I’ve learned that the anthology my short story A HARD LESSON was part of has been unpublished. Therefore I’m making it available here in order to keep it in the public domain. It’s about a lovestruck man called Seán who finds that being granted three wishes by a leprechaun does not make things easier.
I hope you enjoy.
A Hard Lesson
By Ian Blackwell
I worked up enough confidence to approach Mary a few years after we left school. It was on a Saturday night in The Black Horse.
Michael and I were standing in the corner. Mary was waiting at the bar to get served; her dark hair shone back through the noisy crowd. I could see another lad a few yards away from her, eyeing her. I had to act fast.
“Should I?” I asked Michael.
“You should. If you don’t, you’ll never know.”
“Okay I’m going to go for it.”
I gulped down a mouthful of beer for luck. I started ducking my way through the crowd.
“Good luck,” I think Michael shouted.
My heart was pounding hard enough to split my aorta. I spotted a space beside her. I arrowed right at it, pushing past the rival.
“Hiya Mary,” I said, startling her. “Having a good night?”
“Aye,” she said. She turned back to the bar.
“We used to go to the same school. I’m Seán.”
“Two vodka and cokes,” she shouted at the barman.
“So what are you up to these days?” I asked. I knew she worked in Linda’s, a local hairdresser’s.
“That’s nice . . . Do you like it?”
I sipped my pint, trying to think of something to say. I was a plane plummeting to the ground. She handed a note to the barman and slipped the change into her purse. She lifted her drinks and turned to leave.
“Wait,” I said.
She stopped and stared at me, the obstacle to a fun evening.
“Look, I think you’re a very nice girl, and I would love to take you out sometime?” My heart was pumping sweat out of every pore.
“I would never touch a weirdo like you.”
A knife to my heart. The plane crashed and exploded into pain.
She giggled, shook her head, and side-stepped her way through everyone back to her table. The rival smirked, taking a long drink from his pint. The girls at Mary’s table grinned at her, waiting to hear what happened. I trudged back through the crowd to Michael with the charred remains of my pride.
Michael did his best to console me but it did nothing to numb the pain every time Mary and her friends peered over and laughed. I tried to dissolve the pain in beer; the only thing I remember is keeping a distance from Mary’s group when we left at closing time.
The night before plagued my mind. The day was hot but my insides were a network of lonely, icy tunnels.
I eased the lawnmower’s throttle back to a halt and lifted the heavy bag off.
I killed the lawnmower’s engine and listened.
It came from the gateway to my drive. I had lifted the cattle grid off earlier to clear the leaves under it but hadn’t replaced it yet. The pit was about three feet deep and would make a nasty fall.
I dropped the bag and ran at the gateway.
I peered over the edge, picturing blood and bruises: there stood a man only a foot tall.
“Please don’t hurt me,” he said.
“I won’t,” I said.
“Please don’t hurt me,” he repeated, stroking his ginger beard. “If ye let me go, I’ll grant ye three wishes.”
“Grand, whatever,” I said.
I knelt down and offered my hand. He folded his arms.
“Ye won’t hurt me?”
“I won’t. Now grab my hand wee man.”
He leaned his head to one side, staring at me from under his tall, green hat. His blue eyes pondered. When they brightened he edged forward, taking my hand with a flesh-tearing grip.
I pulled him out; he weighed no more than a bag of carrots. I rubbed the blood back into the fingers which he had clasped so tight. He brushed his green suit down.
“You’re the smallest fella I’ve ever seen. Where are you from?” I asked.
“Not far,” he said.
“Thanks for helping me out there. Good man yourself. Ye were true to your word and I’ll be true to mine.”
He offered his hand. I hesitated; he had a tight grip for such a wee fella. I accepted it anyway. He was gentler this time.
“My name is Fergal,” he said.
“Hiya Fergal. I’m Seán.”
“Seán . . . That’s a good name.”
“Look Seán I can’t hang about. I shouldn’t be anywhere near ye humans. So let’s start sorting your wishes and I’ll be off. Now you’ve got three. What’s the first?”
I laughed. But he looked serious.
“I wish for a million wishes,” I said.
“Are you supposed to be a leprechaun?”
“I am and an impatient one at that. Just make a wish like a good man and I’ll be away.”
