The Crown of Fools, Chapters Fourteen & Fifteen

the crown of fools

Chapter Fourteen

“Jesus, Finnen,” said Petka Covering his eyes.

“You’re lucky, Petka- I can’t cover my eyes. Finnen, do you have to be so graphic? Would you kindly stop gyrating your body like that? Your pelvic thrusts are making me physically ill, and being aetheric, that’s technically not supposed to happen!”

“Pfff,” muttered Finnen McKinnon, “Leave it to a woodsman and wolf-man to ruin a beautiful moment in the story– the emotion, the pageantry… I ask only a bit ‘o appreciation? Denied!”

“Nobody is denying that love between two people is beautiful, but God above, when you reduce the act to a one-man foxtrot it ceases to be beautiful.” Petka shook his head. “I just have one question, Finnen,” said Petka with a tinge of apology in his voice.

“Aye,” said Finnen, spitting on the ground.

“Aside from your… festive jig…I- and I think I speak for both Chaim and I (here Chaim vigorously nodded his head in agreement)…”

“Wait before ye ask- an’ tell me- honest now…” started Finnen, “Did you like the wee-little puppets?”

“Oh, yes,” said Petka, “Puppets are a go.”

“So what’s yer question then?” Finnen had a little edge of annoyance to his voice as he coddled his disturbing marionettes, seemingly made of rat bones, buttons,and felt, dressed (of course) in the garb of those hideous, carnivorous gnomes.

“Well, clearly this was once a -well if not bustling- at least a living town. And now, things are just empty and there’s an air of…soul-level vacancy, almost decay… and you are the last resident. I’m sure we’ll get to that at some point…but just how did this whole place operate? It must have had some prosperity, at least for a time when this man Creighton and Johannah built the actual settlement here. It’s just that, well you know… the mound of picked-clean skeletons and the obstinate elephant guardian seem to indicate that things took a turn somehow.”

“Ah, fair enough Fawcett- a good question, I’ll concede. Now, the settlement was good and well-established by the time my sorry arse found itself here. Creighton gave me the rundown. Nice man Creighton…maybe too kind, fer his own good even. Couldn’t turn away a stray, no matter how haggard and mangy; and he could read a man’s heart an’ soul through all the scar tissue and rags anyone had to wear. He had a… well, at least at first glance a sort of paradise- but even fear of losing that paradise wasn’t enough to keep from savin’ a single person… even to his own… or all of our detriment.”

Finned sighed, served up another round of bubbling stew, and a oddly colored chaser– neither Petka nor Chaim had the energy to even ask what it was, and were thirsty enough to simply drink the sickly sweet, slightly viscous liquid with only a slight wince.

“I guess I’d better start,” started a calm and tipsy Finnen, “From de beginnin’…my beginnin’– how I, meself came ta be here. “

Finnen exhaled, and carried upon his breath along with the strange honey-sweet liquor, was a homesickness– and whether it was for his place of origin, or what Creighton’s settlement had been was yet to be determined.

The bald and scarred man wiped the sweat from his eyes and brow, and reached below the bar. A moment of fumbling later, he brought two more puppets- one clearly was a strange facsimile of rag-and-bone scraps meant to be a miniature Finnen (with that same bald, scarred head, and manic grin to boot); the second was a surprisingly well-crafted horse, with what appeared to be an unbearably smug grin plastered on its equine face. A third, slumped over puppet sat in the corner- this was ostensibly a miniature Creighton, as it was donned in soldier’s fatigues and carried a little matchstick rifle; further, it showed signs of painstaking attention to detail, as if both true affection and care went into its construction. Petka had no doubt that it would come into play later.

“Anyway,” said Finnen, stretching his arms, back, and neck, “I suppose this is where I should welcome you to Creighton’s Rest- or what had been…or what may be again. Honestly, it’s hard to say at this point. But when the man himself brought me here, it was something of a purgatory- sweet like molasses and didn’t seem to move much even when you wanted it too, but far better than the fate I had escaped.”

“What was the fate?” asked Petka, respectively.

“Death.”

“Why death?” asked Chaim, legs crossed, furry chin resting on his palm.

“Ah, it’s a tale as old as time; you might even find it a bit cliché. It all started in me hometown, a county in Southern Ireland- the name doesn’t even matter anymore…”

Here Finnen paused, took a deep breath and placed his sweating palms firmly on the bar. He exhaled anxiously, and met the gazes of Petka and Chaim.

