Read Black Irish Online

Authors: Stephan Talty

Black Irish

BLACK IRISH

Black Irish
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2013 by Talty Creative, LLC

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House
Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

B
ALLANTINE
and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

eISBN: 978-0-345-53887-1

www.ballantinebooks.com

246897531

v3.1

Contents

Jimmy Ryan awoke into a feeling of space, blindfolded. He wasn’t in the car trunk anymore, at least, and for that he gave a rushed, silent thanks to God. He’d hated tight spaces ever since he could remember. When he was young, his sadistic fuck of an older brother would tackle him to the ground and clamp a hand over his mouth, coiling around him like a python, whispering in his ear, “You’re trapped in a pipe, Jimmy boy, and you’re going to die. You’re trapped in a pipe …”

He breathed out to keep the panic down. He rolled his shoulders forward. His hands were tied behind him to the back of the chair he was sitting on. The coarse grain of the rope rubbed painfully against his wrists; it was thick, fraying. His ankles were so tight against the chair legs it felt like his veins were filled with iron filaments that bit into his skin when he moved
.

He heard traffic, faintly off to his left. He counted off the seconds. By the count of ten, three cars had passed. Had to be Seneca, busiest street in the County. But where on Seneca?

He sniffed the air. The smell was familiar. A memory flickered and then died before he could grasp it. It was an old and bitter smell, something from his boyhood
.

He was losing feeling in his toes. He wriggled them furiously
.

The last thing he remembered, he’d been checking gas meters, heading to the back of 98 Seneca, the Radio Shack with an apartment out back. There’d been a dog there last time, a half-deranged pit bull whose whole body trembled whenever he came by, with rabies or hate or whatever the fuck. That morning he’d put his steel-toed Wolverine boots on special, to kick its teeth straight out its asshole. He’d been walking down the driveway, snow flurries drifting down from a gray sky …

Something moved now. Off to his left
.

He listened, but the sound died away. The feeling of complete exposure ran over his skin like acid
.

He had to piss. Jesus Christ, he was going to piss his pants
.

He became aware of the sound of his own breathing. It came back to him a half second later, different somehow. His head lifted up. It was a big space he was in. A warehouse? He tried to think if there was one on Seneca, but the map of the County had fled from his mind. Or was he upstairs in a large attic? That made more sense. Lots of big houses on Seneca
.

He felt something approaching from his left, moving slowly
.

He tried to speak. “I … I …”

It came close to him. He drew back and turned his head away, the chair creaking with the stress
.

The thing stood there, blocking out the sound of traffic, then moved on. Jimmy’s heart bloomed painfully in his chest, shooting darts of adrenaline all over his body. Slowly, he turned his head to the right, trying to follow the moving shape
.

He wanted to talk slow, to remain in control
.

“What … what … do … you … want?”

His own voice floated off into the emptiness
.

No answer
.

The thing moved around in front of him. He could feel its physical mass. It was as if some ancient animal sense had woken along the nerves of his skin to compensate for the loss of sight
.

He couldn’t keep it up. He had to know. The words spilled out over chattering teeth. “Tell me what the fuck you want, you cocksucker, or I swear to God …”

The thing moved again, slowly, to his left now. For a moment he thought, It’s not human, it’s something else, some fucking demon
.

A footstep. And the sound of breathing
.

It was human
.

Jimmy let out a shaky breath. Why had he been brought here, what had he done? He desperately tried to think of one good thing he’d done in his life, just one thing
.

“Listen for a minute. I have two boys waiting for me at home. Their names are Brendan and Sean.”

The ssssnick of a knife being whipped out of its scabbard
.

“Listen to me!” he screamed. “They’ll be terrified right now—shit, and my wife, too—just let me call them and tell them I’m all right …”

A blade pinched the skin over his jugular. He felt the blood bunch behind the point of the steel
.

He nodded, his eyes clenching shut and water leaking out under the right lid. The ragged breathing was closer
.

After a few seconds, the blade withdrew
.

He lowered his head. He was going to piss his pants and he didn’t give a fuck
.

