Thursday, April 28, 2011


     Liz tore open the newsletter.  Rock in a Dead New Year at Oakland Auditorium!  It's the end of the seventies.  She grabbed her duffel bag and tossed six rainbow shirts on top of a lid of Panama Red.
     Her mother peeked in the door.  "Leaving already?"
     "Yeah.  Christmas is over."  Liz threw the duffel bag over her shoulder.
     "Where are you going?"
     "Following the faithful, Mom.  Following the Dead."


     Liz thumbed rides and walked when no one stopped, making her way to Oakland.  Her buzz was solid by the time she joined the masses in the parking lot.  The concert had started and so had the spinners.
     She waved one of the shirts over her head.  "Handmade Dead shirts!  Five bucks!"  Liz wandered through the crowd and, by selling the shirts and a few joints, earned her admission.
     The stadium was packed and she squeezed in making her way as close to the stage as possible.  She took a deep breath of the pungent air mixed with pot, hash and body stench.
     She lit a joint and offered it to the guy next to her.  He stood rigid and stared at the stage, swaying with the music.  He leaned against her until she was pushed in his direction by the bodies on her other side.  Someone reached out and took the joint so she lit another.
     "So how many concerts have you seen?  I've been a Deadhead for six years and haven't missed a single one.  Well, I've at least made the parking lot."  The drum solo started and the packed bodies throbbed with the beat.
     She looked over at the man beside her.  He was lost in the music; his eyes were vacant and his mouth hung open.  He rebounded off one shoulder or another, depending on the swell of the crowd.
     "What'd you take?  Looks like a sweet trip."  In the distance a fat girl threw her peasant blouse in the air.
     "Quiet type, huh?  I get motor mouth when I'm buzzed.  My last boyfriend hated that, but I can't help it."  She hit the joint and passed it on.
     The crowd behind pressed against her back.  Her silent friend fell into her and she shoved him upright.  Her shoulder felt warm and wet.
     "Gross!  Look what you did!"  She reached up to wipe the drool from her shoulder but her hand came away covered in blood.
     The man beside her moaned as the crowd bucked around them.  Somewhere off to the left she heard more moans.
     "Buddy, you're bleeding!  You need help."  Liz reached up and slapped his cheeks trying to gain his attention.  More voices began to maon in all directions.
     "C'mon.  Let's find a rent-a-cop or something."  She pulled on his arm and he turned to face her.  His eyes were still vacant and his jaw hung slack.
     The band started All Over Now.  "Damn, that's my favorite song.  Hey!  What the hell do you think you're doing?"  Liz suddenly lost her buzz as he bent and tore out her throat.

                                                                THE END

Sunday, April 10, 2011

When a Baby Laughs

     Bridget sighed as she pulled the needle to the back of the hoop and secured the last tiny stitch.  She removed the soft ivory fabric and smoothed it out across her knees. In the centre was a smiling
pink baby cradled on a sunny yellow rose. A tiny fairy hovered above the infant’s head. Circling the picture were the words “With every baby’s first laugh, a fairy is born.” Nights in the maternity ward had been slow lately, and she’d been able to finish the cross-stitch in just two weeks.

     “Seanmhathair, this one’s for you. I only wish I could see a fairie like you did,” she whispered softly as she tucked the threadwork into her tote bag. Bridget sighed again, remembering her grandmother.

* * *
     Born in the country just outside Kenmare, Seanmhathair’s heart never truly left her beloved Ireland. Bridget’s Seanathair, Ian Patrick O’Brien, moved his bride to America from Dublin in 1913 following Bloody Sunday. He’d lost his job as a tram driver in the lockouts, but more devastating
was the loss of his best friend – shot through the heart by a strikebreaker.

     America held the promise of a brighter future, and Seanathair had grabbed for the gold ring. After docking in New York Harbor the young couple sought peace and prosperity in Maine, where the rocky coast was reminiscent of the Emerald Isle.  Five years later Bridget’s Da, Ian Patrick II, was born. Before the boy’s third birthday Ian senior was dead, succumbing to pneumonia. Seanmhathair
never remarried, and young Ian remained fiercely devoted to his mother. At the age of twenty he married Lois Thompson, a sensible young woman from Yankee stock, and brought her to live in the modest home he’d shared with his mother all his life.

     Ian and Lois brought Bridget into the world on St Patrick’s Day, 1950.  Her hair was a rich copper, just as her grandmother’s had once been, and they shared the same green dancing eyes. Bridget spent many hours at Seanmhathair’s knee listening to endless tales of the Emerald Isle. Lois tried to discourage the old woman from filling young Bridget’s head with nonsense, but she never succeeded.

