'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Roger's Trout

The clocks have gone back. It gets dark early these days, and the fog makes it seem even darker. It's good weather for Halloween. When the fog started to clear last night I thought I saw some strange lights in the sky. They could have just been strange stars. One of my neighbours spends his nights observing the strange stars in the sky. Only he can see some of them, and only he can hear what they say. A star called Keith keeps asking him to pass on a message to someone called Jeffrey, but the star won't say who Jeffrey is.

My uncle Cyril often went fishing with a friend of his called Owen. They'd go to a lake and rent a boat for a day. They rarely caught anything worth eating, but one day Owen caught the biggest trout they'd ever seen. He needed Cyril's help to get it into the boat and kill it. They knew they had to take this to the pub near the lake, where the drinkers were always boasting about their catches.

They expected to see awe on the faces of the drinkers when they revealed the trout in the pub, but instead they saw fear. The bar man dropped a glass on the ground. Silence followed the sound of the shattering glass. The bar man broke the silence when he said, "It's Roger's trout!"

"Right," Cyril said. "I hope we haven't offended Roger."

"Roger is long dead," the bar man said, "but his curse lives on. He placed a curse on whoever would catch this fish. Which one of ye is the culprit?"

"Technically, it's both of us," Owen said.

"Then both of ye are cursed. Roger placed the curse in 1904. He respected this trout because it gave him some great racing tips."

"I'm fairly sure trout don't live that long," Cyril said.

"And I suppose you'd be fairly sure they don't give racing tips either, but this one does. Or this one did. There's no doubt that this is Roger's trout."

All of the other people in the pub agreed that this was Roger's favourite fish and that Cyril and Owen were cursed.

The bar man said, "Roger's curses always took on the same form. If you were cursed, you didn't have to worry about an accident coming your way, but you could be sure that your secrets would be revealed. It never failed to happen. People would cross Roger and he'd put a curse on them, and within months everyone would have heard about their hidden crimes, secret past lives or affairs."

Owen laughed nervously. "That's nonsense," he said. "It doesn't even qualify as nonsense. If it arrived at a nonsense convention, the real nonsense would get the security guards to throw it out."

"It never failed," the bar man said.

Cyril said, "How do you know it never failed? All this happened a long time ago."

"My father told me. I don't know who told him, but it wasn't the security guard at a nonsense convention."

"Everyone knows it's true," one of the drinkers at the bar said. "The fear of something like that doesn't fade. When Roger was still alive, anyone who found themselves cursed would go to see him straightaway to get the curse lifted, and they'd do whatever he asked. Even after he died, people would bring curses down on themselves by catching the wrong fish or standing in the wrong place or being happy at the wrong funeral. They'd always go to one of Roger's descendants to get the curse lifted. And that's what ye'll have to do. Ye'll have to go to see Roger's great-grandson. His name is Raymond."

"We'll go there right now," Owen said.

"I thought you said it was nonsense," Cyril said.

"It's very difficult to say what's nonsense and what's not. It changes from minute to minute, depending on how you look at it. One minute you're strolling around a nonsense convention, then you go to get a cup of coffee and when you come back you find you're at a meeting of hair dressers. And the security guard throws you out. When I look at it now, going to Raymond's house seems like the most sensible thing in the world to do."

The bar man gave them directions to Raymond's house. It was an old house on the banks of the lake, just half a mile away from the pub. They went to the house, and when they told Raymond that they needed to get a curse lifted he invited them in. They sat down in his living room and they told him about the fish and what the people in the pub had said.

"They were right about the curse," Raymond said. "There's no doubting that this is the fish. My father used to take me out to visit him. It's a pity ye weren't warned about the curse in advance, but things can be put right. I'll lift the curse, but there will be a small fee."

"Anything," Owen said.

"Three-hundred euros."

"Three-hundred!" Cyril said.

"This is a very specialised service I perform. You won't find anyone else who can do it for you. Some other members of my family might claim they can do it, but they wouldn't do it properly."

"Three-hundred euros is fine," Owen said.

"I'll go and get my coat. We have a short journey to make." Raymond stood up and left the room.

Cyril said to Owen, "This is a scam. Those guys in the pub are probably in on it."

"It might be a scam, but then again it might not. You can't deny that we caught an exceptional fish. This curse thing is possible, and we can't take any chances when it comes to curses."

"Of course we can take chances with curses. It's all superstitious nonsense."

"It might be superstitious nonsense, but it's possible that there's something else in it. If you had a choice between walking under a ladder and not walking under a ladder, you'd choose not to walk under it."

"You wouldn't if you had to pay three-hundred quid to walk around the ladder."

"Forget about the ladder. This is nothing like ladders. This is much worse. This is a curse specifically targeted against whoever catches this particular fish, not seven years bad luck for whoever walks under any ladder anywhere in the world at any time. This is concentrated evil. Look into the eye of that trout and tell me you don't feel a sense of evil directed at us."

Cyril did feel something when he looked into the fish's eye, but he was still reluctant to part with the money. He said, "Just what is it you're trying to hide? Is it a crime, a secret past or an affair?"

"I have nothing to hide."

"Then you won't mind being cursed."

"Everyone has something to hide. No one 'wouldn't mind' being cursed like this."

