A Mythical Journey
Gabby was drying her long hair as she exited the tiny bathroom. It was no easy chore washing it in such cramped conditions even once a week. Her grandfather had rigged a hot water system outside but there was still never enough to supply the needs of her and her mother. The mobile home on the other hand was plenty big enough, each of them having a full sized bed that didn’t need to be assembled every night.
Gabriella Caitlan O’Toole was fifteen for two more hours, she was so excited about the ‘coming of age’ party her family were throwing for her tomorrow night. She sat down at her mother’s dressing table trying hard to untangle her hair,
‘You know Mama, we should just cut it all off, it would be so much easier, don’t you think?’
Caitlan, Gabby’s mother, approached the dressing table, brush in hand,
‘Much easier dear, let’s do it.’ She pulled a large pair of gardening shears from behind her back, ‘Hold still now.’
‘Mama no! Stop!’
Gabby shrieked bending forward in mock hysteria, part of their weekly ritual. Caitlan put down the shears and turned back to her smiling daughter, gently stroking out the long wavy strands of brilliant red hair.
She studied Gabby’s face as she had many many times before. Her skin was light olive, freckles around her nose, iridescent green eyes and the hair of course. All the elegance and beauty of her daughter was hers except the olive skin, that was her father’s.
Caitlan had the same hair until that day sixteen years ago. Overnight it had changed colour to the purest white. The few people she’d come across since mistook her for an albino, but she wasn’t. The shock and brutality of ‘the incident’ had caused the change, the doctor insisted. Didn’t matter to her now, she had grown to love her hair as much as she loved her daughter.
After tomorrow night’s festivities the camp would be struck once more. The family only stayed in one place for two months at the most. Security had been ingrained in all of them since Gabriella’s birth. They travelled the length and breadth of Ireland and only at night, for safety reasons.
‘Mama, what’s going to happen tomorrow, to me?’
Caitlan looked into her innocent eyes and replied,
‘We don’t know darling, maybe nothing. It might all just be a myth, so don’t fret yourself.’
She wrapped her arms around Gabby’s neck,
‘Besides, we’ll be here to protect you.’ She finished combing out the long tresses of her daughter’s hair, a job she loved to do. Gabby stood and turned to hug her mother,
‘I’m glad you’re here Mama. I love you’ she kissed her cheek and walked toward her bed.
‘Will you be warm enough?’ Caitlan asked frowning at Gabby’s boxer shorts and flimsy T shirt. Gabby leapt onto the bed pulling the covers up to her head.
‘Yes Mama, as always I will be fine.’ Caitlan bent down and kissed her daughter’s head, ‘Sleep well sweetheart, love you.’ ‘Love you too.’
The explosion was so intense at the far end of the caravan that the concussion blew out the long plexiglass window beside her bed, causing it to land some ten feet away with Gabby on top of it. The noise of the fire consuming her home of fifteen years mixed with gunfire and screams scared her, but not enough to stop her running back inside.
‘Mama! Mama! Where are you? Mama!’ she screamed.
The acrid smoke and flames didn’t seem to affect her much as she reached her mother’s burning bed. She felt for a body but there was nothing.
‘Mama?’ she screamed once more. Then, by carefully listening she picked up the faintest sound of someone in severe pain coming from the tiny bathroom. The flames licked at her ankles and legs but she felt nothing as she threw open the bathroom door. Her mother was sitting on the commode, her skin badly burned and her hair and nightdress on fire.
‘Mama! Oh Mama, no, no!’
She fearlessly lifted her mother into her arms and charged back outside rolling on the damp ground to extinguish the flames. Gabby cradled her mother’s head,
‘Mama? Mama?’ Through her burned and parched lips her young mother croaked,
‘Gabby, oh Gabby, you must run . . . to Mo Mo’s island, you’re not safe now . . . they’ve found you.’
Tears spilled down their faces, they both knew this day might come, Gabby started to argue but the sound of more gunfire erupted around them. She began to lift her mother’s damaged body but before it left the ground a bullet singed her outer ear and struck her mother’s chest. Her eyes opened with steely determination, ‘Gabriella, Mo Mo will teach you all . . . leave me . . . be safe darling . . . I . . . love . . . you . . . .’ She passed into unconsciousness.
Gabby looked around and spotted Sophie, tail on fire, bolting toward the sea. ‘Run baby run!!’ she screamed, knowing she could do nothing for her cat, there were more important things to do. All four of her family’s caravans were either ablaze or blown apart. She wiped her eyes, smouldering bodies of her family lay all around.
