Devil of Dublin: A Dark Irish Mafia Romance
Isank my fingers knuckle deep into the spongy wool, trying not to squeal as I closed my fists around two satisfying handfuls of fluff.
“Darby,” Mom snapped in that stop it right now tone. “Be sweet.”
“But, Mama, he can’t even feel it.” I beamed. “Look!” I squeezed the sheep’s wool again.
The animal continued to ignore me, finding the grass in my grandfather’s pasture much more interesting than the annoying American girl who’d come to visit.
I’d never been to Ireland before. I’d never even been on a plane before, so the entire trip to attend my grandmother’s funeral was full of new sights and sounds, but the one that delighted me the most wasn’t the view from the clouds or the rainbow-colored shops and houses we’d passed on the bus to Glenshire. It wasn’t the musical accents or old-timey clothing of the people we’d met along the way.
It was the big, colorful dots spray-painted on every fluffy white sheep in my grandfather’s village.
“Grandpa, why do all your sheep have blue spots on their butts? Is it so they’ll match your blue house? Is blue your favorite color? My favorite color’s green. I like it here. Everything’s green, green, green. Mama says that’s why they call it the emerald eyeball.”
“Emerald Isle,” my mom corrected. “Isle means island.”
Her eyes were red and puffy that day, and her mouth was frownier than usual. It made me anxious whenever she was upset about something. Or when she got sick. Or when she was too tired to play with me.
My mom was all I had.
While she stood there and scowled, my grandfather snickered at my emerald eyeball comment. He was sad about my grandmother, too, but that didn’t keep him from smiling when he spoke to me. I hadn’t seen him since I was a baby, so I didn’t remember him or my grandmother at all, but as soon as I’d gotten there, he’d acted like we were already best friends.
Grandpa bent forward and sank one knee into the grass, making himself as short as I was. He did that a lot. It made me feel special, like he was on my team instead of the grown-ups’.
“I do paint their wool to match my house. Yer very smart,” he said. “Sheep are wily creatures.
Even though they look fat and none too nimble, they’re skinny under all that wool, and they can jump like a billy goat. I seen a sheep squeeze through a gap in the fence no bigger than yer arm. But spray paint is a lot cheaper than a good fence, so the other farmers and I paint our sheep to match our houses. That way, when one gets out, everybody knows who the little bugger belongs to.”
I giggled and squeezed the sheep’s wool again, right on that bright blue spot.
“Darby, gentle,” Mama hissed.
Grandpa looked up at her like he was about to do something naughty. Then, he gave me a little smirk.
“Lass”—his green eyes sparkled—“ya ever been on an adventure?”
My mom glared at him in warning.
“No.” I shook my head. “I have been on an airplane though.”
He laughed, and I thought he looked just like a leprechaun. His once-bright orange hair had faded to a golden blond by then, and he had so many freckles that his face looked like a wrinkly, old, speckled egg, but the twinkle in his eye was just as sharp and mischievous as a child’s.
“Da, where ya goin’ with this?” My mom’s Irish accent had gotten stronger since we’d arrived.
Grandpa ignored her warning and kept talking to me as if we were the only two people on earth.
Pointing across the street from his house, he said, “Down the hill, ya got more farms, if ya wanna see what colors the other sheep’s butts are.”
I turned my head and gazed into a valley as soft and green as a velvet pillow. And adorning the hills—like a scattering of rhinestones and pearls—were the other jewel-toned farmhouses and fluffy white sheep of Glenshire.
“But up the hill …” Grandpa continued, pointing behind us at the woods that began just beyond his property.
The trees were shorter than the tall pines I was used to back home in Georgia. Cuter. I could still see the shape of the landscape. The rise and fall of the hills behind Grandpa’s house that changed from green to blue to gray until they rose up into a tall purple mountain off in the distance.
“That’s where the fairies live.”
“Fairies?!” I squealed. My eyes darted from the woods to Grandpa, then over to my mom, hoping she would verify this miraculous news, but her expression was more annoyed than excited.
“Aye.” Grandpa leaned toward me, lowering his voice. “But ya have to be quiet if ya want to see one. Quiet as a mouse. Fairies have excellent hearin’. If they sense a human nearby, they’ll use their magic to disappear like that.” He suddenly snapped his fingers, making me jump.
Beaming, I looked up at my mom and gave her my best Disney princess eyes. “Can we go see the fairies, Mama? Please, please, pleeease?”
She was going to say no. I could tell from her scowl, but when she opened her mouth, Grandpa spoke instead.
