“Beloved” by Mike Finn – 19th Century Irish Horror Story

Beloved

©Mike Finn 2010

Donegal, Ireland. 1834

“I’m going to die,” Father Boyle bellowed, leaning forward into the wind coming off the Atlantic; his harsh flat tones helping him to be heard above the crashing of the surf.

A bonfire roared on the beach, its flames leaping and swaying as if fighting off the dark of the moonless Donegal night. The flickering light licked across the old priest’s face, like the flames of Hell tormenting a damned soul. Declan, who had feared this man of God for as long as he could remember, smiled at the image, wishing the priest God’s speed to an eternity of suffering.

“You’re going to die,” Father Boyle shouted, arm outstretched, a bony finger-pointing into the crowd, lips pulled back in a sneer, displaying his yellowing teeth; seemingly ready to devour his flock.

The villagers moved backwards, some making the sign against the evil eye. Declan flowed with the crowd, not wanting to draw attention to himself. As soon as he found Kevin, they would leave this place and never come back.

Raising both arms above his head like great black wings, the priest raked the crowd with his gaze and said, “We’re ALL going to die.”

Father Boyle paused, letting death seep into their bones like a cold fog.

Declan had met death often in the past few blood-soaked pain-drenched days. He had its measure. Dying was soon over. It was much less terrible than living each day in fear and shame.

“Christ says, ‘He who seeks to save his life shall lose it.’” Boyle roared. “I say to you: REPENT! FEAR GOD! Reject Satan and all his servants! Save your souls from Hell!

Declan looked at the villagers around him and saw that the priest had leashed them with their fear and their guilt. They watched the old man with the same avid intensity as a dog trying to work out how to avoid a beating. Declan knew he was likely to be the one the priest would unleash this pack on. Why had Kevin picked this as their meeting place? They could have slipped into the night unnoticed. Declan turned to make his way out of the crowd.

<Shall we show the old monster what death really is?>

Kevin’s voice sounded inside Declan’s head, clear and calm and tinged with contempt for the priest. Declan turned in a circle, looking for Kevin’s tall, slim shape, knowing he would not see it unless Kevin wanted him to.

“There is sin in this village,” the priest said, “There are those amongst you who want unnatural things; who perform unnatural acts. The stink of their sin rises up to Heaven and cries out for punishment. If the rest of you tolerate the sinners, you take on their sin and you take on their punishment.”

<He’s a fine one to talk of stink. I can smell his putrid flesh from here. The man is sickness on legs. It would be a kindness to put him out of his misery.>

Declan felt a familiar surge of excitement laced with fear and was instantly erect. Surely even Kevin would not be so bold as to take the Parish priest in front of his flock? And yet, why else meet here tonight? Slowly a smile slipped across Declan’s face.

“We must cleanse this village of its sin,” the priest cried. “We must wash it clean in the blood of those whose corruption offends against God.”

“I think the old horror is right.” This time Kevin spoke aloud into Declan’s ear. “It’s time to launder the Parish.”

Declan knew that, since his resurrection, Kevin could move with such speed that no human eye could follow him, yet he was choosing to stand next to Declan, where the villagers could see him, where the vengeful priest could see him. See them both, together.

In death, Kevin was even more beautiful than he had been in life. The fine clothes he was buried in made him look like a gentleman. Only the sabre on his hip, the one they had taken from the cavalryman, gave any indication of how dangerous he was.

Kevin placed his hand on Declan’s shoulder, claiming in public what he had taken so often in private. He waited until the he was certain that the old priest had seen them, then he kissed Declan on the mouth. Despite the danger, or perhaps because of it, Declan trembled under Kevin’s touch; closing his eyes and letting the pleasure strobe through him.

Kevin broke the kiss, stroked Declan’s cheek and said, “Enjoy the show, Declan.”

He was gone before Declan could process the meaning of his words.

Declan looked towards Father Boyle, saw the hatred and fear in his eyes, and knew that the old bastard wanted him dead.

The priest raised his hand, pointing at Declan, but he never got to speak. Kevin was suddenly in front of the old man.

„Curse you, Father,” Kevin said, taking the priest by the throat with one outstretched arm and lifting him from the ground, “For you have sinned.”

