A Story by Les

This is a piece that I did for a writing course that I've just finished. It's slightly longer than I'd normally attempt but perhaps there's still scope for further development.


Spotsylvania, 10:00pm, May 11 1864. Declan O’Coffey, 25, formerly of County Westmeath, lay feeling the roughness of his blue soldier’s tunic. He was numb. Declan stared into the campfire, oblivious to his comrades around him.  A face appeared in the flames; that of the second man he’d knowingly killed.


All day Declan had fired into the mass of grey and butternut. Men had fallen, but by his hand? Declan didn’t know, except for that one boy who was fifteen at most. As Declan charged, the boy was suddenly in his path, looking scared.  The boy hesitated, Declan’s bayonet stabbed. The boy fell.


Declan tried to clear the image, thinking of his home village outside Athlone. But there was no solace there, only sadness.


Declan stared into the flames again, seeing his parents’ faces. Ballybornia was never a happy place.  His Father drank Poteen heavily. And it was the potatoes that killed him. But not the fermented kind. It was the, blighted, apologies for potatoes that took so many across Ireland in 1845. His Mother gave the little food she’d hoarded to Declan and baby brother, Cormac.  Whether she’d died from the blight or a broken heart, Declan never knew.


Declan was sent to the Mullingar workhouse and Cormac to Athlone’s, never seeing each other again.  The Workhouse was hellish, but Declan taught himself to read and write there with the scant materials available. After six years, he’d escaped, taking sanctuary with a one-armed innkeeper for whom he laboured until his wife took too much interest in Declan’s developing frame.


The growing evening chill didn’t interrupt Declan’s reverie.  Now he saw Kathleen’s face in the campfire, the girl he’d married after years roaming the countryside, exchanging his labour for shelter. The blight had gone but misery remained etched in the local people’s faces, while the well-fed English landlords’ agents chivvied them for un-repayable debts.  The hatred grew inside Declan.


Age 24, Declan returned to Ballybornia. The door of his former home had been opened by the prettiest girl he’d ever seen but with the saddest eyes.  Kathleen Fagan was 20 when her parents died. Now 22 she’d scratched a living sewing, tending animals, anything for small change, the toil drawing the bloom from her features.


The courtship was tentative but, within a year, Kathleen was pregnant. The Priest married Declan and Kathleen for the price of a bottle of whiskey, breathing sour fumes over them as he slurred the holy words.


Sitting in that Virginia Field, Declan mused on the gentle summer evenings in the Bothy, watching Kathleen’s growing form and the rosiness returning to her cheeks. But, now, the face of Lomas appeared in the flames.


Lomas demanded the rent arrears in seven days or they must leave the bothy. He’d suggested another form of payment might have been found but for Kathleen’s condition, leaving with a leer as she caught Declan’s arm to stop him striking the Agent.


Later, Kathleen asleep, Declan crept down to the tavern where Lomas had gone. When Lomas stumbled out, he never sensed the blow that killed him, delivered with every injustice that Declan had ever felt.


Kathleen knew what Declan had done. She took the money saved for the coming babe that would now take them to a new life in America. The couple fled southwards, their meagre possessions wrapped in a blanket across Declan’s back, the fine summer weather turning to rain.


Declan’s stole a handcart near Ballycumber, his wife’s need being greater than the owner’s. But it took another week to reach Queenstown in the wet conditions. Kathleen was visibly wilting. They left the cart in a quiet spot, Declan carving the owner’s address with his pocket knife.


In the flames this time, Declan saw the face of baby Saraid. Gulping, he remembered the bedlam of the Queenstown dockside. They had just missed a New York sailing, But a Ship’s Agent told them they were lucky, a ship for Boston was to sail on the next tide, and Boston was a fine place.


The William was no coffin ship they’d been assured, but the steerage accommodation was hardly luxurious. Still, it was dry and there was a rough bunk to sleep on. That first evening they slept like it was a feather bed. But not before Declan felt the baby kick as he lay close to Kathleen.


The storm began as The William left Irish waters.  For three days the vessel pitched and rolled, requiring an iron constitution to keep one’s stomach. Kathleen’s constitution was not of iron. By four days out she was feverish and a travelling mother of six had said the babe had better come soon. But the baby had not come for another three days of storm tossed waves and Kathleen’s strength was nearly spent.


Kathleen died the following day, Baby Saraid, in Declan’s arms, the day after. He looked from Kathleen’s still features to the baby’s in turn, trying to gauge the greater loss. He neither cried then, nor when the bodies were committed to the angry sea in the same weighted shroud.


Declan felt the same numbness then as now, lying under the stars at Spotsylvania. He turned to look into the now dying flames one final time and saw a face he did not recognise.


He puzzled over the stranger’s features while thinking how he’d come here. He’d cursed God when the storm ended the same day that Saraid died and they’d made an uneventful entry to Boston. Seeking comfort in a rough sailor’s tavern, he’d met a well-dressed fellow countryman, eager to escape conscription. For $50, Declan took the man’s name and his place in the war, leading Declan to this bloody field.


The battle would resume in the morning. As Declan lay, eyes closed, the stranger’s face still troubled him. Was it the face of the next man he would kill or the man who would kill him? Declan drifted into a fitful sleep, the embers of the campfire still burning.

© 2018 Les

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"He neither cried then, nor when the bodies were committed to the angry sea in the same weighted shroud.

Declan felt the same numbness then as now"

Posted 1 Month Ago

0 of 1 people found this review constructive.


1 Month Ago

Thank you for those observations, Sami. I appreciate your insights.
Sami Khalil

1 Month Ago

You are welcome Les...
"Declan tried to clear the image, thinking of his home village outside Athlone. But there was no solace there, only sadness."

Posted 1 Month Ago

A very interesting story with adventure, sadness, reveries. The fire of memory is still burning bright. Life was hard in those days and poverty was prevalent.
First time visiting.

Posted 1 Month Ago

I really love this! I definitely thing it is unique giving him an Irish background. I think you did a good job on the character names too. And the writing itself was absolutely superb. Good job!

Posted 3 Years Ago

WOW! This is a mind-blowing story! The thing that kicks a reader in the butt is how your writing style is understated while your material is intense! No need to pump up the drama artificially. Your story is told in a realistic believable way with bright details that are full of unstated strife & tragedy, letting the story speak for itself (I love when a writer trusts his story like this). The way the ending wraps around to the beginning scene is well done becuz your story was so intense, I forgot it was a reverie looking into the fire (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 3 Years Ago

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5 Reviews
Added on April 24, 2018
Last Updated on April 24, 2018



St Albans District, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

Have always enjoyed writing. Just looking to see if I have any creativity left in me to write some fiction. more..

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