“Alright here you go: I wish for Mary to be my girlfriend.”
“Granted,” he said, shaking his head. “Right I’m away. But sure I’ll hear when ye make the other two wishes and I’ll grant them on the spot. Thanks again for getting me outta that predicament Seán. Best of luck now.”
He dived headfirst at the nearest hedge, fading to nothing. I stared for a short time; he was definitely gone.
My phone’s text alert went off. I pulled my phone out.
The world stopped turning.
The text was from a Mary. There was only one Mary I knew but I didn’t have her number.
I opened the text.
Hi. You still meeting me after I finish work?
I hammered in a reply: Yeah. Where we meeting again?
I paced about the garden waiting for a response. It came: Cooks Café. Be there at 5.
I looked at my watch: it was 2 p.m.
Grand. See you there, I replied.
I finished my lawn in record time, albeit bendy tracks and missed spots everywhere. But my only concern was what I was going to wear.
I was a rally driver racing past every car I encountered. I even overtook on a corner to ensure I arrived in good time. At 4.50 p.m. I was in Cooks Café sipping a coffee at a table by the window. By 5pm I was a puppy staring out the window waiting for my owner.
Then I saw Mary coming.
My breathing shallowed. My mind raced. What will I say? What if she walks on past?
The bell above the door jingled. She stepped inside. She looked all around her. Finally her eyes met mine. She came over.
“Hi,” she said. “I want a bacon and cheese toastie and a coke.”
“Er . . . Hi. I’ll sort that now.”
I hurried to the counter and ordered her meal. I ordered something for myself as well; all I remember is it was the first thing I saw on the menu high up on the wall. Mary was doing something on her phone and didn’t look up when I set her coke down.
“Food won’t be long. Did you have a nice day?” I asked.
“It was alright but Claire is such a bitch. All she does is complain about the lack of light around her chair and bitches on about how she can’t see what she’s doing. It can’t be that bad. I think she’s overreacting and it stresses me out.”
“Aw, I’m sorry to hear,” I said. A moment’s silence passed. “I had a grand day. I spent the afternoon cutting the grass. When my parents were alive they really valued keeping the house tidy so I make sure I keep it that way.”
“Hmm,” she said, still playing with her phone.
“You doing much this evening?”
“No. But I was thinking: tomorrow you could take me to that new restaurant on Scotch Street called Vevinos.” She looked at me.
“Of course,” I said. “How about six?”
“Seven would be better so pick me up then. Book the table for half seven.”
“Yeah grand so. I’ll get you at seven,” I said.
Soon our food was brought over. She spent most of the date talking about the people she didn’t like and how she hated living with her parents. Although I learned a lot about her she learned little about me. I didn’t care: I was lost in her amazing brown eyes even though they were lost to her phone most of the time. But she only had to glance at me to give me a moment I treasured.
I drove her home afterwards and we shared a brief kiss I’ll never forget.
I awoke the next morning smiling. I lay there marvelling at how Fergal’s wish actually came true. Then I thought about the remaining two wishes. I learned Mary has expensive taste: she buys all her clothes in Wilson Morrows who charge at least €100 for a pair of jeans. I needed more cash to meet her requirements.
“I wish for a billion euros,” I shouted from my bed, unsure of a response.
“Wishes are not limitless ye know. Try for a hundred-thousand and that’ll do ye well,” echoed around my room.
“Ah,” I said.
“It beats a kick in the balls,” he said.
“Alright then. I wish for one hundred-thousand euros, straight into my bank account.”
I checked my bank account on my phone: sure enough, the money was there.
Now I can keep Mary happy for a long time. The pay I take home from the building site would never be enough.
I accelerated to Mary’s that evening with my debit card heavy in my jean pocket. I texted her when I arrived at 6.50pm; she replied she’d be out in five minutes.
At 7.30pm I was still waiting.
I had long killed the car engine. I stared at the clock, playing an impatient piano tune on the steering wheel, debating calling the restaurant.
Then her front door opened.
I watched her step out. My fingers stopped playing. I forgot about the time. She looked beautiful in her red dress. I smiled when our eyes met; she didn’t smile back. I tried to steal a kiss when she climbed in, but failed.
“Can’t ruin my lipstick,” she said. “Anyway you best put your foot to the board because we’re late.”