“I got into a fight with a magistrate’s foul-mouthed horse. “

“As one does,” muttered Chaim, who then prepared himself for what would likely be a very long, and remarkably strange story.

“I was a quiet man, a bookworm…hardworkin’ but a bit milquetoast…”

Chapter Fourteen

“Jesus, Finnen,” said Petka Covering his eyes.

“You’re lucky, Petka- I can’t cover my eyes. Finnen, do you have to be so graphic? Would you kindly stop gyrating your body like that? Your pelvic thrusts are making me physically ill, and being aetheric, that’s technically not supposed to happen!”

“Pfff,” muttered Finnen McKinnon, “Leave it to a woodsman and wolf-man to ruin a beautiful moment in the story– the emotion, the pageantry… I ask only a bit ‘o appreciation? Denied!”

“Nobody is denying that love between two people is beautiful, but God above, when you reduce the act to a one-man foxtrot it ceases to be beautiful.” Petka shook his head. “I just have one question, Finnen,” said Petka with a tinge of apology in his voice.

“Aye,” said Finnen, spitting on the ground.

“Aside from your… festive jig…I- and I think I speak for both Chaim and I (here Chaim vigorously nodded his head in agreement)…”

“Wait before ye ask- an’ tell me- honest now…” started Finnen, “Did you like the wee-little puppets?”

“Oh, yes,” said Petka, “Puppets are a go.”

“So what’s yer question then?” Finnen had a little edge of annoyance to his voice as he coddled his disturbing marionettes, seemingly made of rat bones, buttons,and felt, dressed (of course) in the garb of those hideous, carnivorous gnomes.

“Well, clearly this was once a -well if not bustling- at least a living town. And now, things are just empty and there’s an air of…soul-level vacancy, almost decay… and you are the last resident. I’m sure we’ll get to that at some point…but just how did this whole place operate? It must have had some prosperity, at least for a time when this man Creighton and Johannah built the actual settlement here. It’s just that, well you know… the mound of picked-clean skeletons and the obstinate elephant guardian seem to indicate that things took a turn somehow.”

“Ah, fair enough Fawcett- a good question, I’ll concede. Now, the settlement was good and well-established by the time my sorry arse found itself here. Creighton gave me the rundown. Nice man Creighton…maybe too kind, fer his own good even. Couldn’t turn away a stray, no matter how haggard and mangy; and he could read a man’s heart an’ soul through all the scar tissue and rags anyone had to wear. He had a… well, at least at first glance a sort of paradise- but even fear of losing that paradise wasn’t enough to keep from savin’ a single person… even to his own… or all of our detriment.”

Finned sighed, served up another round of bubbling stew, and a oddly colored chaser– neither Petka nor Chaim had the energy to even ask what it was, and were thirsty enough to simply drink the sickly sweet, slightly viscous liquid with only a slight wince.

“I guess I’d better start,” started a calm and tipsy Finnen, “From de beginnin’…my beginnin’– how I, meself came ta be here. “

Finnen exhaled, and carried upon his breath along with the strange honey-sweet liquor, was a homesickness– and whether it was for his place of origin, or what Creighton’s settlement had been was yet to be determined.

The bald and scarred man wiped the sweat from his eyes and brow, and reached below the bar. A moment of fumbling later, he brought two more puppets- one clearly was a strange facsimile of rag-and-bone scraps meant to be a miniature Finnen (with that same bald, scarred head, and manic grin to boot); the second was a surprisingly well-crafted horse, with what appeared to be an unbearably smug grin plastered on its equine face. A third, slumped over puppet sat in the corner- this was ostensibly a miniature Creighton, as it was donned in soldier’s fatigues and carried a little matchstick rifle; further, it showed signs of painstaking attention to detail, as if both true affection and care went into its construction. Petka had no doubt that it would come into play later.

“Anyway,” said Finnen, stretching his arms, back, and neck, “I suppose this is where I should welcome you to Creighton’s Rest- or what had been…or what may be again. Honestly, it’s hard to say at this point. But when the man himself brought me here, it was something of a purgatory- sweet like molasses and didn’t seem to move much even when you wanted it too, but far better than the fate I had escaped.”

“What was the fate?” asked Petka, respectively.

“Death.”

“Why death?” asked Chaim, legs crossed, furry chin resting on his palm.

“Ah, it’s a tale as old as time; you might even find it a bit cliché. It all started in me hometown, a county in Southern Ireland- the name doesn’t even matter anymore…”

Here Finnen paused, took a deep breath and placed his sweating palms firmly on the bar. He exhaled anxiously, and met the gazes of Petka and Chaim.