The crowd broke like a wave against a rock, falling back from the priest and the young man that they had buried only a week earlier but who now stood before them more alive than ever.

“It is too late for your confession but here are your sins.”

The crowd was silent. The night was filled only with the sound of the wind and the sea and the choking noises coming from the priest.

“You have looked on innocence and beauty,” Kevin said, “and desired only to corrupt it. For that I will take your eyes.”

Kevin acted too quickly to be seen, only the blossoming of blood from the now empty eye-sockets showed where he had struck.

“You have spread fear and hate and hypocrisy. For that I will take your tongue.”

Blood gushed like vomit from the old man’s mouth.

Declan wanted to look away but he could not. He wanted to be repelled by Kevin’s violence but instead he felt the heat of arousal flooding through him.

The villagers were on their knees now, moaning, rocking, locked in a prayer of shock and denial.

“You have lusted after boys, taken them, hurt them but never loved them. For that I will let your God damn your soul.”

The sound of the priest’s neck snapping was drowned by the surf but all could see that his head had been turned at an impossible angle.

Kevin looked towards Declan and then tossed the priest’s bloody body on to the bonfire. The crowd watched in horror as the flames leapt up around the corpse as if eager to consume him and drag him down to Hell.

In nomia Patria, Files et Spirito Sancto, amen.” Kevin spoke the blessing with an edge of mockery that turned it into a curse.

In the firelight, Kevin’s hair shone like spun gold, his skin was as pale and translucent as the fine china in the tea-cups the priest had been so proud of when he lured little boys into his parlour. Only the red glow of Kevin’s eyes in the firelight belied the image of him as an angel and revealed what he had recently become.

<Come to me, Declan. Let me set you free.>

Declan had no fear of the crowd now. He was under Kevin’s protection. Kevin would rip the heart out of the chest of any man who raised a hand against him. He walked slowly towards Kevin, his head high and his heart pounding. The flock parted to make way for him, faces averted, bodies cowed. He knew they wanted to run and hide but did not dare to move.

Declan had been running and hiding in this village his whole life. Without Kevin he would never have dared to be true to his own nature. Now, with Kevin, he was ready to dare anything, including the wrath of God.

<Free yourself from your clothes, Declan. Come to me as you came into the world, hot, bloody and screaming your joy at your new life.>

Declan felt his face flush. He had never been naked in public. It did not seem right to be naked now. It crossed Declan’s mind that it was not too late; he could still walk away, find a place to hide from who he was and what he wanted.

Kevin held out his arms to Declan, ready to embrace him.

<I am your way and your truth and your light.> Kevin chanted softly in Declan’s mind.

Kevin had always been Declan’s light, had always led the way, had always told the truth, had always known what Declan was.

Declan made his decision. He started to shed his clothes as he walked, closing his mind to the presence of the villagers.

It seemed to him that he had been moving towards this moment ever since the Sunday when he had first understood that he loved the beautiful young man with the pure tenor voice; a voice that lifted Declan above the day to day world as if he had been given wings. When, at the end of the solo, Kevin smiled at him, Declan had been filled with a delicious warmth. When the smile was over, he had been left with a sense of longing for something he could not yet name.

Declan only saw Kevin on Sundays, in the choir. Kevin lived in the big house. His father managed the Englishman’s estate. Declan’s father had died of the influenza four years earlier leaving Declan and his mother to glean a living from their croft. Sunday Mass had become the focus of Declan’s life.

His mother had noticed the change and asked him if he perhaps had a vocation. It was not too late to try for the seminary.

Declan, too ashamed to tell her the real reason he now looked so joyous at Mass, found himself taking instruction from the old priest. That was when the darkness had almost overwhelmed him.

“I can see into your soul, boy,” Father Boyle had said, the first time that they were alone in his parlour.

The priest had made Declan kneel before him as a sign of Declan’s role as supplicant to the Church. Declan looked into the Father Boyle’s eyes and wondered if the old man could see the ghost of Kevin’s smile.

The priest grasped Declan’s face, strong fingers tilting his chin sharply upwards.

