'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Shadow

People ride horses through the fields behind the garden. It's a great way of looking down on things without having to wait until your legs grow abnormally long. And you just have to sit there and hold the reins. It's like a piggy back ride on a pig who's been through butler school and whose legs have had that abnormal growth spurt. You'd have every right to look down on people if your butler carries you around the place. Your butler could look down on people too. I know people who'd feel inferior to a horse, and rightly so. They'd see the horse looking distinguished as it trots along, its head held high, whereas they tend to stoop and look down, the view of the stains on their trousers constantly reminding them how much better the horse is. At least they get to look down on their pigs, but the pigs couldn't care less.

My uncle Cyril was in his local pub one evening. As closing time approached there were only four people there, including the bar man. His name was Billy. The other two customers were Felix and Paddy. Even at its busiest, there was rarely more than ten people in the pub.

Just after midnight, Billy saw something small and black and it was moving quickly across the pub. It seemed to be a shadow of something, but that something was notable by its absence, like Cliff Richard and The Shadows without Cliff Richard. Billy wondered if he should shoot it. He would have done if it was more than just a shadow, i.e. if Cliff Richard was there. If you shoot a shadow you're just shooting the wall or the ground, which is something Billy liked to do when he got bored.

Cyril said, "I know a man who could help."

"What sort of a man?" Billy said.

"Well I've never personally checked, but I've always assumed he's a fully-paid member of the male population. He's not one of those fella's from Thailand, like Joe's wife."

"No, I mean what does he do?"

"For anything remotely supernatural, this is the fella to call. He's the man who got the thing of Mark's head and put it on Dan's."

"You think this is supernatural?"

"What else would it be? It could be the fairies."

"Oh God no. Those little feckers could ruin you."

"Shh. They'll definitely ruin you if you talk like that. I'll call Phil tomorrow and get him to come around."

When Phil arrived in the pub he wore a dark brown suit and a black bowler hat. He had a briefcase. He opened it on the bar and took out a notebook and a pen. He asked Billy a series of questions (such as 'Has there been a history of mental illness in your family?') and he wrote the answers in the notebook. But Billy interrupted him when he pointed and said, "Look, there's the shadow."

Phil fumbled in his pocket, took out a handgun and fired a few shots in the general direction of the shadow.

"I could have done that myself," Billy said.

"I should call my grandfather," Phil said. "He taught me everything I know."

When the grandfather arrived he said they'd have to wait until the shadow appeared again, even if they had to wait all night. Cyril and the other regulars liked the sound of that. They offered their assistance.

At two o' clock there was still no sign of the shadow. Felix said he knew an Elvis impersonator who cast a shadow of Dean Martin. "Some people believed he really was Elvis."

"Wouldn't it be more likely that he really was Dean Martin?" Cyril said.

"No, Dean Martin was still alive then."

"Wouldn't it be less likely to be Dean Martin after he's dead?"

"When Elvis died it became more likely that millions of people who work in supermarkets and take-aways are Elvis."

It made sense at the time. Shortly after that, the shadow appeared. It made its way across the pub, looking very casual, and it disappeared into the shadow cast by a table. Phil's grandfather was much calmer than Phil. He didn't reach for a gun at all. He just looked on in silence.

"Will we call it 'Les'?" Felix said.

"No," Billy said.

"I've always wanted to call something 'Les'. 'Hello Les. How are y', Les? Is that you, Les?'"

"And you'd say that to something you called Les?"

"Or someone called Les. You could call a dog Les."

"You'd call your dog 'Les'?"

"No, I suppose not. I'd call someone else's dog 'Les', if they asked me for suggestions. And then I could say, 'Hello Les. How are y', Les? Is that you, Les?'"

"We'll call the shadow 'Les' if it means that much to you."

Phil's grandfather said, "The only time I've seen anything like that before was at Hilary's house. I'll go to see her in the morning."

So he went to see her in the morning, and she came into the pub in the afternoon. The shadow went straight to her feet, like a dog going to its owner. She seemed pleased to see it too.

Felix said, "It wouldn't respond to the name 'Les' would it?"

"No," she said. "It doesn't really have a name. Although I used to call it 'Veronica', just to annoy it."

"And did that work?"


"Where did you get the shadow?" Billy said.

"It came with the house. My first reaction was to get petrol and matches to burn the place down, but then I thought no, that'll do no good. My next reaction was to scream, but that didn't do any good either, although it did seem to disorientate the shadow for a while. I've been told I have a very distinctive scream. A friend of mine said that his shadow fell off him when I screamed once. But I couldn't be screaming every time I saw the shadow just for the sake of disorientating it for a while. For one thing, he'd probably get used to it long before the neighbours would. I didn't know what to do, but when the shadow went a week without killing me, I started to relax. I thought there was a chance we could live together after all. I still left out traps and things but I didn't really expect them to work. I had a mouse trap with cheese in it. I knew that wouldn't work, but I'd have been kicking myself if after years of trying to catch the thing, someone came along and caught it with a mouse trap."

"Is there any chance you'd take it back?" Billy said.

"Oh yeah, I'd love to have it back. I've missed it since it left. Every little noise frightens me now. This little fella was great for keeping away mice and rats. Can you imagine if a mouse or a rat saw that flying by? They'd lay off the drink then."

"I think it's only making my rats drink more."

"And it's great for getting rid of people I want to get rid of. I'd say to them, 'There's something you have to see. You'll laugh at this.' They have a very distinctive laugh. It always sounds like a scream."

Felix said he'd like to hear her scream, so she gave it a go.

"To be honest," Felix said, "that was a bit of an anti-climax.

"I can't just switch it on. I need something to scare me, to make me do it with feeling."

"What would you say if I asked you out for a drink? And bear in mind that you can't scare me away with your shadow or your scream."

"I'd say yes. And bear in mind that I could just kick your shins. I do that very distinctively too."

"I know just the pub we can go to."

"What about here?"

"This isn't the sort of pub you'd take a woman to, not even a woman who screams, kicks shins and has an unexplained shadow. Although it might be the place to take a woman who sets things on fire."

She left the pub with Felix, and the shadow followed her. She probably screamed with feeling when Felix told her about his foot.

The moose's head over the fireplace has made friends with a small monkey. I don't know where the monkey came from. He likes climbing on the moose's antlers, and the moose lets him. The monkey doesn't like the rest of us. I think he suspects us of trying to take his harmonica. I don't know where he got the harmonica.