Well, How Did We Get Here ?

“And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”


Yesterday I was sitting in classroom 119 on the first floor of Tangent, Trinity’s business school in Dublin listening to some amazing people, Michelle, Kay, Niamh, Slaney ,and Martin speak about their cancer survivorship to a class of MSc students.

At one point I looked across the hall to the classroom opposite where I’d sat on Monday and Wednesday evenings a few years ago when I was doing my own course, giddy with excitement, surrounded by rockstars, and that line from Talking Heads just hummed to me :

 And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

On Saturday last I helped out at our local Parkrun, setting out the signs around the course with Ray, and our plan was to then take part in the Parkrun itself, but Ray had to head off early, and I was tempted to leave as well, but apart from the great buzz you get from the crowd taking part every week, the bit I like the most is the coffee and craic afterwards with the gang of other volunteers, so I held on. Towards the end I went out on the course to help Mrs.Connolly , our favourite Tail Walker, collect the signs and met Rosy who was walking with her.

Rosy, her husband Phil, and I fell into conversation back in the Coffee Doc and she told me that this had been her 318th Parkrun. She’d done her first Parkrun in January 2015 as part of a New Year’s resolution  and then found out a week later that she had cancer and that her prognosis was 12 months. And here she was sitting in Rossmore Park, chatting about our Drumlin Giants, and brightening my day. I can’t even remember all we said to each other, and we may never meet again, but I will never forget the sheer joy she exuded and the bounce she gave me for the rest of the day.

If I’d either run, as planned, or gone home when Ray was, I’d never have met or spoken to her.

On Monday I got a weird message from my friend Karl, who was a mentor /facilitator on the course I did those few years ago. Getting a weird message from Karl is not in itself weird, but they usually involve Martin McDonagh, Radiohead, Giant German Shepherds , and , or, new bands.

This one started “Sensitive one for you…” before going on to explain that he was facilitating a session with healthcare professionals around cancer survivorship and that they don’t always hear the voices of the actual people they’re supposed to be supporting and would I take part in an ‘empathy panel’.

After Googling ‘empathy panel’ I said yes.

It subsequently turned out that they were short another participant so I volunteered Martin, sword carrier for our local Crocus Cancer Care, and cancer survivor.

I’ve known Martin for a number of years through his son Cal, who tormented me when I was involved with Coder Dojo, and later through his fundraising for Crocus, but we’d never really spoken at length. I drove us up so I could also give Martin the benefit of my incredibly brilliant Spotify playlist.

It was so refreshing to spend an hour or so chatting away openly and honestly about cancer , work, families, therapies…and my awesome playlist.

We made it to the classroom in Trinity with a whole 5 minutes to spare, which was a record for me, but judging by the number of times Martin had looked at his watch as we walked through the grounds of the college on our way, it was possibly the latest Martin has ever arrived anywhere. Karl greeted us, quickly introduced us to the set up, and then we began.

Karl started by going around each of the cancer survivors and asking us individually to explain how we discovered we had cancer, what had prompted us to check, and how we had reacted initially.

I can’t betray any details of the honesty and bravery of Michelle, Kay, Niamh, Slaney ,and Martin and their stories, but I can say that I was in awe of them. Only one participant cried telling their story…you’d never guess…always found those damn Tangent classrooms dusty…

Our stories were each completely different and yet had common themes , and as each of us spoke we all seemed to begin by agreeing with what the previous speaker had just said.

The two hours flew by and Martin and I went for a coffee with Karl, and met my former classmate Nollaig, who’d randomly sent me a terrible joke the night before, so I mentioned that I’d be up in Trinity the next day if he fancied a coffee.  We had a great old natter about the class we’d just taken part in , Nollaig falling backwards through an emergency door in Fibber Magees, dressed in a tuxedo, having just danced an 8 minute jig for 100 visiting American politicians, the setting up of Channel 4, Martin’s van, Jackson Pollock’s three Irish grandparents, one of whom will end up coming from Monaghan, worth, and Jack Kerouac.

It was wonderful, and almost worth the trip on it’s own.

We walked out of Trinity with Nollaig who was heading back to Dublin Castle to chat to more Yanks, while Martin and I headed up George’s Street to have our treat of lunch in Five Guys. We chatted about the class and  we agreed that with cancer patients the difference between males and females seemed to be that it’s difficult to get men to look for help, yet most women aren’t listened to when they do look for it.

We drove home in glorious sunshine, which obviously got brighter the closer we got to Monaghan.