“Your soul is blackened with lust,” he said. Then he dragged his thumb roughly across Declan’s lips. “You have a sinful mouth, boy.”

Declan flushed with shame, imagining that the priest had guessed how much Declan had wanted to kiss the pale skin of Kevin’s neck.

Father Boyle smiled. It was not a pleasant thing to see. Then he pushed his thumb into Declan’s mouth and held it there.

The priest tasted of tobacco and sweat.

Declan struggled but the man held him in place, pushing his thumb back over Declan’s tongue until Declan was sure that he would vomit.

After a time, the priest let out a soft groan. Then he withdrew from Declan’s mouth.

Deeply afraid, Declan fell forward onto his hands and knees, trying hard not to vomit on the carpet.

“Bend over the chair, boy.”

Declan looked up. Father Boyle held a pandybat in his hand.

“I will beat the Devil out of you. For your mother’s sake,” the priest said.

The beating went on for a long time. The holes that had been drilled into the bat meant that Declan could hear it as it swung towards his naked arse. The pain was terrible. The shame was worse.

Declan did not tell his mother what the priest had done. She brought him back again each week and each week the priest would find a reason to touch Declan’s face or hair or mouth before beating the Devil out of him.

It was Kevin who noticed that Declan was in pain. At the end of Mass, Kevin pulled Declan into an alcove on the narrow stairway that led down from the Choir.

Declan, caught by surprise, could think of nothing except the heat from Kevin’s hand where it held Declan’s wrist.

“Is someone hurting you?”

The compassion and concern in Kevin’s voice called forth Declan’s tears. Kevin held him gently and waited for the sobs to cease.

Then he said, “Tell me who?” and for the first time Declan saw how fierce Kevin could look when he was angry.

Unable to speak the name of his oppressor, Declan had looked up wordlessly into Kevin’s face and found himself understood for the first time in his life.

“It was that pederast, Boyle, wasn’t it? May he rot in Hell.”

The hate in Kevin’s face burned so brightly that Declan had reached out and touched his cheek. Kevin looked at him, his expression changing into something softer but still fierce. With a movement that changed Declan’s life forever, Kevin leant forward and kissed Declan on the mouth. The world flared, too bright to look at, too hot to bear. Declan felt cleansed.

Now, looking up at Kevin on the beach, framed by the flames of the bonfire, red eyes glinting, the blood of the old monster still wet on his face, it seemed to Declan that Kevin had become vengeance incarnate.

Declan, naked from the waist up, stood before Kevin and waited for what would happen next.

With amazing speed, Kevin grabbed Declan by the shoulders, spun him around to face the villagers and then pressed in close behind him, one arm around his naked chest, the other ripping away the buttons on Declan’s fly; exposing his erect flesh to the world and claiming it with a firm grip.

“This is Declan, my beloved”, Kevin shouted at the crowd, “In him, I am well pleased.”

Declan flushed with happiness at the words.

A year ago, he had lain in an isolated bothy, his head on Kevin’s inner thigh, the taste of Kevin’s spend still fresh on his tongue, floating inside the bubble of miraculous happiness that they had created together, when Kevin said, “What am I to you?”

Declan had raised himself on his elbows so he could see Kevin’s face. surprised by the tension he saw there, he paused to make sure that his answer came from his heart.

“You are my beloved.” he’d said and he’d known it was the absolute truth.

Lost in this memory, Declan almost missed the change in the mood of the villagers. The same people who had not moved to stop the killing of the priest were finally pushed into action by the sight of Declan in Kevin’s arms and the blasphemous words spilling from Kevin’s mouth.

With a wordless roar of hate, Michael Donegan, his shillelagh raised above his head, ran at Kevin. His three sons followed him, each of them swinging a shillelagh of their own, ready to club Kevin and Declan to death.

<Trust me,> Kevin’s voice said inside Declan’s head, <Stand absolutely still.>

Suddenly, Declan was alone.

Donegan skidded to a halt in the sand, no more than three feet away from Declan. His eyes scanned the scene, searching for his prey. When he found nothing, his turned his attention towards Declan.

“The dead one’s run away boys,” Donegan shouted to his sons. “But his whore’s still here.”