“I got into a fight with a magistrate’s foul-mouthed horse. “

“As one does,” muttered Chaim, who then prepared himself for what would likely be a very long, and remarkably strange story.

“I was a quiet man, a bookworm…hardworkin’ but a bit milquetoast…”

 

Chapter Fifteen

Finnen McKinnon was a quiet man. He dressed impeccably. He read a lot of books. He was painfully shy, but not lazy. He was a jack of all trades- mending fences, tending to farm animals, working the land- and all with the distinct air of a true gentleman- he politely removed his hat for passing ladies, was always quick with a please and thank you, and was a rather passive individual. At that time, Finnen sported a neatly-trimmed mustache, and long, dark red hair, which seemed accentuate with his abnormally clear green eyes, which always held some manner of innate kindness whether he bowed, smiled, or exchanged a handshake. And, surprisingly enough to Petka and Chaim, he apparently spent his former life as a genuine teetotaler. Finnen, as he was, may have continued his life in an entirely polite and prosaic fashion– however (as fate would have it) a walk one night beneath the gaslight lamps and the stars, when the spring humidity was just starting to settle thick over the streets, would change all that.

It was about nine o’clock pm when Mr. McKinnon was enjoying a brisk walk down main street, occasionally stopping to gaze into the infinite, star-freckled firmament above, wondering if anything was gazing back. Everything on this night was as normal as the countless hundreds of nights he had spent in the same occupation, until a shrill cry of “help!” pierced the darkness of an adjacent alley. Finnen grasped his oak walking stick, as if to make use of it as a weapon, and ran towards the cry of distress that had so shattered not only the night’s normal peace, but also his strange, star gazing reveries. What he found sickened him. What he saw brought blood to his eyes.

A well known man- considered by wealth and blood to be of impeccable reputation and upper-crust status named Cillian had cornered a woman of the evening, name of Orla, in the dark and curving alley. Cillian, dressed in the finest of clothes, gold buttons gleaming by the light of the street lamps, had a twisted grin and a long knife, no doubt as sharp and capable of bloodletting as the man himself. Finnen had never been formally introduced to the man, but Finnen always felt distinctly ill-at-ease whenever he entered the pub he frequented. The man had a good name, a good amount of money to spend on drinks, and a very bad air about his perpetually smiling face- there was almost an emptiness to that smile which matched a similar lack behind his eyes..

Orla backed up slowly, trying to put as much distance between herself and the grinning madman as possible, though the alley ended in a brick wall, making escape impossible. Cillian, with a a gleaming white, toothy smile had been beckoning Orla to come closer to him, his actions all the more disturbing by the occasional, uncontrolled twitch or jerk that racked Cillian’s tight-wound frame. Most disturbingly, the edge in his voice, and his narrow-eyed focus betrayed a motive far worse than simple robbery- Cillian, in this moment (and perhaps in countless other moments in his life) was a predator, cornering his prey.

Now Finnen McKinnon was hardly a fighter– in fact, he meandered around town as a peaceable, if not nearly invisible being. People recognizing him as a polite entity, or even perhaps an entity of politeness- some wayward ghost who simply wandered the little byways of the village for the soul purpose of unerring etiquette. But despite his quiet, well-nigh largely unnoticed personhood, he was not a coward- and he would not abide an innocent woman be victimized by the shaky, frothing animal who was closing the distance between himself and the spilling of blood, knife in hand, cloaked in a darkness from within and without, neither seen by the physical eye.

In a move that would alter his life forever, he made his presence well known.

Hey!” shouted Finnen in his deepest, gruffest voice. He stood as tall as possible, and his hands were wrapped tightly around his walking stick, white in the knuckles and ready for a fight, win or lose. His voice echoed off the smudged, brick walls of the alley, and momentarily captured the villain’s attention- Orla (and his violent intentions toward her) were, for the moment, forgotten and he turned to face Finnen. Finnen McKinnon, a meek individual at the best of times, shivered with adrenaline as he held his walking stick as a matter of defense. But despite the fear that he felt, he stood, facing the beast- he was now nothing more than a tangled web of nerves and anger.

“Oh-ho-boy-o!” chided Cillian through clenched teeth, advancing slowly on Finnen, step by step, slow and menacing, as if savoring every moment of the intruder’s fear, “Oooooooh-Hoooooo-Boooooy-OH!” Cillian was clearly a man of few words when looking for blood, and the few that he spoke floated on a near palpable miasma of cologne and sweat, that wafted in the air between the two contenders.