“Yer mam’s gonna stay here and keep the oul fella company. It’s been six years since last I seen her. I’d better enjoy it. The next time might be at my funeral.”
“G’wan now,” Grandpa said, continuing to ignore his daughter. “Have a bit o’ the craic.”
I didn’t know what the crack was, but I knew that my mom was less than enthusiastic about it.
“Da, she’s eight. Ya really think it’s a good idea for her to go play in the woods by herself?”
Grandpa stood up and brushed the dirt off his knee. “If memory serves, I believe you found a whole village of fairies back there when you were her age. Or was it a kingdom?”
“A kingdom!” I yelled, bouncing up and down.
“Ah, ya been livin’ in the States too long. There’s nothin’ to fear in these woods ’cept for Tommy Lafferty’s old sheep dog that keeps wanderin’ off.” He looked down at me with a serious face. “If ya see him, he’s likely to lick ya to death, so be on the lookout.”
“I’m more concerned about her gettin’ lost,” Mom protested, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Aye, that’s easy.” Grandpa held up two hands, one high and one low, cupped like domes. “Ya go up the hill,” he said, giving the lower hand a little shake, “ya go down the hill. Ya see a lough at the bottom.”
“Ooh. Do I need a key?”
“Lough means lake,” my mom corrected.
“And legend has it, this lough has a spirit in it. A moody oul thing. Can be mean as a snake if ya
cross her, but I hear she likes presents.”
My eyes went wide, but Grandpa just kept talking like it was perfectly normal to have a haunted lake behind your house.
“On the other side of the lough”—he gave the hand up high a shake—“ya see the mountain. Don’t go to that side of the lough. A witch lives over there, and if the rumors are true, she likes to eat little children. The cuter, the better. So, stay on this side of the lough, and when you get to missin’ me handsome face, just go back to the top o’ the hill, look for the blue house, and you’ll find himself.”
Grandpa liked to refer to himself as himself. He even had a coffee mug with the word on it.
I was astonished by all this new information, but my mom just rolled her eyes. “A witch, Da?
“Aye, don’t ya remember?” he said with a little wink. “Nobody goes to the witch’s side of the lough, lest they wanna be turned into a toad.”
“I thought you said she eats children,” I clarified, trying to sound super brave.
“Aye.” Grandpa tapped me on the head with a smile. Like he knew I was smart.
I was a bright kid—my mother was a teacher and insisted that I always be above grade level in all subject areas—but it made me feel good to know that Grandpa thought I was smart too.
“It’s the grown-ups she turns into toads,” he added. “We’re not as tasty.”
“Da, stop it. Yer gonna scare her.” Turning toward me, my mom sighed and reached into her pocket. “I s’pose you can go, but”—taking out her phone, she tapped the screen a few times before tucking it into my back pocket and covering it with my T-shirt—“don’t you dare go near that lough. I mean it. And when that alarm goes off”—she pointed at my pocket—“you come straight home. Ya hear me?”
I hugged her so hard that she made a groaning noise before I took off running straight for the woods.
“Stop in and grab ya a biscuit ’fore ya go,” Grandpa yelled behind me. “If ya find a fairy ring, put it in the middle and see if ya can lure one out. The good people love biscuits.”
“Heeeere, fairy, fairy, fairy,” I whispered as I tiptoed into the woods, holding that sugary treat out in front of me like a homing device. It took all my willpower not to eat it myself.
Biscuits, I’d discovered, were just delicious sandwich cookies with vanilla custard cream in the middle that you were allowed to eat if you pretended to like tea.
In the shade, the air was damp and cool. Much too cool for summertime. I shivered as goose bumps spread across my arms and legs. It felt tingly, like there were soda bubbles bursting all over my skin.
Must be the fairy magic, I thought.
Not only was it darker in the woods than I’d expected, and colder, but it was greener too. Even the tree trunks were green and fuzzy.
Maybe that’s so the fairies can climb the trees without getting splinters.
The thought made me smile, but then it made me think about my father. He’d been the official splinter-puller-outer at our house. He had this technique with a safety pin and a pair of tweezers that was unrivaled. He’d say something silly to distract me, and before I knew it, no more splinter. But that had been before he got mean. Before my mother made him leave. Before he lost custody
I tried extra hard not to get splinters after that.
I bet Daddy could find a fairy if he were here.
He could prob’ly find that witch too. And beat her up for eatin’ all those kids.
My dad was the drummer for a one-hit-wonder rock band. He was covered in tattoos and had big, muscular arms that he liked to show off by wearing sleeveless T-shirts all year long. When I was a kid, I thought he could beat anybody up.