“Indeed we are,” I said.
“I’m so annoyed.”
“My dad. He is so irritating. He treats me like a child, telling me not to stay out too late. I hate living with him.”
“Ah well maybe it’s just his way of showing he cares,” I said.
Silence. An acid stare sprayed the side of my face. I wondered if I had just called her fat.
“A bit of support please. You are my boyfriend, or at least you’re supposed to be.”
When I told the young waiter the name on the reservation his face hardened.
“Sorry we’re late,” I said.
“This way,” he said.
He led us past lots of tables full of well-dressed people to the corner, dropping menus down on our table. Without a word he hurried back to the desk to greet other arrivals.
“His manners are disgusting,” Mary said.
“We’re half an hour late and they’re under pressure,” I said, watching the staff rush around. “I used to work in a restaurant so I know what it’s like.”
“Well if you hadda drove faster we would’ve been here sooner.”
I focused on the menu: everything was expensive.
Five minutes of silence between us. The classical music in the background helped soften my shoulders.
“Any idea of what you’d like?” I asked.
“No . . . Obviously.”
A snake with a headache.
The atmosphere at our table remained stable until our food arrived. First she cut into her steak. Then she sighed and threw her knife and fork down. She called and shook her hand at the nearest waiter.
“How can I help?” he asked.
“Aye. What’s up?” I asked.
“This steak. I asked for it to be well-done. It hasn’t been well-cooked at all. It’s disgusting.”
The dark cloud above us grew, darkening the atmosphere at other tables. Diners quietened and peeked over. I looked at the cut in her steak: its grey centre looked well-done to me. I lowered my head.
“I’m so sorry,” the waiter said, scooping up her plate. “Leave it to me. I’ll sort it out for you.”
“Don’t be long. I’m starving,” she called after him. She treated me to her beautiful smile. “You’d think a place like this would get something as simple as that right.”
The waiter was soon back with her steak and a bottle of red wine. His stony expression said he and everyone else in that kitchen knew there was little wrong with her steak.
“We offer our sincere apologies. Here is a complementary bottle of wine.”
“I should think so,” she said.
My debit card destroyed the huge bill. The staff made little eye contact with us when we were leaving even though I gave a generous tip. At least Mary came out satisfied, although on wobbly feet. The only time she stopped talking was when we shared a long kiss in my car outside her home. My ecstatic high shattered into a withdrawal syndrome when she pulled away. She struggled out of my car and slammed the door too hard.
All my brain power at work the next day was exhausted on figuring out how I could close the empty void in my heart; I was scolded by the foreman for not getting much done. But by the end of the working day I’d realised what was wrong. It would take my final wish to make it right.
“I wish for Mary to love me,” I said, driving home.
“Limits. Mind there are limits.”
I thought Fergal’s words came from the back seat but I could see nothing in my mirror.
I had decided what was wrong with my relationship with Mary by the time I arrived home.
She only talks about herself and isn’t interested in me. What is needed is the opportunity for her to see what a nice guy I am. I can’t wish for her to love me. But that will develop. We could have a happy life together – we will have a happy life together.
She hates living with her parents. She would be more able to concentrate on our relationship.
Living together will put so many things right.
I chucked my lunchbox on to the kitchen table. I squared up to the wall, picturing Fergal’s face.
“I wish for Mary to be living here with me as my wife.”
A tightness trapped my finger: it was a thick gold ring.
I heard movement upstairs.
“Mary?” I called.
I sped down the hall and up the stairs. There she was rolling the duvet down the bed in my bedroom – our bedroom. She was wearing pyjamas. Puddles of her shoes and clothes littered the floor. Bottles and creams crowded the dresser.
“I’m shattered. I’m going to take a nap,” she said.
“Do you not want any dinner?” I asked.
“No but leave me something nice in the oven.”
She jumped into the bed.
“Uh . . . Okay,” I said. “Have a good sleep.”
I closed the door behind me.
“Will you iron my clothes?” She fluttered her eyelashes at me.
“I was hoping to watch a football match. Can you not do it?” I asked.
“But there’s something I want to watch. And I don’t know how to iron. Mummy used to do it all for me.”
“What? Your mum did that for you as well?”
