never know, though.’ He laughs and it’s a long one. ‘Sleep tight,
It’s the tension in the piece that really gets to you, creeping up on you like a spider while your eyes scan the computer screen. The story moves quickly, jumping from the normal world the the chaotic. This just illustrates how unsettling and uncertain our lives can be, especially in times of strife and social/political unease.
If you enjoyed Eoin’s work, more of it can be found at http://eoindmadigan.com/
Come, visit us next week for another fabulous piece of fiction from our ever growing collection of authors.