Tigh Coili had music every night, not just weekends, which is why it was my favorite pub in Galway, even off-season. Must have had one too many tonight, though; my mouth and head and stomach were all protesting vigorously. Well; can’t sit here with my head against the cold hard wall all night.
Seems like every time I open my eyes lately, either I’m not where I expected, or bizarre memories fill my head, or both.
Nope; no pub—McGillicuddy’s Reeks, the wild lands in central Kerry, where lived Carauntoohill, the highest mountain in Ireland. I’d stopped next to a lake; not Lough Leane, but one of the smaller bits which may or may not have been connected. But my memories of the only pub in Galway to have music every night, even in winter, was warm and pleasant.
It was wild out there in the Reeks; nowhere I wanted to be, even in summer. Not sure how you’d find your way out if you ever went in.
I turned the key to start the car, and nothing happened, other than a springy little click. Took the springy click right out of me, let me tell you. I kicked the underside of the dash and smacked the steering wheel to see if that fixed anything. It didn’t.
Either I’d been farther gone than I realized, or some impatient mechanic had disabled the “your lights are on, dummy!” dinger thing. Well, they weren’t on now.
I didn’t feel much like walking, but I felt less like meeting up with an angry and embarrassed Fearghal. I walked.
Out here it was cooler than I’d expected. My suit might stand up to being slept in, but the breeze off the lake was chilling as it blew up the slope and across the road. I tried to walk faster to warm up, but it wasn’t much help.
The sun was playing hide-and-go-seek in the clouds, wreaking havoc on the temperature and my vision; the constant shifting from half-gloom to bright sun and back had me walking with my eyes almost closed.
I hated to do it, but I turned back to see whether I could still see the car; I knew I hadn’t gone as far as I thought, and the road had been straight enough that I could see almost a mile back.
Yup, there it was, off in the distance. My endless trudging had lasted, what, ten minutes? Was I even moving?
Past it, I could see another vehicle coming. Maybe I could flag down a ride; hitchhiking wasn’t as scary here as in the States, where it usually ended up in events captured in the latest based-on-reality-movie-of-the-week.
Something made me nervous. Better to pop up out of the weeds and be embarrassed than be seen by someone I didn’t want to see. I stepped down the slope a bit and crouched down to let the car get closer. Instead, it stopped at my abandoned car, and two figures burst out. Two large, familiar figures.
I turned and ran. Ran along the edge of the lake, following its shoreline instead of the road. Better to take my chances out in the Reeks than with a couple reeking cousins.
I’d thought it was chilly walking along the road; it was downright miserable this close to the lake. Moving faster didn’t help at all; just made it seem colder. Passing a small boat jammed into the mud at the shore, oars stowed neatly under the thwarts the way my dad had taught me, I shivered at the thought of being out on the water. Unless the sun came out and stayed out, it would have been numbing.
The farther I got from the road the colder it was, but I wanted to be out of sight before Niall and his brother passed on the road. I didn’t make it.
I heard the screeching of brakes, and glanced over my shoulder. I didn’t really have to; I knew what I’d see. Two large figures scrambling angrily down the slope toward the lake. Okay, maybe their scrambling wasn’t angry; maybe I imagined it. I still didn’t want to be available to discuss it with them.
I considered trying to outrun them, but it just seemed like a bad idea. It was rough and uneven along the shore and I wasn’t in my best running condition.
Instinctively, I shoved the little boat into the water, jumping in just as it floated off the mud. My dad had always done his rowing barefoot, so he could just wade in and climb into the boat in a somewhat dignified manner. He’d never entirely approved of the technique I’d developed for shoving and jumping simultaneously, allowing me to be in the boat rowing, and still have dry shoes on.
One of the cousins yelled. Then the other yelled. They both yelled. I didn’t hear the words, but I probably wouldn’t write them down if I had; it seemed like that kind of yelling.
The oars were smooth from use; I’d pulled against old weather-beaten oars and was glad not to have such roughened splintery wood under my sissy-soft city hands. I headed straight away from the shore. I didn’t know how deep the water was, or whether they’d even try to come out, but they seemed frantic enough to try.
In less than a minute they were standing where the boat had been, looking left and right as if another would appear magically. I found myself doing the same, fearing somehow there’d been two boats. Finally, just this once, things went my way.
“You stop; stop right now!”
“I’ll kill you! Get out of that! He won’t stand for this!”
This time, I allowed myself to find it funny. No thank you; I’ll just keep going this way, thank you very much. I didn’t answer out loud; I was using all my breath on the rowing.
They stood on the shore, cursing, threatening, cajoling (but not very convincingly.) I rowed, straight away from them. Once I got into rhythm, it was almost hypnotic. I wasn’t in the greatest physical shape, but I’d been fond of boats as a teen and spent quite a bit of time rowing around the bay in little dinghies my dad had built. Ah; more memories totally disconnected from anything useful. Other than rowing, I guess; that was coming in handy at the moment.
The narrow inlet I was heading for on the opposite shore turned itself into a little channel; I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like a natural channel which had been neatened up a bit by someone. I headed in, thinking that maybe I’d find people; someplace to warm up, and use a phone, and generally put an end to this nonsense.
The channel wandered and meandered. I wandered and meandered with it, heading generally northeast, if I was reading my glimpses of the sun correctly.
After ten minutes or so the channel widened to a couple hundred feet; almost a lake. The road ran along the east shore, and there were the cousins, parked in their bad-guy-black sedan. I didn’t like this, racing a rowboat against a car. It didn’t seem fair, somehow.
I kept rowing.
The channel narrowed again, and zigged and zagged crazily, but at least it was taking me away from the road.
Fifteen more minutes of zigging, zagging, and thinking, the boat and I slid into what must have been Lough Leane. If I’d gone right I would have been in a smaller section, protected slightly from the wind. But that was along the road, and I just wasn’t interested.
Heading as north as possible, I rowed out into the lake, hoping to make the far side of Killarney, which should have given me plenty of cover from the cousins as I made my way to a garda station to beg for mercy.
I hadn’t reckoned on the ferocity of the wind. Once I was away from shore, it tore right through me, driving the boat east despite my best efforts; east, directly toward a huge stone building at the lake’s edge. I tried rowing almost directly northwest and it still blew the boat eastward. I finally tried rowing directly into it but it felt like I wasn’t moving at all. I decided a little progress north was better than living out my days in a boat in a lake, so I swung around a bit and fought the wind all the way to the shore, ruffling a small flock of swans at the lake’s edge.
I ground to a halt in the mud and stepped out of the boat.