“Right. You can’t cook. You can’t iron. What can you do?”
“Don’t you dare speak to me like that.”
“I’ve no problem helping out around the house. But you’re going to have to learn to do your fair share.”
“YOU’RE GIVING ME A HEADACHE! HOW AWFUL!!!”
She marched out of the kitchen, taking with her another piece of the joy that once filled my heart every time I saw her.
Later I was outside throwing rubbish into the bin.
“Well Seán. How’s it going?”
There stood Fergal.
“Not very well,” I said. “I’ve found things aren’t working out the way they’re supposed to.”
“We argue a lot. I have to do everything because she’s useless. And all she does is complain. It’s only been three weeks and already I’m sick of being around her. Sometimes I pop off to the shop just to get a break. Never have I enjoyed going to work so much.”
“Sure that was always going to happen,” he said, slapping his hat. “I had to come to ye and do me pieces. You had three wishes. Ye could’ve wished for almost anything yet ye wasted them all on that selfish girl. Ye stupid fool. Now look where you’re at.”
“I know,” I said. “Any chance of three more wishes?”
“Ah now Seán. Not a chance.”
“But I saved you.”
“Aye but sure were ye not repaid?”
“To hell with you.”
I launched at him; he tore off across the garden. A green hare.
He stopped and turned.
“Ach there’s no need to put us on bad terms,” he said.
“Come here,” I said, charging.
He vanished into the fence.
I waited at that spot wondering how he managed to disappear when the fence gaps were barely wide enough to fit my finger through.
Mary’s voice from the kitchen was a bullet to my soul.
“Be there in a minute,” I called.
My eyes remained on the fence, waiting; nothing happened. I trudged back inside, closing the door behind me.
I hope everyone is well.
The link to issue 38 of Dark Dossier Magazine that features my short story TOYS ARE DANGEROUS is here. You can now read all issues for free when you use the discount code readforfree at the checkout. They’ve more stories about monsters, ghosts, aliens and killers than you can handle. Their homepage is here so have a look and be amazed.
It’s been a while. I’m so close to finishing a piece and I’ve yet to decide what I’m going to do with it. I’ve also completed the first draft of the longest story I’ve ever written. Keep an eye out.
In the meantime, I’m posting my story One Last Time which was published by Brave Voices Magazine in 2019. They’ve since changed their focus to poetry only so this story is no longer on their website. If you like poetry, check them out here.
Here we go:
One Last Time
by Ian Blackwell
“We could just turn off his life support. There is very little chance he will recover. But even if he does he will be back within a few weeks. And what’s more, deserving people could do with the organs.”
“Hmm . . .”
“Except his liver, of course.”
One man’s laughter pokes Liam, disturbing his slumber. His consciousness drifts out of the fog, barely floating in this sea of sadness called life.
Damn. Still alive.
He waits for the dehydration to squeeze his brain. He waits for the invisible knife to stab him in the abdomen, just like it has done repeatedly for several days. But the assault doesn’t come.
He still feels like all of those bottles he’s opened over the last several months: empty. But this emptiness is different. He can’t feel anything. The Fear he has grown so used to waking up to is not there; the urge to get another drink has gone.
He tries to lift his eyelids: he can’t. He tries to move his arms and legs: they don’t respond. He can’t even feel any part of his body. His mind is trapped in an impermeable bubble. All he can do is stare into the darkness behind his eyelids. Yet he is calm and everything is alright.
The bubble starts to rise.
The brownness turns to grey. Then it brightens. The hazy curtain draws back.
Beep . . . . . beep . . . . . beep . . . . . beep . . . . . beep . . . . .
Cardiograph’s leads are plugged all over a man’s yellow chest below him. He’s propped up in a bed with the blanket stopping at his waist. His arms hang by his sides, lifeless. A cannula sticks out from one of them. His eyes are closed. Tubes hide the lower part of his face. His ribcage rises and falls in obedience to the ventilator stood at the bedside, pumping life, demanding he hangs in there.
The shape of his head. The hair that’s too grey for a man who’s maybe in his forties . . .
“His GGT is the highest I have ever seen.”
Two males in white coats and with stethoscopes hanging from their necks stand to the left of the bed.
“Same,” the red-haired one says.