     Of all the tales her grandmother told, Bridget’s favourites were about the fairie folk. “Oh, Seanmhathair! I want to see a fairie!” she would cry.  “I’ve looked in the garden under all the roses, but I can’t find one! Not a single one!”

     “Patience, child. One day you’ll see a wee sprite. Watch for a babe’s first laugh. That’s when you’ll be sure to see one. That’s how they’re born, ye know. Oh, but I saw a beautiful one the night you arrived. Ah, how she kissed your dimpled cheek and winked away.” Seanmhathair consoled the young girl. “Ye were born under the light of the full moon with a caul o’er your face. You’re destined to see the fey realm one day, I promise you. Remember, in the seeking for one thing will you find another. All in its proper time.”

     When Bridget was fifteen, she and her parents were in an automobile accident.  Bridget sustained minor injuries, but watched in agony as her parents bled to death before help could arrive. She felt so useless, not knowing what to do or how to save them. It was at that moment she decided to devote her life to medicine.  She worked hard and put herself through school while working nights in a laundry. She graduated with honours and a Nursing degree in 1974.  Her grandmother sat beaming in the
first row as Bridget received her cap and pin. She took a job in the Maternity Ward at Mercy Hospital in Portland.

     Seanmhathair died six months later.

* * *
     Eight years had passed. Bridget had assisted at almost three hundred births, and had cared for each tiny newborn. At first she had hovered over them, anxious of making any mistake. She never took a break, and often skipped her lunch to stay near the infants. Many had smiled, and some even laughed softly in their sleep. Still, though she always watched, Bridget never saw a fairie.

     She rose and moved through the nursery, checking each swaddled bundle in the isolettes. Her crêpesoled shoes whispered across the tiles. “Ah, well,” she said to herself. “I’ll be thirty years old next week. I suppose it’s time I stopped believing in nursery tales.”

     She approached a small blue bundle.  The card above his head announced the arrival of young Colin Brady O’Connor. Bridget smiled as she brushed the fine copper fuzz atop his head. The baby squirmed as much as the swaddling blanket would allow.  She could see his eyes darting beneath his closed lids.
     “Playing with the angels, are you?”

     He turned his head toward her and his perfect little rosebud mouth parted letting a tiny, silvery  sound escape.
     “Your first laugh! How precious you are,” Bridget cooed as she stroked his head. She stared in amazement as thin pale wisps of fog formed above the sleeping babe. The fog thickened and
condensed into a gray-green cloud. A faint breeze passed through the room, dispersing the cloud. In its place was a winged creature barely two inches tall. It wore a pale green suit, soft moss-coloured slippers and a peaked green cap.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         “Top o’ the morning to ye, Bridget,” it said, doffing its hat.

     “And the rest o’ the day to yerself,” she responded automatically.  Bridget shook her head, realising she had slipped into her Seanmhathair’s brogue. She hadn’t heard the traditional Irish greeting since her grandmother passed away. Her heart ached as she remembered a lifetime of exchanging these words every morning at the breakfast table with Da and Seanmhathair.
     She stared at the wings, beating almost too fast to be seen. The muted nursery light reflected as an iridescent shine off their surface. “Are ye truly a fairie?”

     “Aye, and what else would I be, now lass? Don’t be daft. Let’s see, this says me name is Colin. Ye can stop thinking of me as ‘it’. I’m a man, right enough.” The tiny man straightened his coat tails and replaced his cap on his head.

     “I’ve waited all my life to see a fairie. I’d nearly given up hope.” Puzzlement filled Bridget’s trembling voice. “Why now? Why are you here?”

     The little man flew closer to Bridget’s face. “I’m here because this fine Irish lad birthed me. I’m speaking to you so that you will know the destiny you have to fulfil. Yer Seanmhathair told ye of the Faire folk and the Fey Realm, didna she?”

     Bridget nodded silently.

     “Aye but there are those less gentle and kind in the Realm that have escaped their bonds and are preparing to arrive. Ye must keep yer eyes sharp. Heed me warning well, child. Tonight ye will see an unholy fairie birthed when a human babe in your care screams. Dunna be afeared.” He extended a tiny gold shillelagh no bigger than her cross-stitch needle. “Take it, girl. I have na got all day.”

     Bridget took the tiny cudgel between her thumb and index finger. It glowed with an intense golden light.

     “Ye’ll have ter be fast,” the little man continued. “When the unholy one appears ye must club her while her wings are still wet, before she can fly away. If she escapes, great evil will be spilled across the world. Do ye ken me words?”

     Wide-eyed, Bridget nodded.

     “Ye have been chosen to stop the evil ones from entering the mortal coil. Tis a grave responsibility, yet I feel ye have the inner heart for the work. May the Saints be with ye, child.”  The fairie bowed low and disappeared.