Raymond returned. They paid him the money and they left the house. He said they were going to the woods on the hill overlooking the lake.

The sun had set by the time they reached the woods. Despite the darkness, Raymond seemed to know where he was going as he walked amongst the trees. Cyril and Owen followed him. Cyril said to Owen, "Is it a secret past life you're trying to hide? You travelled Europe as a magician's assistant called Maisy? Or you used to be the leader of a devil-worshipping cult? You sacrificed animals and burnt down churches?"

"It's nothing like that."

"A crime? Have you ever killed anyone?"

"No. You're in the wrong area entirely."

"An affair?"

Owen remained silent.

"You're having an affair! So who is she?"

"It's Edel."

"That's a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping for something more sensational than you having an affair with Edel."

Raymond led them to a small clearing in the woods. At the centre of the clearing there was a rock. He put the trout on top of the rock and he took a small black book from the pocket of his coat. He read out a few words in Irish, and then he put the book back into his pocket.

"What happens now?" Owen said.

"I'll throw him back into the lake and he'll be right as rain in the morning."

Raymond led them back out of the woods. Just after they had emerged from the trees they saw a man with a shotgun at the edge of the lake. He waved to them, and he started walking towards them. As he got closer they recognised him. It was Fergus, Edel's husband.

"It's the curse!" Owen said.

"How could it be the curse?" Cyril said. "The curse has been lifted, and there was nothing in it about getting shot. The bar man said that all of the people who were cursed would have their secrets revealed."

"Yes, but what if my secret is revealed while he's there to hear it, while he's armed?"

"If your secret is revealed," Raymond said, "it won't be because of the curse. And I really don't think it's a secret anyway."

"What do you mean?"

"He probably knows about what you've been getting up to with his wife."

"Oh God!"

"It's nothing to worry about. You're not the only one she's sleeping with, and he shares her pastime. That's what they do. They're... I'm sure there's some word for what they are."

"Happy?" Owen said.

"I wouldn't be too sure about that. Sometimes they'll share catches."

Owen didn't have time to ask Raymond what he meant by this because Fergus arrived. "This is a very pleasant surprise," he said. "I never expected to see familiar faces here."

"We came here for the fishing," Cyril said.

"I come for the hunting. I have a summer house on the banks of the lake. I insist ye all join me there for a drink."

"Sounds good," Cyril said.

It didn't sound so good to Owen, but he went to the summer house with the others. Raymond threw the trout into the lake on the way.

When they got to the house, Owen was surprised to find that Edel was there too. She was surprised to see him, but pleasantly surprised. When Fergus went to get the drinks, she sat next to Owen on a sofa. Fergus returned with a tray full of glasses, and after he had given the drinks to all of their guests he sat down at the other side of the sofa.

Cyril enjoyed his drink, and it was fun watching Owen's distress as well, but it would be more enjoyable to leave and imagine how much more distressing it would be for Owen when he was left alone with Fergus and Edel. Cyril finished his drink and he said, "I better be off. It's been a long day for me. Stay on for as long as you want, Owen."

"I'll be going as well," Raymond said.

"Wait!" Owen said. "There's something I have to say. This curse has made me dread the revelation of my secret, but I can see now that the fear of the truth coming out is worse than the truth coming out. That's why I want to reveal it right now and get it off my chest. I used to be the leader of a devil-worshipping cult. We sacrificed animals and burnt down churches. While spending time in jail, I saw the error of my ways. I abandoned the cult, and when I got out of jail I tried to build a new life for myself. I'm happy with this new life, but sometimes when there's a full moon I get the urge to put on my robes and sacrifice a sheep in the woods, or I'll see a church and I'll feel like getting sick. That little ceremony with the trout brought back so many memories. Good memories."

Cyril was tempted to tell the truth about this, that Owen was lying to get out of his role as a point in a love triangle, but he said nothing.

Edel stood up. Fergus said, "I better go and take those lamb chops out of the freezer before I forget."

"Perhaps I should be going as well," Owen said.

"It is getting late," Edel said.

After they had left the house, Cyril said, "Lying to get out of that situation was the easy option. I must admit, I'm impressed. You'd have landed yourself in even more trouble if you'd gone for the story about being a magician's assistant called Maisy."

"I never thought I was such a good actor. They didn't doubt that story for a second. Did you see the way they reacted?"

"You were too good an actor. The question you've got to ask now is how good are they at keeping secrets?"

"Oh no!"

"She might tell a friend and say 'Don't tell anyone'. And the friend might tell another friend. 'Don't tell anyone this, but you know yer man who crashed his car into his conservatory...' Everyone will know about your past life."

"It's the curse."

"Don't blame the curse," Raymond said. "You could easily get cursed again for wrongly blaming your troubles on the curse. This is entirely your own fault."

"Isn't there any sort of a curse or a spell you can put on them to keep them quiet?"

"There is, but my services don't come for free."

"I'll pay anything. Anything!"

The moose's head over the fireplace is very impressed by the latest batch of cakes made by the wife's aunt. The ship cakes look more like models of ships. Her helicopter cakes are very detailed. She wanted them to taste like helicopters too. This is why she started tasting helicopters. She says they go very well with cheese.