It had been planned that my brothers, Gerry, Benny, Glenn, Ray and Trevor were going to have another ‘NOT A Film Club’ night, showing ‘Stop Making Sense’ this time, but it was cancelled because it conflicted with a table quiz. And I was glad. It had been a wonderful day, but I felt very tired when I got home, and was glad to chat to my Soulmate how I’d felt about the emotional day.

Before I went to sleep I sent an email to all the cancer survivors I’d met that day Michelle, Kay, Niamh, Slaney ,and Martin :

“Hi Folks,

I hit ‘Reply All’ because I didn’t want us all to disappear from each other back to the everyday without saying something, but now I’m here I’m not sure what that should be. It felt good to be among kindred spirits. Thanks for sharing , and letting me share. And good luck on the journey !


And that’s how I got to here.



P.S. I was introduced in the classroom by Karl as ‘ a writer’, which felt lovely and weird. Earlier this week I found out that I hadn’t made it into the next round of the NYC Midnight writing competition with this story, ‘The Bargain’, which follows. One of the nice thing about this competition is that they give you feed back from the judges , numbered anonymously, and ever so slightly contradictory…

{2124}  “The Bargain” has an opening dream sequence that successfully sets the tone for the rest of the story. Even as things get dark, the 6th Baron has enough jokes / comments to keep this story straddling the line between morbid and funny. The image of him turning to the others before “realizing that he’d banished them to the wall” made me laugh.

{2299}  The opening sequence of the short story could be refined. The narrative starts with Jake dreaming and meeting the Duke. It might be an idea to open the short story directly with the scene of Jake trapped in the coffin to avoid disorienting the readers since the Duke does not play a significant role in the main storyline. 

The Bargain

At one time in Ireland the Rossmores owned Monaghan town and half the county, but that time has passed.

In the grounds of the old Rossmore Estate, in the family’s graveyard Jake finds that the end is only the beginning…if a bargain can be made.

There was only one thing Jake loved better than a good night’s sleep, and that was an exquisite dream. Jake was a great dreamer and , as you’d expect, had great dreams. The one he was having now was particularly good.

Jake was sitting in a bombed out kitchen smoking a fine cigar. The door behind him explodes inwards, but he’s not alarmed, and the Duke wades in through the debris. He sniffs the air and then glares at Jake “Is that a Heinkel ?”

“It is.”

“I thought there were only three left.”

“Two now.” Jake reaches into his inside pocket, the Duke raises his gun in alarm. “Easy tiger” Jake slowly takes a small metal cylinder from his pocket and offers it to the Duke, “Would you settle for a Hidleberg ?”

“I thought they were all gone” The Duke says, grabbing it greedily and twists the end off and takes out the cigar and rolls it under his nose , inhaling deeply.

Jake offers him a light and they both inhale and then exhale plumes of blue grey smoke.

Looking up, through a hole in the shattered roof they see though the haze a glimpse of golden lines in a grid in the clouds.

“The Factory.”

“The factory ?” The Duke asks.

Jake opens his mouth to reply but is distracted by a dull knocking.

“Yes, the Factory , where we once made things, now we simply….” His voice trailed off. There was that knocking again. Louder this time. Much louder. It becomes deafening and Jake reaches to put his hands up to protect his ears but finds that his arms seem to be confined to his sides. He is now dully aware that he’s not in a kitchen, he’s no longer dreaming. He feels that his eyes are open but everything is black. He is struggling to move, but can only seem to move his arms or legs inches in any direction , fear takes hold, he attempts to lift his head, but bumps into something soft, but firm only an inch or two after he starts to move.

With a shock of recognition he knows he’s in a coffin. He screams, and screams , and screams.

After a few moments he stops in panicked exhaustion.

There’s a knock. And another.

“Hello ?”

“Hello there ! Aren’t you coming out ? We’re all dying to meet you !” There’s a lot of muffled laughter.

“Can you help me, I seem to be stuck ?”

“Oh goodness, yes, yes, what was I thinking ? Close your eyes and count to three.”

One, two…

There’s a shock, like jolt of electricity , and suddenly Jake is standing in a dark forest with a gang of people gathered in front of him , eyes wide in hope and expectation. He blinks a number of times. One of the gang steps forward, a man in an old fashioned tweed three piece suit, he extends his hand in greeting, smiles and says “ William Westenra, 6th Baron Rossmore, and damn glad to meet you, Sir!”, again there was muffled laughter from everyone else.

“Jake Bond. Where am I and what is going on ???”