Declan stood still, looking Donegan in the eye. He’d heard things about Donegan, a violent man when sober and a vicious one when drunk. It was said that he’d killed his wife, the mother of his sons, with the same shillelagh he held in his hands. Shattered her skull with a single blow, then claimed she’d jumped from the cliff and broken her head on the rocks below. It was also said that he “disciplined” his boys across his knee whenever he was drunk.

It was pointless to show fear to a man like that. Kevin had told him to stand still but there was still a way to show his defiance. Declan wrapped finger and thumb around the shaft of his cock and stroked slowly and firmly, twice.

“Any of you boys want some?” he asked.

“First we’ll break your arms and legs, whore. Then we’ll rip that dick off you and make you eat it. Maybe after that we’ll leave you to die.”

<I think he’s attracted to you>

Kevin’s voice in his head gave Declan the strength to grin at Donegan.

“Break him,” Donegan spat the instruction to his sons, “but break him slow.”

The three boys fanned out, approaching him in a half circle with the instinctive discipline of a pack of dogs.

Donal Donegan, the oldest son, moved first, swinging the shillelagh with bone breaking force at Declan’s thigh.

All Declan saw was a spray of sand behind Donal and something glinting in the firelight, then Donal’s head was rolling towards him and blood was darkening the sand where Donal’s body had fallen.

Kevin, slowed enough by the blow to be visible now, held the sabre above his head. The cavalryman had shown them that move the night he found them in the bothy. The night he had bitten Kevin to death. Now Kevin was using it to cut their way to freedom. Running in an arc behind the two remaining brothers, Kevin hamstrung them with chilling efficiency.

Donegan, seeing his sons fall, bellowed his outrage and rushed towards Kevin. Kevin stood still, let Donegan swing the shillelagh, stepped inside the big man’s reach and brought the saber down, taking Donegan’s hand off at the wrist.

The villagers, who had been watching the scene, waiting to see Declan and Kevin destroyed, turned and ran when Donegan began to scream.

It was over quickly after that. With two fast cuts, Kevin split Donegan open. The man fell to his knees, trying vainly to hold his guts in place with one hand. He lived long enough to shout his horror as he watched Kevin calmly slit the throat of each of his crippled sons.

As he watched the blood seeping into the sand, looking like tar in the light of the moon, Declan began to shiver. He tucked his sex back in his pants and hugged himself against the wind coming in off the sea.

Suddenly Kevin was tracing Declan’s cheek with the back of a cool hand, still wet with blood.

“You are safe,” Kevin said.

Declan turned his head so that his mouth could capture Kevin’s fingers and warm them. The blood of his enemies felt good on his tongue.

He understood now why Kevin had arranged for them to meet here. They would not slink away into the night, ashamed and afraid. They would leave their mark. People would know of their passing and be afraid. Only a few days ago the idea would have been strange to him. Meeting the cavalryman had changed that, as it had changed everything else.

“I’m cold,” Declan said. “Make me warm.”

Without any apparent effort, Kevin lifted Declan in his arms and carried him towards the dying heat of the bonfire.

 

Part 2

 

Declan had been in Kevin’s arms when the cavalryman found them. He and Kevin arranged to meet in the afternoon but it was early evening by the time Kevin got to the bothy. Things had not started well. Kevin had been delayed by an argument with his father and had arrived restless and angry and would not be soothed. He had picked a fight that started with words but moved on through pushing to rolling on the floor grabbing at each other.

Kevin was larger but Declan’s work in the fields had made him strong so they were evenly matched. The fight took on a life of its own, neither of them willing to submit. Finally, when he was almost at the end of his strength, Declan pinned Kevin beneath him and held him there until he saw the anger leave Kevin’s eyes.

“I don’t want to fight you,” Declan said.

“What do you want then?”

Declan had answered by sliding up Kevin’s chest, opening his fly and pulling out his erection.

“See what you do to me?”

“You’re poking it in my face, I can hardly miss it.”

Declan grinned and said, “Do you want me to take it away?”

The last of Kevin’s tension seemed to leave him. A smile like sunshine spread across his face.

“I can’t let it leave in that condition,” he said. ”Let go of my arms and I’ll see what I can do.”