Silence. Then a gurgling sound
.

Jimmy thought at first that a drainpipe had opened up, some runoff from rain. But it was January, the ground frozen hard as granite
.

It was the thing making the noise
.

He listened, quiet. They weren’t real words, or were they? Another language? It sounded like wet strangled sounds pushed into the air. Was it speaking through some kind of device, trying to disguise its voice?

“What? I can’t tell what you’re—”

It lurched forward, pushing air in front of it. Jimmy flinched back, jamming his chin down into his chest, but the blow never came
.

“Who are you?” His voice shook. He took a deep breath, then tried again
.

The thing was coming close. His eyes teared up
.

“Show me your face!” Jimmy shouted
.

He heard movement and the knife cut the rope behind him. He realized his hands had been tied separately to the back of the chair. Now his right hand was free and throbbing. He brought it around and felt for the blindfold. But the knife jabbed into the flesh and he dropped his hand with a curse
.

A grunt and the floor shook. The thing was kneeling in front of him. He twitched back
.

“You faggot, don’t you …”

For a second he thought of reaching out and clawing its eyes out. I can blind this son of a bitch. His nails bit against his palm as he felt their sharpness
.

But then, a wave of depression. It would gut him for sure. He was helpless
.

Suddenly, the blade pressed against his throat again, dimpling the flesh
.

“Okay, okay!” he shouted. The knife withdrew. Jimmy knew what it wanted
.

He took a deep breath and slowly reached out in front of him. When he touched something, he hissed and curled his lips. It was a face
.

Jimmy’s finger touched something on the forehead. He began to trace a shape
.

“What the—?” he said softly. He found the end of the scar, then traced it back
.

A hand grabbed his wrist roughly and he cried out. It began pulling his fingers down. The hand was rough-skinned and strong
.

“What are you …”

He didn’t want to do that. Not that
.

A grunt
.

“I don’t care who you are. Don’t you understand?”

His hand was wrenched downward and then released. Jimmy took a breath. His hand trembled as it brushed over a flaring nose. He felt the thing’s breath on the hairs of his hand. He paused
.

Jimmy cried out as it turned the knife. The long edge of the blade was against his skin
.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay.”

He let his fingertips move down. A top lip, the flesh slightly cooler here. Teeth
.

“You sick goddamn animal. I won’t do it. I won’t.”

He jerked his hand back
.

Stabbing pain from his stomach. Spiking up and up. He roared, “Stop!” but the sound came back as babble
.

He reached out again and touched the thing’s forehead. The pain stopped as suddenly as it had begun
.

Jimmy sat there, panting. Finally, his trembling hand moved downward
.

Moaning now, he let his fingers flutter down over its forehead to the eyes. They were open. His fingertip grazed over the right eyeball. It didn’t close
.

He touched the lips. Turning his head away, he let his fingers crawl forward over the teeth. And with a flash, the picture of a young face came to him. He snatched his hand back; his chin sank onto his chest
.

“Oh, God,” he whispered. “I knew it. I knew you’d come back.”

The thing stood up and he felt it move behind him. With a jerk, his chair was tilted back and it began to drag him away
.

The chair lurched and smashed against something. A leg splintered. Then again. Jimmy gathered all his reserves of strength and with a groan pulled against the rope around his left hand until he thought he’d dislocated his shoulder. It was too tight. He couldn’t get loose
.

The chair smashed down again. We’re going down steps, Jimmy thought. We were in an attic, and now we’re going down steps to the street. It’s going to be all right. He’s going to let me go
.

Jimmy thought of his brother and wished he were here
.

The sounds of the chair on the stairs filtered away and the church nave grew quiet again. The stained-glass window on the west wall showing the martyrdom of Saint Stephen by stoning grew dimmer; a cloud passing. The distant clatter of ice sliding off a roof came through the thick stone walls but barely registered in the chill air
.

There was the muffled sound of a door slamming that seemed to emerge from beneath the cold flagstones. The sound carried across the empty pews and the baptismal font, long covered in dust, the silver circle around the drain rimmed with dirt
.

And then the screaming began
.

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