“Well Mister Jake,” the 6th Baron replied , turning, his arm aloft “ this is our little graveyard, and you are our most welcome , and most recent resident.”

“I’m dead ???”

“Very astute this one.” The 6th Baron said, to yet more nervous, muffled laughter from the others. “I like him already.”

“Is this…a dream ?”

Again, there is much muffled laughter, “No Mister Jake. This is very real, and dare I say, wonderful ?”

“Wonderful ? I’m dead !”

“Yes Mister Jake, but your death is such a delight to us ! We’ve been waiting since 1958 for you to arrive.”

“I don’t..”

“Understand ? Of course you don’t, how could you ? Would you like me to explain ?”


The 6th Baron was about to speak, but seemed to become aware of the others gathering closer, he turned and hissed “Be gone ! Wait by the wall.” The others turned and shuffled slowly past gravestones, until they reached the far wall, a short distance away, and then lined up along it, facing the wall.

“Are they…OK ?”

“Them ? Don’t concern yourself with them, they’re mine, they’ll soon be Hers, and you will have to start on gathering your own.”

“Her ?”

“We’ll come to that. This, as I’m sure you know, is the Rossmore graveyard, on the Rossmore estate. My father, the 5th Baron, curse his good intentions, built this mausoleum and graveyard here in 1872 in honour of his brother, the 4th Baron, who died far too young at the age of 23, in a steeple chasing accident over in Windsor Castle. What my father didn’t know, couldn’t know, was that this site was Her’s, and she commands a price of servitude and souls in order to be released to where we should be…or rather where I should be. You see ?”

Jake was about to say he did not, but quickly realised that the 6th Baron hadn’t finished.

“Shortly after he’d laid out the graveyard and interred his brother Henry in the Mausoleum, his dreams were tortured by Henry’s pleas for company in the graveyard. He explained to my father that She had been disturbed, and was extracting a heavy price from him, his only relief would come when twenty other souls were interred with him. They would be devoured by her, and he would be released. My father compounded his first travesty in siting the graveyard here, by promising to aid his brother.

“Since 1872 favoured servants, those people”, he said casually pointing at the others lined up facing the wall, “cousins, some suitable neighbours, and distant family members have been ‘invited’ to be buried here, and each and every one enslaved to Her. She demanded service and sacrifice, became powerful and relished each new arrival. She devoured our memories, thrived on our fears, and then…well, as you know, the house became too much, there was the Great War,  the ridiculous War of Independence, inheritance tax, your Civil War, and no one was buried here for quite some time. She did not like that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.”

The 6th  Baron stopped for a moment and cast a glance towards the others.

“My father, after he’d conveyed enough bodies here to release Henry, and before he himself died, had made a bargain with her, through dark magic, twenty more souls for her amusement, in return for the release of the last Baron to be interred here, assuming it would be his very good self. She agreed. But with the fall in our prestiege, rank, wealth, and the very house itself, he ran short. He’d only persuaded twelve families to bury their own loved ones here when he felt his own time running out. So he did what he always did. He looked after himself. He was buried in Westminster. And, more importantly, failed to mention anything to me. So I trundled on , lived a life in other , gradually smaller houses and estates, but with the romantic notion of being buried here among my kin.”

He laughed bitterly before continuing.

“So I arrived, unaware, just as you have now, to discover that I had this damned dozen following me around, depending on me to mitigate her demands, and to find a way to get to twenty, otherwise I would end up simply like them, fodder and entertainment for Her, with no hope of release. That’s when I began my terrible task, luring souls here to meet their untimely…and well, you’re the ninth, so it’s over.”

He smiled at Jake apologetically and finally added “Any questions ?”

Jake stared at the 6th Baron for a moment “Many. But , and I have no idea why, most importantly you said you needed eight souls to make it to twenty for Her, so that you could be released ? So why am I the ninth ?”

“Oh very good ! Well spotted ! Didn’t I tell you he was clever ?” he said turning to the others for approval, before realizing that he’d banished them to the wall. “Oh. Well , you see, even She realised that it was getting to be a struggle to get anyone new here, and that if I did manage to do it, that she’d be on her own again, so I did a bargain of my own with her. Instead of requesting to be freed , as entitled to do, on the acquisition of the 20th soul, I asked that , if it were possible, as I suspected it would be, that providing Her with a new…a new.. ‘Procurement officer’ , if you will, that She would do me the great service of ‘finding’ my father and , well, what She agreed to do will remain between us. She agreed readily. And here you are.”