The only thing my mom had told me when he lost all visitation rights was that he needed to go
“work on himself,” but that hadn’t made any sense to me. If somebody needed to get their car fixed or their house worked on, it only took a couple of days. Weeks at the most.
Meanwhile, I hadn’t seen my dad in three years.
“Heeeere, fairy, fairy, fairy,” I whispered again, bending down so I could look under a fat, little mushroom; a big, tickly fern; and in between the rows of wavy fungus growing up the side of a decomposing log.
I knew I should have asked Grandpa what a fairy ring was before I left, but I’d been so afraid my mother was going to change her mind that I didn’t want to wait around for details. But now, I had no idea what I was looking for.
When I finally made it to the top of the hill, I had to cover my mouth with my hand to keep from gasping out loud and scaring off all the fairies. There, on the other side, was a sea of flowers, their blossoms pointing down instead of up, like tiny, purple church bells.
This must be where the fairies grow their hats!
I proceeded with extreme caution, careful not to step on a single flower. I didn’t want some poor fairy to have to wear a smooshed hat because of me.
I bet they use the stems as slides. I would if I were a fairy. Ooh! I should make them a swing to go with all these slides!
As I searched the forest floor for something to make a swing with, I stumbled upon an adorably chubby red mushroom with white polka dots. It reminded me of a Smurf house. Then, I saw another one and another one. So, I gently moved the bluebells out of the way and noticed that the mushrooms formed a circle. Or a …
Ring! Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh …
My heart raced as I slowly extended my tea biscuit toward the center of the formation. My hand shook, which I naturally attributed to the strength of the fairy magic.
Maybe they’re home! Maybe I’ll get to see one!
But before I could set the biscuit down, I heard something that made me go “still as a statue.” That was what my teacher had called it whenever she wanted us to shut up and freeze.
It sounded like the fairies were laughing. I bit my lip to keep from laughing, too, and put on my best “listening ears.” Then, I heard it again. Maybe it wasn’t laughing, but something out there was definitely making noise. Sniffling? Snorting? But it did not seem to be coming from the mushroom circle.
I headed down the hill in the direction of the sniffle-snorts, scanning the ground for new mushroom villages to investigate. As the noise got louder and the mushrooms got scarcer, I finally lifted my head and found myself standing right in front of a crumbling stone wall. It was a few inches taller than me, but I could tell it used to be way taller than that. The rocks were all jagged at the top. And it didn’t have sides. The wall was curved. Like a …
Like a circle!
The sounds were loud now, and they were definitely coming from inside. I decided that walking around the outside to look for a door would probably make too much noise and scare whatever it was away, so I climbed onto a nearby boulder. It was hard to scale with a biscuit in my hand and slippery moss covering the flat places, but I did it. And once I felt stable enough, I found two good places to put my feet and slowly pushed myself to stand.
From that vantage point, I saw that I was right—the wall was one big circle—and it had an opening on the right, where a door used to be. It had probably been a cute little cottage once upon a time, but now, it was just a ruin. An empty ruin, I thought at first, but when I scanned the parts that I could see again, I noticed a dark spot, down low on the wall to my left. Pushing up onto my tiptoes, I craned my neck and raised my eyebrows—as if that would make my eyeballs higher—until the spot turned into a headful of glossy black hair. Black hair that belonged to …
A real boy, curled up against the wall with his arms around his knees, crying into the crook of his elbow.
At least, I thought it was a real boy. He didn’t have wings. Or pointy ears. But the way his hair flipped and curled at the ends seemed pretty fairylike to—
“Ahh!” I squealed as my foot slipped off the rock.
The second I hit the soft leaves below, I scrambled over to the doorway in a panic, hoping to block the exit before the fairy could run away.
I succeeded, only because, instead of running, the commotion caused the boy to hide against the wall next to the doorway, probably hoping to slip out unseen if someone were to enter. It would have worked if I hadn’t been looking for him. He blended into the shadows like he belonged there.
“Why were you crying?” I asked, using my softest, sweetest voice. “Did your grandma go to heaven too?”
The boy only growled in response, baring his teeth and squinting his eyes like a dog.
My mother had taught me to always put my hand out whenever I met a strange dog. She’d said it was like they could tell by smelling you whether or not you were a good person. So, with a deep breath, I extended my hand and watched the boy’s face change from vicious to … something else.
At first, I thought he must like the way I smelled, but then I realized that it was what was in my hand that had caught his attention. His pale eyes widened as he stared at the sugary treat.
“You want it?” I nudged the cookie in his direction. “You can have it.”
