AN EXCLUSIVE IFF!!! *waves the magic wand* In January, we started Irish Fiction Friday and asked you to support both the Dublin 2019 Bid and the authors that make Ireland’s history of SF/F/H really great. Jo got in touch with us straightaway, so we’re delighted to say that her first book Abendau’s Heir, the first book in The Inheritance Trilogy, will be published on the 31st of this month by . She’s been kind enough to give us several exclusive pieces of unpublished work and it’s a privilege to be able to bring them to you. This first extract, which we’re showcasing on here our blog, is the ghostly Namesake. Good luck with the book, Jo!
The waterway was silent. Not just quiet; going through the meres always held a different sort of quiet than the rest of the canal, a waiting silence of birdlife and gently lapping waters, of quick splashes as fishes were taken.
That day, our boat, Namesake, drifted through the meres. We had no temptation to cause a wake in the still land removed from the rest of the world, carried on the water and between the water. There were no sudden splashes, no bird calling to its mate across the lonely stretches, just a silence broken only by the soft chug of our engines, and the whistle of the kettle as I made a cuppa.
We passed no boats. Unusual that, for high summer. Normally, there’d be hire boats on the waterway, making their way to the aqueduct ahead – Stream in the Sky – and onto Llangollen. They’d be breaking the limit, their wake hitting the side of the canal and damaging it, and drinking wine on the stern, often with music blaring. They didn’t understand what it meant to be on the waterway; they weren’t like us who sailed all year around, who knew the majesty of a cold winter’s day, icicles lining the bank, as well as a day like this with dappled sunlight picking out the herons, each in their own patch, guarding the waterway for us.
At first, the peace was nice. We sipped our tea and stayed to the middle of the channel. There was no need to talk; Bill and I have travelled this canal so often, we’ve shared what we need to know. But, after a while – an hour, at least – Bill cleared his throat. “Quiet today.” He paused, thinking, I knew, and then admitted. “A bit odd, for this time of the year.”
A shiver ran down my spine. It was easy to put it down to the trees that had crowded over us, cutting out the sun, but that would’ve been a lie. It was eerie, and I’d been on the waterways long enough to know what was coming on quiet days like this on this stretch.
“Old-arm junction coming up soon,” said Bill.
“Yes.” There was no mistaking the chill in my spine for the fear it was. The old-arm junction was one of the places where the veil wasn’t just thin – sometimes it wasn’t there. I lifted the cups to bring to the galley but the sound of horses’ hooves stopped me at the top of the steps.
“Bill,” I said.
“Hush now,” he replied, but his voice was tight. “Just pay our dues, and then away.”
“Aye.” The hooves stayed ahead of us. Mist descended, cutting off the view of the bank with its guarding herons. Bill opened up the engine a little, enough to bring a wash, and I went to admonish him but then said, “A little more, Bill. We should catch up.”
He did. We powered along; perhaps 6 miles an hour, much more than we should be doing. Still the hooves stayed muffled, leading us into the mist. I grabbed his arm, wanting to tell him to go back, knowing I had to go forward. That I always had to go forward. His forehead shone with sweat; when you know what’s ahead, it can be harder than not knowing.
“Bill!” I said as we turned a long, graceful corner, and the junction came into sight.
“I see it.” He pulled the throttle back and, slowly, the ship started to slow. The arm of the old junction became clear through the mist, not grassed over and used as a walkway through a housing estate to take boaters from the tow-path of the main channel into town, but water-filled. A line of butties stood at its mouth, carrying coal for the town, painted with the slogan of their company-owners, their panels the traditional roses and castles. Boats that didn’t have diesel engines. And on the boats, lines of faces: the fathers, on the prow; mothers on the stern, working at their mending, crowded around with children, young to old. More children swarmed on the boat, tying down cargo, helping with the locks.
I braced myself, but still the sound of children laughing brought the bile up in me. I clutched Bill’s sleeve. We were slowing now, understanding that this was the way things were, that the canal had its history and its secrets and in some places, those secrets slipped through if you knew what to look for. A little girl ran along the tow-path, skirts sailing behind her, stained with coal dust. A boy, a brother perhaps, chased her down to the lock. My hand went to my mouth, but I called out the word,
Words carry badly across time. The girl ran on, her laughter muffled by a hundred years. I could see her reach the lock, watch in slow motion as she skidded in the mud.
Bill grabbed me, hugged me to him. “Mary, don’t look. It does no good.”
I kept my head up. I knew what would happen; I’d watched too many times from this spot not to remember. I heard her thin cry, the splash of water.
“Mary!” her father yelled, loud enough to break the veil of years. Her mother’s keening cry followed and I closed my eyes, for just a moment, wanting to not be here, and yet still I stood and listened. There are so few of us left now, the old stock, who know the waterways and what they demand. We’re lucky to know the past and priveleged to be given the agony of watching it.
Bill’s hand took mine. I watched my mother, a child, run to her twin as she was pulled from the water. She said her name – my name, named for her – begged her father to do something, anything, to help Mary.
I bowed my head in her memory and hoped that this time, she rests in peace. That, finally, we’ll have remembered enough. But I know another day will come with no tourists, just quiet mists and watching herons and me and Bill, the final watchers of the past. The end will only come with ours because, no matter how painful, we’ll return again – like all those who know the waters, we have our duty, and ours is to remember.