Art: "Crying Vessel" by Dose Alvarez
Fiction: "Witnesses" by Victoria Costello
Teague runs his hand over the smooth stone of the column, so wide he can’t wrap his arms around it. A plaque by the entrance says this building used to be a jail, then a lunatic asylum—they actually use those words—and now it’s The Bank of Ireland with an Italian restaurant off the back alley. Not counting the castle, it’s the biggest thing in Ballymore.
He passes a row of shops—, hats, cigars, newspapers; no more than three people can fit in any of them—and stops at a pile of rubble on the same block. The bones of a house collecting cobwebs, moss, food wrappers. Are they waiting for a ghost family to come home and clean up the mess? Maybe they are. Great zombie Jesus, it’s like living in a theme park here. Yesterday, when he took the castle tour, the guide said the Normans built it in the twelfth century to get a good shot at anyone trying to steal their cattle. He went to the top of one of the towers to check out the angle it offered on cars driving the M6. It gave him a perfect shot.
The drugstore looks modern from the street, but behind the register, the wall is stacked with old blue and green glass bottles, by hand with names like , Bismuth, Tinct Buchu, Areca, , . He likes how the syllables roll off his tongue as he whispers them. Another shelf has a rusty scale, stone bowls, grinding tools. These people don’t throw anything away.
“That’s all we’ve got left of my grand-uncle Paddy’s apothecary,” the guy behind the counter says, nodding over his shoulder. He’s half bald, on the fat side.
“What happened to the rest of it?”
“The Brits burned it down.”
His name tag says Sean Mitchell, Chemist.
“Why’d they do that?”
“We had a wee rebellion going on. I like the feeling of having Paddy looking over my shoulder while I carry on the family business.”
Teague drops a pack of gum on the counter and fifty cents. Sean drops his eyes, then lifts them to meet Teague’s. “Are you going to pay for the candy?”
“Oh yeah. I forgot.” He pulls the chocolate bar out of his pants pocket and adds a Euro.
Sean raises his eyebrows and blows air like his cheeks are popped balloons.
From a rear pocket, he takes out a pack of batteries. “I don’t really need them.” He shrugs and gives the batteries back to Sean while avoiding eye contact. It’s like his hand has a mind of its own.
Sean points a finger below the counter. “Since I put in these cameras, I’m seeing a lot more than I’d like to.”
“Sorry. I won’t do it again.” Probably wishful thinking but it can’t hurt to say.
Sean’s smile isn’t the happy kind. At least he didn’t bust him.
Teague is retracing his steps through Old Town Square when he catches the voices blowing past him in the breeze. Words, parts of sentences separated. Except these voices aren’t talking to him or about him. That’s new.
Traitor . . .
I’m the same as you.
On your knees . . .
Teague stops and does a 360-degree turn. Main Street is behind him, the old lunatic asylum opposite, Saint Brendan’s straight ahead. Maybe that’s where the voices come from. Except there’s no one standing on the church steps and the doors are closed.
You’ve got the wrong man.
Then give me the right name.
When he stands by the low rock wall surrounding the church, the voices are louder and the loose words have joined up to make sentences.
Not my boy. Leave him be.
There’s a fire. Run!
. Mother of God, tell me it’s not so!
He’s pretty sure these voices belong to dead people. Maybe they’re talking to each other. Nah, it’s more like they trying to get somebody’s attention. A lady carrying a shopping bag in each hand gives him a friendly look. Did she really not hear anything?
He leans against the wall and pops a fresh stick of gum in his mouth. Maybe people around here are sick of hearing from these guys, which pisses off the dead people so they talk louder. He takes a few steps away from the wall and the chatter dies down. He backs up and touches a rock and it’s like his hand is stuck in an electric outlet.
Take them, please. I can’t feed my babies anymore.
Mam, don’t go!
He steps back from the wall, whirls around, and makes for Main Street.
It’s a sunny, warm afternoon and the sidewalk is packed with shoppers, kids out in packs, a deliveryman double-parked. He feels better hidden in the crowd. His stomach makes hungry noises. He considers skipping three o’clock group. “Don’t worry, Ryan will help you fit in,” Kate said this morning. She can be totally clueless.
He stops at a juice bar and buys a banana smoothie. He’s slurping it, checking out a video store window, when he remembers what Ryan said about souls hanging around the ruins of houses. Maybe it’s the same with the rock wall! Then, it’s like his thought turned on a switch. The voices start up again. He’s curious, so he doesn’t try to shut them down. He takes a deep breath and catches glimpses of old timey people. They must be the ones yelling.
Run, lads, run.
I’m hit. Leave me. Go!
Whoa, there’s some seriously bad stuff going on in the square . . . A column of British soldiers busting down the doors of St. Brendan’s . . . they drag out a bunch of rebels, line them up against the rock wall, and shoot point blank. Now they’re setting fire to the houses and stores . . . Holy shit. People are running into the street and getting shot at.
It feels like he’s there with them. Or they’re here. He can’t tell the difference anymore. Teague holds his breath and the pictures freeze. Leaving him stuck in some kind of void where it’s dark with no sound except the blood swishing through his veins, his heart pounding, echoing off his skull. Come on brain. Wake up! He hits his forehead with the palm of his hand. Nothing. He does it again. Ow, damn it. Once more, harder, and finally, some light and sound seep in. Hand-held video cameras, Xbox, E.T. on a bike; the video store window display slowly comes back into focus. A bus pulls up behind him. He whips around, dizzy, and makes out a woman in a headscarf staring at him. He goes into the video store to get away from her and think.
Some quick laps around the store’s two aisles calm him down. He’s got the boxed set of Lord of the Rings in his hands when it comes to him. What if the rocks in the wall held on to the voices and pictures of what happened here the same way silicon chips store data? Silicon comes from quartz crystals and, duh, quartz is a rock. His arms and legs vibrate as the puzzle solves itself. They stayed around all this time, waiting for people to tune in at the right frequency. People like him. But why?
Teague returns the boxed set to the rack and heads back to the square where two old guys are playing chess at a stone table. He sits on a bench across from them and waits for an answer. The guys have finished one game and started another before it comes to him. Right, because what happened here was so terrible, the ones who suffered need more witnesses. It could be a quantum thing. Like, unless there’s an observer, the atoms, or whatever the voices are made of, just hang out in space. Like they’re stuck there. Or maybe he’s just thinking crazy shit. He’s still sorting it out when St. Brendan’s bell peals three times. Damn. He’s late for group.
Published November 10th 2022
Victoria Costello is a writer and teacher of memoir and fiction living in Southern Oregon. “Witnesses” is an excerpt from her debut novel, Orchid Child, which explores the interplay of madness, magic, and armed rebellion in a three-generation Irish American family. Orchid Child will be released by Between the Lines Publishing in May of 2023. Follow Victoria’s work at victoriacostelloauthor.com
Doze Alvarez is a comic artist and lost soul living in New Orleans, LA. They primarily focus on using the setting of outer space to explore motifs of loss, loneliness, and self-actualization. Even in space, you can’t escape yourself. You can find their work on instagram @doze_alvarez