Bullets continued to ping around her as she surveyed the damage. She knew she had to run from this place in order to live. She could see the muzzle flashes high up on the cliffs, two, four, maybe five she counted, too many for her to fight.
So she ran and ran.
She felt nothing but heartache and loneliness as she ploughed into a thicket of brambles half a mile away from the awful destruction. She saw flashing blue lights crawling like beetles over the hills from every direction.
Gabby presumed every one she knew was dead, except Mo Mo Kelly whom she’d met years ago but she didn’t really know at all.
They had drilled into her since she was a little girl that bad people were looking for her and would continue their search until she was dead.
‘This is no good!’ she thought to herself as she moved on through the prickly gorse bushes that were common in the west of Ireland. They pulled at her shorts and T shirt trying to ensnare her like a spider in its web.
Her Mama had said that the little fishing villages of Cleggan or Derryinva would best suit her for stealing a small dinghy or currach in which to get to Kelly’s Island.
The wise elders of the gypsy clan of which she was a member had told her she might inherit the most unusual powers known to man, tomorrow, on her sixteenth birthday. She deduced this was why such a concerted effort was made to kill her earlier. It would be their last chance and now they had failed. Gabby would make them pay dearly for that mistake.
She estimated it must be around midnight by now but nothing seemed to have changed. Where were her super powers? She asked herself. So, on she walked into the night, ripping her shirt and legs occasionally on unseen thorns. There was no pain but she imagined come daylight there would be some nasty cuts. After an hour she spotted ‘the grandmother of trees’ as her mum would call it, a towering eight hundred year old oak off on the hill to her right backlit by a partially cloud covered moon.
Gabby decided the prudent thing to do was to climb high into the knarled limbs in case anybody was following. She’d been up in the tree many times over the years but always during daylight hours. She reasoned to herself that her safety from men with guns as opposed to slipping from a branch was worth taking a risk. So up she went.
She reached a spot where a large bough joined the main trunk roughly 25 feet above the ground and so settled into a comfortable position for the night.
Sleep came easily to her exhausted body despite the cold and drizzly weather. Her dreams turned to nightmares. She felt she was caught up in a maelstrom between the sky and the earth below. Her body was being tossed around like a rag doll while her limbs seemed to become grotesquely disjointed.
Gabby awoke with a start, not sure at first where she was. She heard whispering from below and suddenly it all came back to her. She glanced down from her perch expecting to see her pursuers directly beneath the grand old oak. What she did see startled her.
The two dark skinned men were dressed in black and cradling shotguns as they walked toward the tree approximately a hundred yards away.
Gabby sat back up and pondered how she could hear them so clearly from such distance. She leaned forward stretching, her body ached all over especially her back, hands and feet. Looking at her legs she noticed no cuts or scratches from the night before.
‘Very strange indeed’ she muttered to herself.
She listened intently to the approaching men. She knew they were speaking a harsh mixture of Romany/Armenian, the language of her dead father, because she’d been taught to recognise it from a young age. The words she didn’t completely understand but the fact that strangers in Connemara were speaking it, was enough for her to worry.
Her eyes scanned the fields and hills for any potential rescuers but there was nobody to be seen. She thought she saw movement on the road a mile or so away but it was too far…
‘Mother of God!!’ she exclaimed softly upon realizing that if she focused intently she could suddenly zoom in on the police car so far in the distance. So now she had amazing hearing and sight, she wondered what else she had. Leaning back into the trunk she looked down at her arms and legs.
There was a caterpillar moving over her leg and so she cupped it up in her hands. Bringing it closer to her mouth she warned, ‘Be careful little one, there could be shooting.’
She opened her hands and to her astonishment the caterpillar had become a fully fledged butterfly with the most incredible wing colours she’d ever seen. The creature flew around her head a couple of times before alighting on a branch below her on the hidden side from the men approaching the tree.
Gabby studied the wings beating hypnotically beneath. She needed to touch the velvety softness once more. So she slowly reached down for it with her left hand while grasping the trunk of the grand tree with her right. Inch by inch and totally mesmerized by the insect’s beauty, she leaned until her right fingers started to lose purchase on the damp bark and began to slip.
‘Whoa!’ She exclaimed as she tried to dig her nails into the moist bark but to no avail. Just as she was past the point of no return, an amazing thing happened. Long silvery talons sprouted from her fingers and plunged easily into the oak tree halting her fall. She pulled herself upright catching a glimpse of the men running toward the tree, guns raised, searching the canopy for the source of the cry they’d just heard.
Gabby stood and moved herself tight to the trunk hoping to be invisible to their line of sight. She then took a moment to calm herself and examine the fingers of her right hand. There were no talons protruding, nothing, they were as normal as they’d ever been. She was really scared now, was she dreaming it? Was she losing her mind?
