'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Woman in White

It's too warm to do any work in the garden. My great-grandfather once got a herd of sheep to cut the grass. He believed that a ghost shepherd was guarding the sheep at night. He often saw this shepherd when he looked out the window at dawn. But he got rid of the sheep when the shepherd started singing to wake up the birds.

My cousin Jane once agreed to play her keyboard at a village concert. The more she practised the more convinced she became that her small keyboard wouldn't be enough to entertain a crowd in an elevator, let alone in a village hall. She started experimenting with synthesisers, and she was amazed at some of the sounds she could make. Making interesting sounds seemed like just the sort of thing that would entertain the audience in a village hall.

On the night of the concert it took a few minutes to set up her synthesisers on the stage, and the audience were looking restless. She was starting to worry, but the first sound she made dispelled all the doubts of the people in the hall. It made everyone laugh, and they gave her a round of applause. Jane was delighted with this reaction, but things went horribly wrong when she made a second sound. This one brought terror to the crowd. Children ran from the hall, screaming as they went. She tried to repeat the first sound to bring calm, but she couldn't get it right. No matter what she tried she couldn't replicate that first sound she made.

She spend weeks trying to get that sound right. People a mile away could hear her working at her synthesisers. She never got it right, but she did create some spectacular sounds. One of them made a group of people form a cult. She thought she should give up on the sound if her attempts would only end up forming more cults. Most of the cults she'd inspired in the past had petered out after the first attempted sacrifice, but this group seemed more determined than the others. It was that sort of sound.

Claudia, Jane's best friend, convinced her to have another go at the sound, but this attempt only made things worse. It inspired the cult to put twenty multi-coloured balloons in a field near Jane's house. They were tied to a concrete block.

The balloons in the field looked sinister. All of the actions of a sinister cult seemed sinister. If the local school kids put balloons in a field it would have seemed even more sinister because the school kids were even more sinister than the cult. There were twenty balloons, all different colours. Jane and Claudia were afraid of them. They went to see Stephen, who had a radio-controlled robot, and they got him to get his robot to burst the balloons while they stood behind a ditch.

Unfortunately, the robot fell over as he made his way through the field. He lay on his side.

"What's he going to do now?" Jane said.

"He'll probably catch fire," Stephen said.

"Why would he do that?"

"You'll have to ask him that."

"You made him. You should know."

"When you see Louise throwing beetroot at the band stand in the park do you ask God why he made her do that?"

"God wouldn't answer. And God would probably disown Louise."

"Well I'm not answering either. I'm not disowning my robot, but I refuse to comment on his actions. Except to say that he's being very, very selfish." He said that loud enough for the robot to hear.

"If the contents of the balloons are flammable and your robot catches fire, then..."

Stephen ran away. Claudia said, "I told you we should have asked him about the burn marks on the robot."

Claudia was getting bored, so she went to the balloons and untied them. The wind carried them away. Jane and Claudia put the robot back on his wheels. It thanked them, and it started telling them all of Stephen's secrets. They laughed when the robot told them about its creator's love poetry and the time he danced with a sweeping brush to practise his dancing (he called the brush Emily to make it more realistic), but they were intrigued by one thing the robot said. Every night, Stephen went to the same spot in a field near the river. He was hoping to meet a woman in white.

The robot didn't know the reason for this behaviour because it had its origins in events that happened before the robot was created. Stephen once met a woman in a white coat in that field near the river. She apologised in advance for what she was about to do to him. He never found out what that was because he ran away through the fields. He kept running for hours, until dawn broke. He felt a sense of peace. He was inspired to write a book about his experiences, but his experiences had only lasted a few hours. He'd need to pad it out to make up a full book. His grandfather recommended including chapters on the Boer War. He took this advice, and he started researching the Boer War. He became obsessed with this, and the whole book turned out to be about the Boer War. By then he had forgotten most of his experiences running through the fields at night, and he felt as if he'd lost something. Every night he went back to the place where he met the woman in white, and he hoped to see her there again.

Jane and Claudia wanted to find out what he was up to, so they spied on him. They went to the field that evening, and they hid behind a ditch. Stephen arrived just after the sun went down. He waited there, and they watched him. Waiting and watching went on for nearly half an hour, until Claudia sneezed and Stephen realised he was being spied on. They came out from behind the ditch, and they told him about what his robot had said.

As he was cursing his robot, Jane and Claudia saw a woman in white walking through the field. Stephen turned around when he saw the expressions on their faces. She was walking slowly towards them, and she was followed by another woman in white, and then a man who was dressed all in white.

Over twenty people in white emerged from the darkness, and they all moved like zombies through the field. This was the cult and they were moving towards Jane. Stephen didn't know this, and he was terrified. He ran away again.

"Give us the sound," one of the cult said to Jane, and then they all said, "Give us the sound."

"I can't," Jane said. "I don't have my synthesisers."

Claudia said to her, "Well sing then."

Jane started singing 'Ave Maria'. The cult began to back away, and then they ran. They disbanded the cult as they retreated.

Jane and Claudia found out about what happened to Stephen when they read the book he wrote about his experiences running away through the fields. He kept running until he came across a bunch of balloons stuck in a tree. The balloons were being guarded by a sweeping brush that was leaning against the tree. He danced with the brush until dawn.

The moose's head over the fireplace is fascinated by the latest stories of the wife's uncle. I think his head must have been affected by spending too long in the sun. His stories refer to bishops who wash his eyes and socks made out of sand. He claims that whenever it rains oranges they get stuck in his head and it's easier to just leave them there rather than take them out.