“You don’t need your arms. Just use your head.”

“So you’re going to make me do all the work?”

“Would you like me to move your head for you?”

“Give it here. It’s obviously doing your thinking for you.”

Kevin had taken Declan into his mouth, working the tip with skill but torturous slowness. Declan rode it out, letting the pressure build, resisting the temptation to grab Kevin by the hair and increase the pace.

The release, when it came, was spectacular.

He rolled off Kevin, lay beside him and kissed his mouth in thanks.

That was when the applause started.

Kevin and Declan sprang apart like scalded cats.

Fear filled Declan’s throat. He had been certain that they were alone. They should never have stayed after dark. Now someone had discovered them. Everything was lost.

They scrambled to the door of the bothy, but someone was there before them. It was dark now and all they could see was a man silhouetted against the gibbous moon.

“Now, now boys. There’s no need to run. I’m of you’re persuasion as you might say. And very persuasive you both are. I was mightily  impressed.”

“You spied on us?” Kevin sounded outraged

“Spying is an unkind description. I was taking a little rest at the back of the bothy and was woken from my sleep by the sound of young men doing what comes naturally and doing it very well. I was not so much spying as lost in admiration at the beauty of nature. Now let’s see if we can light this old lamp over here and have a proper look at one another.”

The man’s voice was soft, calm and pleasant on the ear even though his accent was English. The lamplight revealed him as a beautiful man, dressed in a cavalry uniform and with a sabre on his hip and a smile on his face.

The smile, in all its glory, was directed at Kevin. Kevin blossomed under that smile, opening up like a tightly folded bud meeting the sun for the first time.

Declan understood the attraction. He too was intrigued by the idea of a handsome grown man who admitted to being of “the same persuasion”. Yet, while he could see the appeal in principle, Declan did not take to the man. He put it down to jealousy. The man spoke only to Kevin and could not seem to look away from him.

Later, Declan would recall that coat was old, almost antique,and dirty, as if the man had just climbed out of the loose soil in the floor of the bothy. He would flail at himself for not noticing the uncanny ability to see in the dark and for not paying attention to the resemblance he saw to Father Boyle when he looked in the man’s eyes.

That evening neither Declan nor Kevin recognised the cavalryman for the ruthless predator that he was. He regaled Kevin with stories of faraway places and old wars. He taught him drinking songs. He ignored Declan completely. What hurt Declan, was that Kevin seemed not to notice that he was the sole focus of the cavalryman’s attention.

Time passed them by swiftly and Declan was surprised when the cavalryman said, “Dawn will be upon us in an hour and I have somewhere to be by then. We must bring things to an end.”

Declan knew that they would both be in trouble for staying out all night. He tried to drag Kevin towards the door. If they ran, they might make it to their own homes before dawn. But Kevin was too well mannered simply to leave. He offered the cavalryman his hand and bid him farewell.

The touch of Kevin’s flesh on his seemed to release something in the cavalryman. He snarled and pulled Kevin towards him, lifting him off his feet in a single motion. Then he bit into Kevin’s throat like a rabid dog and did not let go.

Declan stood frozen. Fear overwhelmed him. Piss ran down his leg. The cavalryman had become a beast and was killing his beloved but Declan could not make himself move.

After long minutes, the cavalryman lifted his head. Kevin’s blood covered his lower face. His mouth was open. He had fangs.

Kevin’s body had stopped twitching and was limp in the Cavalryman’s arms. Even though it was clear that the boy had died, the Cavalryman pressed his mouth against Kevin’s in an obscene travesty of a loving kiss that went on for several seconds.

Finally, he looked up at Declan and said, “Wonderful. The boy tasted as good as he looked.”

Declan, still rooted to the spot by his fear, started to sob. Kevin was dead. Kevin was dead. Kevin was dead.

Quicker than Declan could follow with his eyes, the cavalryman closed the distance between them.

He dropped Kevin at Declan’s feet.

“He died knowing that you failed him; that you are such a coward you didn’t even try to save your lover.”

The beast had not touched him but Declan felt as if a sword had just been twisted in his gut. Declan knew that he could not live with himself. His beloved was dead and he had just let it happen.