The crack of a branch breaking below her bought her back to the danger she was in. The two men were now directly beneath her, it was only a matter of time before she was spotted. The tree was only partially foliaged now in late Autumn and so she decided to try and climb higher to deeper cover. Of course she reasoned they might do the same but she knew she had the advantage of being much more agile than two grown men with heavy shotguns.
Off in the distance Garda Shanahan and Ban[female] Garda Russell were cruising slowly down a lane two miles west of last night’s conflagration at the gypsy campsite. Jasper the bloodhound dozed on the backseat.
‘Phew! Open the rear windows will ya Sheila? What do ya feed that thing?’ Mark Shanahan asked his work partner.
Sheila Russell looked over in mock horror, ‘That thing? Hope you’re not referring to my baby.’
‘As you well know, I am referring to your lazy lump of canine confusion prone on the backseat’ Mark said grinning.
Sheila slid the rear windows down while trying hard to keep a straight face as the toxic cloud overwhelmed her.
‘Jasus dog!’ She shrieked stopping the car before jumping out the door, Mark followed her immediately from the other side. The two of them bending over in hysterics. As the laughter waned they heard the distant sound of a gunshot. Jasper bolted upright, his bulbous nose protruding from the car window and ears pricked up.
‘I’ll call Special Weapons, you get the dog!’ Shanahan screamed.
Russell wrapped the loose fitting lead around Jasper’s head and let him out.
Meanwhile back at the tree one of the men had fired blindly up into the foliage to try to spook their quarry, it had worked.
Gabby was panicked and climbing up the main trunk with reckless abandon. Twenty feet higher she stopped and listened. She could hear the metallic scrape of the firing pin racheting forward to ignite the cartridge. She moved to the far side, shielding herself by the trunk once more.
But she wasn’t quick enough. The gun fired and she felt some of the pellets enter her foot. The pain was so intense that she screamed with such high pitch that neither she nor the men below could hear it. The only one who did was Jasper the bloodhound from a mile away. He pulled so hard on the leash that Garda Russell couldn’t hold on and off he went bounding across the fields toward the giant oak.
Gabby was scared, incensed and shaking with rage at being shot. She turned her head searching the ground below when suddenly she caught a glimpse of something totally unreal. Her beautiful long wavy red hair was changing, from the ends up, to a brilliant white.
‘What the..?’ she exclaimed. As she stroked her now transformed hair, the long silver talons appeared once more from her fingers. ‘This is definitely not normal.’
She moved her hands round and round examining the beauty of her new nails. She realized she no longer felt pain in her foot and so looked down to see no blood or any sign that she had been shot. As she continued to stare in amazement similar silvery claws began to appear through her sandals.
Without over analyzing too much she scaled up the tree trunk to near the top in seconds.
The two Romanies had managed to climb up to the lower branches. They scrutinized everything above but could see no sign of the girl. Just as they contemplated whether to continue upwards or not, they heard the howling of a bloodhound off in the distance, but moving closer.
They scuttled back down the tree, knowing if they were caught they would be put in jail for life. One man meanwhile, thought he could safely jump the last ten feet but he landed badly and sprained his ankle. Gabby craned her head until she could see what they were arguing over from her perch on high. One man was pleading with the other to help carry him but the first man would have none of it. He raised his gun and was about to shoot his accomplice at point blank range.
Gabby tried to conceal a squeal but couldn’t consider everything else that had already happened. The man raised his gun high into the tree and let off a barrage of shots before grabbing his partner under the arm and hobbling toward the river. Gabby was unhurt.
Back at the patrol car, the Special Weapons officer had arrived and was squinting through his telescopic sight at the giant tree in the distance. He’d never been a member of any police force anywhere. In fact many law agencies, including Interpol and the FBI, had been after him for years. His name was Willie Stix and he’d been in charge of the mess at the campsite the previous evening. Born in Germany his real name was Willem Steigal and he was normally a master tactician. Last night he screwed up. His patience was running thin at this stage. It had been easy for him to monitor the police band and end up at this location.
He became frustrated at the scenario playing out before his eyes. It seemed to him that two of his men had somehow attracted the attention of the local police. He needed to amend the situation. The Garda called Shanahan had pointed the direction his partner had run after the dog before chasing her himself.
Willie Stix could clearly see a man shooting up into the tree for some reason yet unknown. He scanned up and down but couldn’t make out anything, until he caught a reflection from near the top. It was an intense flash of light but then the more he tried to make out the source, the more he thought his eyes must have been playing tricks on him.