“If he recovers it will be a miracle,” the dark-haired one says.
“It would be a waste of a miracle though.”
“Hmm . . .”
“Plus our resources are stretched more than ever before. We could really do with the bed,” the dark-haired one says, motioning at the comatose man. “Give it to someone worth helping.”
“You can’t say things like that.”
“Smell the drink on him. If you lit a match in here he would explode.”
Liam looks at the patient.
I could’ve ended up there. Heaven knows I drink too much. I lost my job. My wife and kids are gone. Emma, young Louise and Michael. I miss them so much. I have to get off the booze and sort my life out. Why am I seeing this? Am I dreaming? Last thing I remember I was walking home sipping gin . . .
His head. That hair. Dear Christ . . .
Liam tries to cry out. He tries to thrash and wave. But it’s hard with no body.
Hey! Don’t kill me! I’m alive! I’m right here!
Liam torpedoes his thoughts at the doctors, one after another. The red-haired one seems to shiver.
“How about we give him another six hours? Then we’ll see.”
The dark-haired one’s eyebrows mash together.
“A waste of money . . .”
“It’s someone’s life we’re talking about Dr Ingis. I’m sure you’ll agree that as doctors it is our duty to put the wellbeing of our patients first.”
Dr Ingis’ face stretches.
“But of course! But what I am saying is there is no point in keeping someone alive that has extremely little chance of recovery. It is our duty to allow our patients a dignified death. Plus there are many other patients who need our help.”
“Of course. But we’re giving him six more hours.”
Dr Ingis sighs.
“Okay, Dr Murray. We will go with your suggestion. We will come back in six hours,” Dr Ingis checks his watch, “at 6.27pm.”
Dr Ingis leaves the room and Dr Murray follows, writing on his clipboard.
Liam fights to do something; the only thing he has control over are the thoughts firing around the invisible cloud he has become.
I’m not dead yet. I can’t let them kill me. I’ve got to get back to my body. But how . . .
He peers down at his body. Its heart still beats and its lungs still breathe thanks to modern healthcare. But its brain is vacant.
Please let me go back. I’ll never drink again. I’ll make amends. I’ll start being a father again and get my family back. I’ll sort myself out. I’ll make the most of my life . . .
A voice invades Liam’s mind: The things one has are never truly appreciated until they are taken away.
The thought tears off the shackles holding Liam to the ceiling. He floats downwards, downwards to the temple which was once his, his to drown in the poison that put it there. He can see the years it has burned into his body. He realises the drinking is not the ultimate source of his yellow skin. It really came from his heart and mind: his willingness to numb himself to life. But hiding only allowed them to grow, fuelled by the drink he threw at them, all the way from his lips down into the empty pit of his soul.
The lowering stops inches above his head, allowing Liam one more look at the tiny, red tracks on his cheeks disappearing under the strap and tape, those self-inflicted scars of self-pity. The thinning hair starved of nourishment.
Everybody is a slave. But you have the choice of what to be a slave to, the voice says.
Liam starts to lower again. The cloud of his mind densifies. He can only see the worn paths of age crossing his forehead. These blur into the yellowness. Everything turns grey, then dark.
“You came close to death. You will never know how close you were,” Dr Murray says.
Luckily Dr Ingis didn’t have his way, Liam thinks.
“You must stop drinking. Totally stop. If you’re not willing to do that, then there is nothing anyone can do for you. Here.”
Dr Murray hands Liam a large envelope.
“That contains a copy of your discharge letter which we’ll be sending to your GP today. But I’d like to draw your attention to the list of local support services that can help you. I strongly recommend you make use of it. These organisations have helped many good people. But remember: no one can help you if you don’t want to be helped.”
“I still can’t get over how you’ve recovered so quickly. Your liver function tests tell me you’ve now got a healthy liver. Unbelievable. I will never forget this. You’re very lucky. Many aren’t as fortunate.
Liam nods again, staring at the door.
“Have you any questions?”
Liam turns to him.
“Well then I wish you the best. You should make an appointment with your GP in a week for a routine follow up.”
Liam offers his hand: Dr Murray accepts it and they shake. They both stand and leave the room, going separate ways in the busy corridor.
Liam glances down at the envelope in his hand; a near-collision with a young nurse who ignores him forces him to focus on where he’s going.
