“It came one night to me in a dream. A night owl flew from a barn and glided soundlessly across a moonlit winter field that glistened with pale frost. It soared above the mute clock tower that overlooked the empty square and settled in silent vigil over the damp, deserted streets of Beltane.
This unhinged story unfolded under the impartial gaze of the pallid owl and somehow came to me, both naturally and unnaturally, through the sharp eyes and acute ears of this solitary witness.
That is how this story came to me. A night owl whispered it to me as I dreamed, and the telling of the tale turned unsettled sleep into a vivid vision of sub-conscious dread and unspoken fear.
Bereavement never truly leaves the rooms in a death-dealt house. It clings to the walls and drizzles down sad Sunday windows. It echoes in the bathroom and it sulks in the bedrooms. Open any door and it is sure always to be there, like dust or a half-forgotten thought hanging in the cold air.
The owl gazed down upon the conspicuous townhouse that stood on the square like a neglected minor monument. It was the only three-storey property among the neat rows of shops and cottages that edged the cobbled streets. They looked like polite spectators waiting for a parade or some small spectacle.
But the townhouse brooded silently, and glowered resentfully through the smut-stained windows of the bookshop that haphazardly colonised its ground floor.
The shop was the eyes and ears of the house and it audited the passing by of life, and the repetition of each and every missed opportunity. The dank moss that clung to its blackened walls and sad slates dripped droplets of water like discreet tears of despair.
This was a house that was lived-in, but was not fully alive, for it was cloaked in a shroud of deeply disturbed melancholia.
The young girl who lived alone – well almost alone – above the bookshop had suffered terribly, first from the loss of her only reassuringly fixed point in a worrying world, and then from the privations of growing in self-imposed solitary confinement.
The story that the owl told me was all about the approximation of an independent life. Rosemary Leafe was of independent means but her income was meagre nevertheless. It was true that her material needs were few, and that meant that she could fend for herself, but it did not mean that she was fully capable of defending her position.
What, you may ask, could possibly be a threat to a rather odd but not dislikeable young person in a small town where no one troubles very much about anyone or anything else?
Well, there are many threats facing such a vulnerable personality, and some of them are as frightening as they are intangible. First and foremost there is the threat of mis-direction from our own minds and the disconcerting tapping coming from our own dissatisfied thoughts.
There is also the perturbing sound of our own blood knocking in our heads and in our hearts. Worse still than all of that is the doubting of our own minds. That is a threat that no one can ignore, and sooner or later it must be faced, and faced alone.
Rosemary Leafe lived alone but she was never left alone for very long. There were too many interruptions from the many unwelcome visitors coming and going within the claustrophobic walls of Beltane Books. They bought nothing and took all from her, and even though she felt suffocated in her own home, she could not escape outside because the fresh air filled her lungs with sickness and nausea.
One day, Oran Mor appeared at her door, and he came in the guise of a saviour of sorts, but few fickle young men can authentically make a claim as large as that. They often carry their own concerns and complications buried deep within the forgotten recesses of their conscience.
Oran Mor was just such a charming man, but he did not come alone and brought with him the ending and the beginning of Rosemary Leafe. Oran Mor brought with him the Darkling Intruder and once the phantom had been invited in, it was clear that Rosemary’s life in Beltane would never be the same again.
When travelling through the borderlands of an old country, there is, for the sensitive soul, a pervasive feeling of being neither here nor there. The borderlands are not one place nor another. They are the wide, open empty spaces of inbetween.
In such places, all communities could be considered somewhat isolated. Those that deliberately hide themselves in the hinterland might reasonably be said to be reclusive and introverted, if not a little hostile.
A vulnerable young person suffering from the twin affliction of agoraphobia and claustrophobia offered Mr. Ffynch the opportunity to personify such isolation in a dark tale of confused personalities.
Darkling Intruder was therefore conceived as a gothic psychodrama liberally dusted with glistening particles of magic realism. It is a story about a lonely person for lonely people, and should be read alone, at night when the sky is black, the rain falls hard and the wind is wild.
It was written with fragments of folk music, folklore and fairy folk co-mingling in the writer’s room and inside his head full of shadows and dreams. People will ask, “What is the story about?” They always ask that. Mr Ffynch always gives the same reply. “It’s just a story, nothing more and nothing less.”
MSC March 2018
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