“Kill me too. Please.”

It came out as a snot-sodden whimper.

The cavalryman laughed.

“You’re not pretty enough to kill. Now take him home to his loving parents and get him buried.”

At the door the cavalryman paused.

“We’ll be meeting again”

The rest of that day was a blur. He had carried Kevin’s body to the big house and told a story of spending the night looking for him and then having found him slain by a beast.

Father Boyle had been called and had denied Kevin a Christian burial, claiming that the bite marks on Kevin’s neck were the Devil’s seal. When he claimed that Declan and Kevin had both consorted with the Devil, Kevin’s father had made the priest leave.

Declan helped Kevin’s father dig a pit in the home field, wrap Kevin in a shroud, bury him and mark the place in the old way, with a stone cairn.

Afterwards, he had gone back with the family to mourn Kevin with whiskey and tears deep into the night. At some point, Declan had fallen into a drunken sleep.

The cries of the dying roused him.

The cavalryman was in the house, slaughtering all around him with his sabre, singing one of his drinking songs as he worked and moving so fast, no one could stop him.

Every member of Kevin’s household died that night. The stone floors ran slick with blood. The air stank of death and corruption.

Again, Declan froze. He had stayed on the floor, arms wrapped around his legs, and waited for his turn to die.

Blood dripped from the blade of the cavalryman’s sabre onto Declan’s boots.

“Well, that was as bracing a start to the evening as I’ve had in many a year.”

Declan looked up at the cavalryman but did not move. The monster’s lower face was painted in gore. He had the relaxed stance of a glutton at the end of a too-large meal.

“’Course you’re lover tasted the best of any of ’em. His mother and father had passed their prime. His sisters came close, ‘specially the youngest, but they lacked that earthy male undertone that made the boy special.”

“His name,” Declan said, making himself climb to his feet, “was Kevin and he was a man. A beautiful man. A man I loved.”

The monster laughed.

“And yet you didn’t lift a hand to save your precious Kevin, did you boy?”

With a roar, Declan launched himself at the monster’s throat.

The cavalryman had simply stepped aside, as if Declan had been moving at a snail’s pace.

Declan landed on the blood-slickened floor and slid across it, bumping up against the broken body of Kevin’s father.

“You’re too slow to fight me, boy.”

Declan pushed himself up on his arms but before he could find his feet, the tip of the sabre has pricked the back of his neck.

“Stay on the floor, boy. Take a look at the man in front of you and ask yourself if you want to join him.”

Declan stared at the corpse that was inches from his face and he knew that dyeing was no longer what he wanted; there was something else he wanted much more.

“I am going to kill you.” Declan said.

The Cavalryman placed his foot on Declan’s arse and pressed down so hard, Declan thought his hip would break.

“You are alive because you know where the boy is buried,” the cavalryman said.

“Why do you care where he lies? Are you some kind of carrion crow wanting to feast on the eyes of the dead?”

“I can bring him back.”

The word’s made Declan’s heart stop.

“How?”

“Well now, that depends on what you’re prepared to do to help me raise him.”

The cavalryman scooped Declan off the floor with one hand and held him a foot of the ground.

“Well?”

“I will do whatever is within my power, to bring Kevin back.”

The cavalryman grinned and lowered Declan to the floor.

“Take off your belt.”

Declan hesitated.

“Don’t be shy, boy. I’ve already seen what you have in there and how you use it.”

Suddenly, the memory of Kevin laying beneath him flooded Declan’s brain. Loss grabbed hold of his guts and twisted. He handed the monster his belt, holding up his trousers with one hand.

The cavalry man moved rapidly, looping the belt around Declan’s neck and pulling it so tight that Declan started to choke. Instinctively he raised both hands to claw at the leather looped around his throat. His trousers slipped to his ankles. He was too busy fighting for breath to care.

The cavalryman laughed, loosened the belt around Declan’s neck enough to allow him to breathe but still kept the length of leather pulled tight. Declan fell to his knees, gasping for breath.

“So, pup,” the cavalryman said, tugging hard on Declan’s new leash, “Get to your feet, pull up your trousers and lead me to where you buried your lover.”

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