It’s Irish Fiction Friday once again, where we showcase some of the best SFF fiction that Ireland has to offer in the hope of encouraging you to support our amazing Bid for a Worldcon in Ireland in 2019. With so many authors and creatives, you’d be a rash fool not to! This week we’re showcasing one of our newer writers, Damien Kelly, who has allowed us reprint his short story, Lockout. The story was originally part of a collection – ‘Big Jim’s Shadow’ all about James Larkin: which was part of their Pandemonium series of alt histories (link at the bottom of the page to this). Lockout is a fairy story set during Larkin’s union strikes in Dublin of 1913. All of the speculative stories in the chapbook were set in Ireland during this time period, all had Jim Larkin and revolution in the background and were all written by Irish authors!
We are reminded not a little of Yeats’ The Stolen Child in this story of temptation and mystery in 1913…
Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand. / For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
by Damien Kelly
“Can you hear the bells begin, Alice? These are last moments of 1913, and if you don’t let me help you, they’ll be yours as well.”
Her jaw was locked. Her arms and neck and thoughts locked too. How did he think she might answer him?
Her bed faced the front windows, but all she could see were the tops of the trees that fronted St. Partick Dun’s Hospital. No lights were lit on the street, and the trees themselves were merely hunched and hairy shadows against a purple sky.
She thought there should be flames in that sky; surely every street in Dublin was burning? Grand heaps of stolen coal, piled the length of the Grand Canal, with all the striking workers sizzling on top of them. Isn’t that why she felt such terrible heat?
“Alice? I’m going to wet your lips, don’t be panicking.”
He lifted her head only slightly, but he might as well have hooked a sickle round the back of her neck and lifted her by the blade. The pain was searing and she couldn’t cry out. Her breath left her, and when he tipped the glass to her mouth, she was inhaling the water as much as swallowing it. A fit threatened to engulf her, but then his hand was on her brow. There was pain as cold and sharp as the lockjaw was hot, but it was there and gone in an instant and it calmed her.
“Better, isn’t it? Speak to me, Alice.”
“Yes.” Her voice rasped, sounded so much older than her sixteen years.
“Say yes again, and we’re done. Forget Jim Larkin and his unions. Forget about Patrick Traynor. Leave this slum of a city behind and come away.”
Partick Traynor had shot her in the hand.
After fifteen weeks of strikes and lockouts, she’d been reduced to living off the food packets that the Irish Women Worker’s Union were handing out; the stipend from the Trades Union Congress was gone. Her friend Nora said that some of the girls from Jacobs were getting bags of broken biscuits out the back door of the factory, but Alice didn’t see that as much different from being a scab.
On the 18th of December she’d been on Mark Street, collecting her packet, when a group of Robinson’s coal carts had come trundling past. All the men working the carts were scabs, grasping at pennies while the likes of Mr. W.N. Robinson laughed at how cheap they were bought.
Yes, the women of the union had jeered them, threatened to get them gelded or dead. But that wasn’t what did for Alice.
As the protesting crowd grew around the parked carts, the horses shied and bolted. Back at the police barracks, a constable told his sergeant that he’d been in the middle of the ensuing fray and could attest to the danger of the situation, but Alice never saw him there. What she did see was Patrick Traynor stealing coal.
Traynor claimed he’d not seen Alice at all and certainly didn’t aim for her. He said he’d only sought to scare off the hostile crowd, fearing for his life. Nobody questioned why Robinson’s workers had guns at all. They let Patrick out the next day, but lifted him and his brother later for the “larceny of a bag of coal.” She hadn’t even begrudged it to him.
Nora had dressed the wound, but Alice had needed the hospital anyway. They took the bullet out and sent her home, but the lockjaw was there and never got better.
The dirt of the city was always on you, and if it got in you, you were dead.
“Come away, Alice Brady. Don’t die.”
“To your castle?”
“Is it beautiful? Are the people beautiful there?” Her voice sounded younger by the minute.
“It is beautiful, but wild. And the people are beautiful, but terrible too. You could tame them, Alice. Beguile them, delight them. Be their mistress. Their queen.”
“And they would be my servants?”
“Your faithful servants. As I am.”
Her eyes found his, swam up from the milky depths and saw clear.
“And how much would I pay them, then?”
He looked at her quizzically.
Alice felt the fever rising again, but wouldn’t let her mouth clamp shut.
“That’s what I thought,” she hissed through gritting teeth. “You’re all the same.”
His hand drew back, taking the coolness with it.
“Go back to Hell,” she told him. “I’m not a scab.”