He looks ahead planning his exit, slowing down and speeding up, side-stepping through the human obstacles. His dry throat cries out inside him to quench its thirst.
Suddenly Liam spots someone further ahead strutting out onto the corridor. His white coat threatens him through the people between them. The sandpaper lining Liam’s throat hurts him more with each step they grow closer. The face of the judge of life and death is tight with the inconvenience of those blocking his path.
Their eyes meet.
Liam stares at the man that wanted to kill him; Dr Ingis shifts his gaze past Liam’s shoulder. Liam beats the urge to lean over so their shoulders clash.
“No miracle is ever wasted,” Liam says.
Dr. Ingis looks at him and stops; Liam keeps on walking.
The heat dissipates into the air as Dr Ingis starts to become a horrible memory; a boogie man haunting the nightmares of the vulnerable.
The thirst remains.
I’ve made a right mess of everything. Good friends are gone. My family. But I must get myself right first. My house is a disgrace. Better clean the vomit off the stairs.
The barbed wire twists inside his throat. He exits the hospital into a warm, sunny day.
I nearly died in there. A pointless death it would’ve been. Like a rabbit in the middle of the road, flattened by someone rushing to be somewhere unimportant.
He sucks his cheeks in, concentrating the little saliva there is. He swallows: his Velcro throat nearly seals itself closed.
I should celebrate.
He arrives at the front of the taxi rank, climbing into the first taxi.
“Right mate. Where to?” the driver says.
“Do you know Westfarm Drive?”
“That’s where I’m going. You know the off-licence on Benton Road?”
“I want to stop there for a minute.”
“Sure thing boss.”
The black taxi rolls off.
I’ll only have a few drinks when I get home. Today I’m celebrating. I’ll start sorting myself out tomorrow.
A Happy Halloween to all the monsters out there. I was given a Halloween treat by Dark Fire Fiction when they said they’d publish my occult horror story NIGHT SHIFT. It’s about a guy called Chris who notices his local DIY store has started opening overnight. That’s strange enough, but the staff are even stranger.
Dark Fire Fiction gives great, free horror and dark fantasy stories. Check it out at http://darkfire.epizy.com/?i=1
My story can be found here: http://darkfire.epizy.com/fiction_Blackwell1021.html
I’m delighted to have a story published by Twin Pies in their second issue. When I discovered this magazine and read they like weird and unusual stuff I thought it was worth taking a shot with this story. I came up with a random title and started writing, having no idea what was going to happen or what the journey could mean. I come up with titles after I start writing most of the time so this was a little experiment for me which I’m pleased came together.
You can view the magazine for free here and catch the talented work of other writers and poets: https://www.twinpiesliterary.com/volume-two
The Blue Building is here: https://www.twinpiesliterary.com/volume-two/thebluebuilding
My mythic fiction story “A Hard Lesson” tells how Seán, a man who would love to woo a girl called Mary, is granted three wishes by a leprechaun. He soon finds that wishes can make things complicated. By coincidence the anthology will be released on St. Patrick’s Day.
The anthology is called “Legends Reborn: Classic Stories As You’ve Never Heard Them Before”. The featured authors have put their own twists on myths and legends. It’s available to pre-order: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085J316BT?fbclid=IwAR2hRw6z5WdRtdBGzZcYViegnmpVX7HMFKisqFjvVrP9MGNeMKprMdUMY9I
Brave Voices Magazine have included my story ONE LAST TIME in issue #5. It’s about an alcoholic called Liam who has the strangest experience. Thanks to Audrey Bowers EIC and all at the magazine. The magazine is free and available at
Delighted to have my story TOYS ARE DANGEROUS published in Dark Dossier Magazine. Thanks to Jamie Evans and all for making it happen. Purchase or subscribe here: https://www.darkdossier.com/Magazine.html
I’m delighted to write that I’ve had a horror story accepted by Sirens Call Publications. It’s called REAR-VIEW MIRROR and it’s been included in this month’s eZine. It’s free to download so check it out on p. 124. Thanks to all at Sirens Call for making this happen. I look forward to reading all the other stories. http://www.sirenscallpublications.com/pdfs/SirensCallEZine_August2019.pdf
Let’s see how this goes.