* * *
     “I must be losing my mind,” Bridget thought. She moved toward the small desk in the corner and picked up her clipboard to make her shift report, though she had no intention of including any mention of the last five minutes. As she reached for her pen she realised she still held the tiny golden club. She dropped it into her front pocket and sat down, cradling her head in her hands.  Half an hour later she  received a call from the Emergency Department.

     “We’re sending a bad one up your way. Crack addicted girl, fifteen years old or maybe a bit younger.  Says she’s had no pre-natal care, and doesn’t even comprehend that she’s pregnant. Doctor Fisher’s been called, but I think the baby’s coming fast; you may be on your own for this one. Just wanted to warn you.”

     Bridget had attended a seminar about drug-addicted mothers just a month ago. This would be the first
case for Mercy Hospital, but surely not the last. The larger facilities in the area transferred all the charity cases to Mercy. Without proper insurance, all the street pregnancies would end up in her care. The instructor had warned them the numbers of these mothers was rising at an alarming rate.

     Bridget felt her stomach tighten, remembering all the things that could be wrong with the baby soon to be her charge. The infant was probably premature and would be far too small. He could be born in a drug-induced, depressed condition if the mother had recently smoked crack. If she had not
used recently the baby would arrive suffering extreme withdrawal. Either way posed serious problems for the helpless child.

     “Bridget, I need some help here!” Jane struggled with the young girl who kicked and screamed at the orderly pushing her wheelchair. Bridget ran to assist, and the three of them managed to get the girl into a bed.

     “Good luck with that one.” The orderly took the wheelchair and disappeared into the elevator.

* * *
     Bridget’s job was to take the baby as soon as it was delivered, while Jane would tend to the mother. Mercy Hospital was short-staffed, so there were only the two of them on duty. Jane looked up from examining the girl. “They were right. No time to wait for the doctor. This one wants out now.”

     The girl sat halfway up, shrieking obscenities at the two women at her feet. She gave a harsh grunt, and a tiny, blood-soaked bundle oozed onto the bed. The tiny baby lay motionless as the mother began to shriek and kick.

     Bridget clipped and cut the cord quickly, wrapping the girl and rescuing her from the imminent danger of her mother’s flailing feet.

     “Go, take care of the baby. I’ll deal with her.” Jane slapped restraints on the terrified girl, then pulled a syringe from her pocket and injected a sedative.

     Bridget watched the girl go limp, still mumbling words that should not come from a woman’s lips. She hoped Jane would encounter no difficulties while delivering the placenta.

     Carrying the limp, silent bundle she rushed to the nursery. Under the warming lights she weighed and measured the infant girl who slowly began to thrash about. She wiped the baby gently and used a bulb syringe to suction her mucous-clogged airways.

     The child tossed her head with uncommon strength, squinted her tiny face and balled her fists. Bridget was amazed to find she could barely keep her on the table. Suddenly the child grew rigid, and every muscle tensed as her face turned a deep purple. Her tiny lips parted and a shriek of pure agony issued, resounding through the nursery.

     Bridget watched in stunned silence as an ugly mist rose from the baby, the dark purple-black colour of a nasty bruise. The mist swirled and began to thicken and take shape. A hideous fairie woman shot out of the vapour. Her wings were black, and her hair was a streaming mass of purple. She began to wail in a highpitched keen. The sound was hideous, and Bridget felt her supper rise in the back of her throat.

     Bridget stumbled backward to get away from the sound, but remembered the tiny shillelagh in her pocket. She quickly withdrew it and struck the fairie on her acorn-sized head.

     The fairie exploded, sending splashes of purple-black darkness in every direction. The infant whimpered softly, but stopped her thrashing. Bridget dropped the tiny club back into her pocket, and finished caring for the baby girl. Once the babe was moved to a heated isolette and sleeping, Bridget
began to clean the table where the baby had been.

     There were thin strands of purple-black goo clinging like a spider web to the wall behind the table. Bridget extended her finger, but the gelatinous mess began to smoke before she touched it. As Bridget stared at the wall the substance disappeared, leaving only a slight blistering of the paint behind to mark where it had been.

     “Oh Seanmhathair, no one is ever going to believe this!” Bridget longed to talk with her grandmother, to try to understand what had happened. Her shift was nearing its end, and she decided
to relay only the expected medical information to the nurse who would soon relieve her.

     Later as she walked to her car, she remembered what Fairie Colin had said. The evil fairies had escaped, and she must stop them. She needed to fulfil her destiny. She looked to the dawning sky and said a silent prayer that she was not alone in the fight. After all, there was just so much that one girl could do.