The boy made that snarling face again, but then he snatched the biscuit out of my hand so fast that it made me jump.
He shoved the whole thing into his mouth and chewed wildly with his eyes narrowed and fixed on me.
I stood with my back pressed against one side of the doorway. He scared me, but the idea of letting him get away scared me more.
“Why were you crying?” I asked again.
Chew, chew, chew.
“Where’s your mom?”
Another glare. More chewing.
“What’s your name? My name is Darby Collins. D-A-R-B-Y C-O-L-L-I-N-S.”
“I’m eight. I just finished second grade, and I already know my times tables. How old are you?”
The boy swallowed and crouched down slightly, as if he were about to bolt.
“Are you eight too?”
He shook his head, letting his wild, dark hair fall into his face.
“Do you want to play with me?”
The boy squinted his eyes at me again—which I could barely see peeking through his curtain of hair—but at least he wasn’t growling anymore.
“Ooh! I know! We should play Harry Potter! This place looks just like the Forbidden Forest! And this could be Hagrid’s house! It looks just like this! You should be Harry ’cause you got all that black hair, and I could be Ginny Weasley ’cause I got red hair. They get married at the end, you know?
The boy just stared at me as if I were speaking Greek.
“You do know what Harry Potter is, right?”
His head swiveled left and right so slightly that I almost missed it.
“You don’t? Oh my gosh, it’s so good! It’s a story about kids who are wizards and witches, but not mean witches, like the one that lives down by the lake—I mean, lough.”
He cocked his shaggy black head to one side, just an inch or so.
“You don’t know about the witch either?”
Another head shake.
“Oh my gosh! Come on.” I beamed, reaching out my hand. “Let’s go see!”
The boy looked at my outstretched palm. Then, he glanced up at my face. I could see one of his eyes through a part in his hair, and it was such a strange, pale gray color that for a moment—just one moment—I thought maybe he was the witch in disguise. That it was all a trick, like in Hansel and Gretel. Only instead of luring me into her cottage with candy, this witch pretended to be a crying, frightened child. I was one second away from running straight back to my grandfather’s house when the boy finally placed his hot, timid hand in mine, and I felt it—the same tingly, fizzy sensation I’d felt when I’d entered the woods.
He couldn’t be the witch, I decided.
He had fairy magic all over him.
As we walked down the hill toward the lake, I stopped to pick up two nice, straight sticks.
“Here,” I said, handing one to the boy. “This is your magic wand. Maybe if the witch sees us and thinks we’re witches, too, she’ll leave us alone.”
I waved my stick around, but he just stared at his.
“Hey … don’t worry,” I said. “She won’t get us. Grandpa says we’re safe on this side of the … lough, and Grandpa knows everything.”
I put my hand on his shoulder to reassure him, but he jerked away from me immediately.
We started walking again, but this time, I didn’t offer him my hand.
Eventually, the bluebells gave way to blackberry bushes that grabbed at my shoelaces and scratched at my legs. But I could see the lake sparkling on the other side of them, so I forged ahead, wiggling through every gap in the brambles that I could find.
For a minute, I didn’t think the boy would follow me, but when I made it to my final hiding place
—a massive oak tree on the edge of the lake—I heard the bushes rustle beside me and saw a head of messy black hair appear out of the corner of my eye.
I had to turn away to hide my smile. “Do you see her?” I asked, pretending that I was looking for the witch.
He didn’t answer, of course.
Clutching my wand tighter, I scanned the edge of the water, looking for signs of anything … witchy. There was nothing on my side of the tree, so I turned to look at the bank on his side, which meant that I also had to look at him.
The boy was staring out over the water, lost in thought. Even though he was as still and drab as a black and white picture, something about him reminded me of fire—his dark, unruly, chin-length hair that twisted and waved like flames, his smoke-colored eyes, his ashen skin. He didn’t even have a single freckle. That made me sad. Grandpa had told me that everywhere you have a freckle is where an angel kissed you. I must have been kissed a million times, but this boy hadn’t been kissed even once.
Maybe that’s why he was crying, I thought.
Or maybe it was because of the cut on his bottom lip. The small red gash was the only colorful thing about him.
Suddenly, the boy darted behind the tree. His shoulder smashed against mine as he clutched his wand to his heaving chest.
“Did you see her?” I whispered. My heart began to pound, and I didn’t know if it was because of the witch or the fact that this boy was touching me again.
He shook his head and pointed at the lake with his wand. Taking a deep breath, I peeked around my side of the tree. I didn’t even know what I was looking for. The water looked normal, kind of a murky brownish, greenish, blue. There were blackberry bushes on the other side of the lake and more trees that went on forever. I squinted as I peered into them, searching for a bear or a wolf or something equally terrifying, and that’s when I saw it. Stony and round and missing a roof.