“But how did you ‘lure’ me here, I have no memory of it ?”

“Oh that was easy. In general , you can make suggestions in peoples’ very own dreams, that prove to be incredibly effective. But , you, you actually arrived here of your own volition, I mean , physically arrived here in the graveyard, and well, then it was simply a matter of making you ‘slip’ near the waterfall, and “et voilà” ! If you had been the eighth I would have enjoyed finding out what you had come here for, but now, I don’t have the time, and , to be quite honest, I don’t care. Here She comes !”

And with that the 6th Baron strode purposefully towards the far wall and barked at the others to turn around. A form of dull grey light seemed to rise between where Jake was standing and the others were now waiting. It had a shroud shape but was distorted, faint, and flickering. They were agitated in their excitement and as the shroud moved close to the first in the line , a chap who appeared to Jake to be a decrepit Victorian butler, an arm shape raised and touched his shoulder. He evaporated on contact with the shroud. It’s shape became slightly clearer, and brighter. The arm raised again and a hand touched the second of the others. It evaporated and the shape became sharper again. As it moved down the line and touched other after other, it became clearer and more distinct. It was definitely female, and dressed in what looked to Jake like the sleek, slender elegance of old Dior or Chanel. She proceeded along the line until she radiated with such brilliance that by the time she reached the twentieth, Jake could no longer look at Her directly.

There was the  sound of a great rush of air, which ended in a loud , deafening clash of symbols. Jake looked over. She now looked very much alive, albeit beautiful and dressed like a 1950’s Hollywood star. Which now that he saw Her with the 6th Baron in his three piece tweed suit, seemed fitting.

She smiled at the 6th Baron and offered her hand, he bowed and kissed it, then raised his head and smiled.

“Goodbye.” He said, and then he started to glow, dully at first, but within seconds so bright and dazzling that , again,  Jake could not look directly, and then , just as quickly he was gone.

She now turned to Jake. She shimmered as she walked towards him, and almost imperceptibly her clothing changed so that by the time she stood opposite him she was dressed as modernly as he was.

“It’s you.” He finally said. “It really is you, isn’t it ?”

“Yes.” She replied.

“Where is the 6th Baron ?”

“Everywhere and nowhere, all at once.” She said and twirled around her arms outstretched.

“I knew it !” Jake said triumphantly, before adding quietly “And the others ? “

“Here.” She raised a finger to her temple. “And there” looking down on the ground, and gently kicking away some dirt.

“Éabha…Eve” He said eventually, not as a question.

She nodded. “I must say, you seem remarkably content, and even excited, for someone in your position.”

“Oh , you have never, in your wildest dreams met anyone as excited as I am now. And you will be soon.”

“What a presumptuous little soul you are.” She snorted. “I thought the Baron had explained what task is ahead of you if you hope to share his escape. You know it took him sixty years ? Sixty years during which he watched me gradually strip every memory, hope, faith and feeling each one of his entourage had, before starting on him ? And his foul father had given him a twelve soul head start. You should be on your knees , begging that I set your target lower !” She seemed to glow brighter.

“I do not want release.”

“Fool ! Everyone wants release.”

“Ten thousand souls !”

 She laughed, and laughed, gently at first, then louder, maniacally, so loud that Jake had to close his eyes and hold his hands over his ears. It stopped, he opened his eyes to find her so close to him that he could feel his neck and cheek burn with the cold.

“Do not trifle with me, Soul.” She whispered. “This is your only warning. Now what bargain do you seek ? How many souls can you offer ?” She pulled back from him slowly , but stayed, staring, only inches from him.

“I was not ‘lured’ here, I sought you out. I would like to know what you will offer me for ten thousand souls ?”

She bore into him with her gaze. He could feel her enter his very essence. Eventually she said “You mean it. How?”

“What will you offer me ?”

“Reincarnation, unimaginable wealth , eternal life…with ten thousand souls I would be all powerful, I could offer you anything.”

“A partnership ? An equal partnership.”

“That’s impossible !”

“You said anything.”


“Twenty thousand souls.” Jake interjected and held out his hand to seal the bargain.

She took his hand, smiled, and said “Bargain. Now how ?”

He put his hand in his trouser pocket and took out a sleek black rectangle with a glass face. He clicked a button and it glowed.

“We will have an entourage of millions through this, and so many of them will offer their very souls to you that you will struggle to keep up.”

She stroked the tiny machine, kissed him gently on the cheek, and said “Begin.”

Author: paul

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *