Another vampiric goody from the previous century, as it were.
Mary wiped an imaginary crumb off the bar and sighed.
“Bloody Protestant bastards.”
She looked around the dim, empty pub, immediately ashamed of what she had said, even though she knew without looking that there was no one there to hear her words. Despite the fact her boss was making her work on St. Patrick’s Day, she felt guilty. Just because her boss was a bloody arse didn’t mean all Protestants were bad. Some of her best friends and favorite customers were Protestant after all.
And what with the new peace accords and the new government, it was important for young people like herself to set aside the prejudices of the old that had led to so much bloodshed in the past. Still it was tough. Even though he was paying her double-time, to make her work on St. Patrick’s Day, well, it just wasn’t right.
She glanced around the empty bar. Not a soul all day. It was in a poor Catholic neighborhood. Tourists rarely made it to this part of Belfast, and most Protestants were afraid to set foot in a bar like this, except for those that knew it was owned by a Protestant. Mary turned around to look up at the clock above the taps. If she closed now she could still make the 9 o’clock mass.
She was reaching behind herself to take off her apron when she heard the telltale tinkle of the bell over the door. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she muttered to herself as she turned around to look at her unwanted patron. Her eyes grew wide in alarm; she raised a hand to cover her open mouth.
Just inside the door stood a short, stocky man, gazing around the bar with a smirk. He couldn’t have been taller than five-foot five, maybe six inches. But that wasn’t shocking in and of itself. What was, was his hair. It cascaded well down past the small of his back in tangles and knots. Not quite dread locks, his hair was just long, tangled and somewhat dirty. He had a beard to match that hung down to the top of his belt. Both blazed with a light that seemed to shift between auburn and copper as he walked slowly and purposefully up to the bar.
Mary promptly shut her mouth and recovered her professional composure. She grabbed a bar rag and began to wipe down the bar in front of the stranger out of habit. “Good evening sir. And what can I get for you this St. Patrick’s Day evening?” She didn’t bother to try and hide the contempt in her voice, however.
The man looked at her from underneath prominent and fiery orange eyebrows. He slowly slid onto a stool, placing his hands on the bar. His face didn’t look that old, what little of it she could see that wasn’t covered by hair or whiskers. But his hands were lined and calloused as if they belonged to an old and weary farmer, an ancient man of the earth. He didn’t reply for a moment or two. And then, in a not-quite Gaelic accent: “So, that devil Patrick has his own day of honor, now does he?”
Mary’s eyes once again grew wide with shock, and her jaw almost bounced off the bar. Then she leaned over the bar in front of him, looked him in the eye and tossed the rag down. “Now look here, sir. This may be a Protestant-owned establishment, but this is a Catholic neighborhood and you’ve got a lot of gall to come in here and be bad-mouthin’ St. Patrick like that. It’s that kind of attitude that caused The Troubles, and I’ll not cater to it so you best be goin on yer way!”
She straightened up and leaned back with her arms folded under her breasts. “You can put that in your Protestant pipe and smoke it,” she said quietly.
The man smiled to reveal a surprisingly healthy set of clean, white teeth. “My apologies, lass. I didn’t mean to insult your man on his day. And while I don’t think much of Catholic saints, I’ll wager I hate the British invaders more than you.”
Mary looked at him for a long moment with a tight-lipped stare. Finally, she said, “well order a pint or get out. Which is it?”
“A pint of stout, please miss.”
She noisily produced a pint glass from the back of the bar and violently pulled the tap. She was in the habit of making a shamrock in the foamy head of a stout, a trick that never failed to delight the occasional tourist. This crazy red-haired bastard could take his shamrock and stuff it.
She placed it down in front of him rather hard; a little bit of foam sloshed out of the glass. She turned to the cash register on the back of the bar to ring it up. “That’ll be — ” She stopped as she turned around toward the man. His glass was already empty.
He had several pound notes already on the bar. “May I have a another, please miss?”
She grabbed the glass and proceeded to fill it up again. Wordlessly, she thrust it in front of him. This time she watched him.
She saw his Adam’s apple bob once before he finished the glass. He set it down, wiped a bit of foam from his lips, then slid it forward toward the edge of the bar while looking at Mary with the obvious question on his face.
Without a word she refilled the glass, put it in front of him, picked up the pound notes and turned around to ring up the pints. When turned again with his change, she wasn’t surprised to find the glass empty. “Don’t you think you should go a little easy on it?”
“Don’t worry none. I’ve got a very fast metabolism. I can hold my drink more than most men. Although beer isn’t my usual drink of choice. Another?”
She took the glass and refilled it. “Well if you get outta hand, I’ll have to be cuttin’ you off,” she said as she handed him the glass. “Make no mistake. I will now.”
He looked at her and smiled, drained half the glass, and set it down. “I’ve no doubt you would, lass.”
They eyed each other for a moment in silence. Then he finished his stout and gestured for another.
“So what have you got against Protestants if you’re not Catholic,” she asked as she pulled him another stout. “And if you’re not Protestant and not a Catholic, then just what are you, anyway?” She knew the question was rude, but she was in no mood to be kind.
The stranger sat back and stroked his beard as if pondering the question. “Well now, the religion my people followed is long gone, thanks to the likes of Patrick and his ilk. And as for your British Protestants, they were just another group of invaders, just like the Catholics before them.” He took a long drought from his glass.
“Oh sure, all your history books credit the Irish Catholic monasteries with saving the knowledge and culture of Roman civilization during the Dark Ages. Phaugh! Like the Catholics didn’t murder my people and my followers, butchering them and driving others out into the sunlight. On no, it wasn’t serpents your good St. Patrick drove out of Erin! And before him and his people it was those yellow-headed devils, the Norsemen, who harassed and plundered my people’s villages,” he added before finishing his glass, and gesturing for another.
Mary stared at him dumbfounded for a moment, and then took his glass as she chuckled nervously. “Good heavens man, you talk as if you were there. Are you certain you need another?”
The red-headed stranger smiled enigmatically. “Perhaps I was there lass, perhaps I was. And yes I’m sure I need another. I’m not feeling it yet.”
He took the glass and drained it in a gulp. “For so long, we were safe. For a while, we thought we had found a permanent sanctuary on this beautiful emerald island. But it was only a matter of time.”
A tinkling over the front door announced another visitor. Both of them turned their heads towards the door. It was Tom, Mary’s boss.
“Pretty slow today, eh Mary?”
Mary smiled at him in spite of herself; at the moment she was happy to see him. “Good evening Tom. This here gentlemen has been my only customer all day. We were — we were just talking about history.”
“I see,” Tom said as he walked up to the bar and sat down beside the red-headed man. “And how are you sir?”
“I was just telling your bar maid here that I don’t think much of St. Patrick and his Day.”
Tom laughed, and clapped the man on the shoulder. “Well now, as the owner of a pub in a poor Catholic neighborhood, I don’t think much of it either, but what’s a man to do? I guess they’re entitled to theirs, eh?”
The red-headed stranger leaned his head back and bellowed with laughter. “That’s right, and we are entitled to ours!” With that he backhanded Tom across the face in a spray of blood and teeth. The force of the blow sent Tom flying off his stool to land on the table of a booth by the door. There was a loud crack of wood, and the table collapsed inside the booth.
Mary just stood there with her mouth open, too shocked to even scream.
With the speed and grace of a hunting cat the man was off his stool and across the pub. He picked up Tom and flung him with one arm back across the bar. He crashed into the mirror behind it, breaking the few bottles that stood there. Mary found her voice and screamed as she cowered to protect herself from flying glass.
The stranger cleared the bar with a leap and picked up Tom with both hands this time. The stranger growled at him in what might have been Gaelic; Tom gurgled blood in response. Then the stranger curled back his upper lip in a scowl, revealing long and deadly incisors. He plunged them into Tom’s carotid artery as Tom struggled weakly. He drank Tom’s blood almost as quickly as his stout. In a few moments, Tom was as empty as a pint glass.
The stranger dropped the corpse and let it fall to the floor in a heap. He looked at Mary, who sat huddled in a corner at the far end of the bar. “Please, please,” she muttered softly between sobs, “please don’t. Don’t hurt me.”
The stranger smiled and licked blood foam from his whiskers. His face was almost as ruddy as his hair now. “I’m not going to hurt you, lass.” He stepped over Tom’s corpse to where Mary crouched, placed both hands on her shoulders and slowly raised her into a standing position, his face inches from hers. “I’ve got a job for you. When they come, your authorities, your constables, whatever. When they come, you tell them we’ve come home to reclaim what was once ours. We’ll not stand idly by while you divvy up our land and try to make peace amongst yourselves.
“We’ve hid out in the dark and cold forests of Europe long enough while your wars waged back and forth for centuries. You tell them the sons and daughters of Erin have come home.”
And then in a blur of color, he was gone.
Author’s Note: Ireland has no vampire legends or stories, at least none that I’ve been able to uncover in my reading and research. Why an Irish vampire? My ex-fiancée (at the time I wrote this, she wasn’t an “ex”) is a first-generation Irish-American and my mother’s grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland during the potato famine, and we both still have relatives there. So I guess you could say I had a preoccupation with things Irish at the time — although my family would number among those “Protestant bastards,” to be honest. 😉
But then I’m pretty much a godless heathen; I haven’t set foot in a church — does an abandoned one count? — since high school.
But that’s neither here nor there. What got me thinking about all this back in the ’90’s was the idea that St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland — according to those that were actually there in Ireland at one time — was a day of worship and prayer (for the Catholics at least), as opposed to a day to get soused and drink green beer. I don’t know if that still holds true though; I’m going to have to email my Irish mates and get the low down on that, come to think of it.
I must also give credit where credit is due. I don’t know if she was the first to suggest it, but Anne Rice is the only author I’ve ever read or know of that equated vampires with Celtic gods. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. …