The witch’s house.
I pulled my head back behind the tree and stood shoulder to shoulder with the boy, squeezing my wand, still as a statue again. But statues don’t breathe, and I’m pretty sure I was breathing loud enough for the witch to hear me all the way across the lake. She would find us and eat us for sure.
“Let’s get out of here,” I whispered. “Run!”
The boy and I scrambled back through the thorny bushes and up the hill as fast as we could, not caring how many fairy hat flowers we stepped on along the way. We didn’t stop running until we were safely back at Hagrid’s house with our backs against the cool stone wall.
“We need to make a potion to protect us against the dark arts,” I panted. “That’s what Professor Snape would do. I’ll get the ingredients. You find a cauldron.”
I crept through the doorway, which was thankfully on the side of the cottage that the witch couldn’t see, and started foraging for enchanted objects. It didn’t take me long to find two mushrooms, three sparkly rocks, a variety of pretty leaves, and the most magical ingredient of all, a real snail shell.
That would definitely keep a witch away.
With my hands full, I tiptoed back into the stone circle, but when I looked up, the boy was gone.
Jumping up so that I could see over the wall, I scanned the woods for any sign of him, but it was like he’d just … vanished.
“… they’ll use their magic to disappear like that .”
The sound of my grandfather’s snapping fingers rang in my ears.
I sat down in the middle of the leaf-covered floor and crossed my arms with a humph.
Maybe he needs to go work on himself too.
I crumbled up one of the big, crunchy leaves I’d found until it was nothing but confetti. Then, I threw it as hard as I could. Of course, the pieces just fluttered in the air and landed gracefully on the ground in front of me, which only pissed me off more.
I didn’t feel like making a potion anymore.
I started to crumble up another leaf, but the sound of leaves crunching outside of the cottage caught my attention. I sat perfectly still.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
The noises were definitely footsteps. And they were definitely coming from the direction of the lake.
As the crunching got louder, I swore that in between every few steps, I heard a soft splashing sound too.
It’s the witch! She swam across the lake to get me, and now, she’s all drippy and wet, and she’s gonna eat meeee!
I clutched my wand and squeezed my eyes shut and tried to remember the spell that Harry had used to blast all those Dementors when he was at that spooky lake all by himself.
Expelli something. No, expecto. Expecto something. Expecto what? Expectoooo …
The crunch-splash-crunch-splash got louder and louder until I could finally see the top of the witch’s head on the other side of the wall.
With a big, deep breath, I jumped to my feet, pointed my wand at the doorway, and yelled,
But instead of a beam of white light slicing through a lake witch, all I saw was a boy, looking at me like I was crazy, holding his wand stick in one hand and a scuffed black leather shoe in the other.
I immediately burst out laughing. I laughed, and I smiled, and I lowered my not-so-deadly weapon with a sigh of relief.
“I thought you left.”
The boy walked in very slowly, very carefully, and set the shoe down on the ground as if it were a bomb that needed defusing. But instead of exploding on contact, a little water sloshed out of it.
My eyes lit up.
“Wait … is that … our cauldron?”
The boy nodded, his face expressionless.
“And it even has water in it?”
He didn’t respond, but something in the tilt of his mouth told me that there was more to the story.
And that was when it hit me.
“You got this from the lake, didn’t you? You went back down there all by yourself?!”
His silvery eyes sparkled with pride.
“This is gonna be the best potion ever!” Sitting cross-legged on the ground next to our makeshift cauldron, I gathered my ingredients and handed the leaves over to my new friend. “Crumble these up real small. They’ll go in last.”
While he was doing that, I broke the mushrooms into little pieces and dropped them into the dark water. They floated on top like marshmallows. Next, I dropped in the rocks, followed by a piece of
As I stirred the mixture with my magic wand, the boy sprinkled his leaf pieces on top. Then, he reached up and plucked a strand of his own hair as well. I didn’t know if witch repellant called for red and black hair, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I watched the dark, wavy strand sink into the potion before remembering the most important ingredient.
“And finally,” I said, handing the treasure to my assistant, “the shell of a mystical Emerald Isle snail.”
As I placed the pearly spiral in his outstretched hand, my fingers grazed his skin, causing a lightning bolt to zap up my arm. It sizzled, and it scared me, but it didn’t hurt—kind of like holding a sparkler on the Fourth of July.
Fairy magic, I almost whispered out loud.
|September 25, 2022
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