Step. Grin. Step. Grin.

Cillian, in his bloodlust, moved like a jittering, fluid thing- much as if his bones were pliable especially for his predatory purposes. His eyes seemingly staring through Finnen, perhaps targeting the spots to stick him where he would bleed and hurt the worst. And finally, after Cillian was close enough (he, as far as Finnen could recollect, never blinked), Finnen swung his walking stick in a wide arc– with lighting speed Cillian blocked it with his elegantly dressed, and thoroughly muscled forearm, snapping Finnen’s makeshift weapon into splinters. Without missing a step, and with preternatural speed, Cillian’s wiry form pinning Finnen to the ground. Despite his thin, dandy appearance, it seemed to Finnen that Cillian weighed as much as a bear, and was a viscous as one to boot- Finnen hardly stood a chance, for the violence had begun.

First, Cillian (having thrown the knife to his side, preferring apparently the more visceral experience of beating a man to death with his bare hands) began scratching deep wounds into Finnen’s face with his immaculately groomed fingernails; each wound was etched in deep crimson, and the spray of his blood only seemed to spur on Cillian’s animal drive to kill. After the savage clawing, Cillian balled up a bony fist (as heavy and unyielding as a stone), and drove it over and over into Finnen’s face, until he was nearly unrecognizable. A sickening crack indicated indicated Finnen’s skull had been fractured from his head being slammed on the pavement– Finnen’s eyes were blackened and his nose broken, was spurting blood.

Between spitting out broken teeth and choking on blood, Finnen managed a week, “Run ..Lass…” hoping at least to have bought the poor woman a few minutes to escape. As for Finnen, though the blows to his skull and scratches to his face continued to rain down upon him, it seemed that the pain (which was beyond anything which Finnen had ever before experienced) began to mercifully subside. His vision was growing dark, and even the cacodemoniacle, shrieking laughter began to fade, into somewhere else, almost like it existed in a place far from him. Moments later, he was thoroughly unconscious, and bordering on dead.

If Finnen had remained awake, and had not been lulled to sleep by the song of the merciful Reaper, he would have heard Orla emit a startling war-cry, followed by the sickening crack of the sharp end of Finnen’s broken walking stick being thrust through the back of Cillian’s skull. If the Devil trafficked in miracles, he apparently bestowed his best upon Cillian, who it seemed was undeterred by the stick in his brain. He roared at the waning moon and charged on uncertain legs towards Orla, who, diving to the side, allowed Cillian to crash head first into the dirty brick wall behind her.

Orla dropped to all fours, searching in the shadows for the discarded knife, when she heard those same irregular steps- syncopated with evil unworldly and brain damage- growing louder. Cillian was spitting words into the darkness- like he was trying to shout his charnel intentions for the woman, but his brain just issued forth random words that, when strung together, meant even less as a whole then they did individually.

In a remarkably deft move, Orla, knife in hand, rolled out of the way of the madman’s path. Cillian, missing his target, skidded face-first on the rough ground, which did much to make all the more gruesome his appearance– he lost his front teeth, and the rough cobblestones had taken off the first layer of skin, bringing to the eye what Cillian had been nurturing so long in his heart, black as it undoubtedly was. and Now, to Orla’s horror, he was again crawling towards Finnen who had ceased sputtering blood, intent it seemed on at least being sure of taking one life before parting with his. Cillian crawled on all fours in a jerky, almost stop-motion fashion, still uttering strings of nonsensical words that, nonetheless, permeated with evil.

Orla took four or five steps, lifted Cillian’s head up so their gazes met, and cut his throat from ear to ear. A thick, crimson river poured from the open wound. Cillian was no more.

He died wide-eyed and smiling.

Orla hoped in her heart that the burning coals would be enough to inflict upon the madman his just suffering in the hereafter (it would later be found out during the course of the Constable’s investigation, that Cillian had been busy for a number of years), but then again, some people are just born bad; remorse is as anathema and unknown to their being as dry land to a fish- it’s simply a place they cannot inhabit, and therefore have no use for.

Finnen was quite a sight to see, or rather a sight that may have been best unseen after his mauling- but rather inspire sickness in Orla (who was a tough as nails and it hard as a hammer), she immediately felt pity for the poor, soft-spoken man, who she only vaguely recognized as a bookish sort who greeted her, not with a “proposition”, but with a smile and polite nod. And it was this memory- such a little thing- that inspired to do all she could to help the bleeding mass in front of her– to ensure that he parted with his life for the highest possible price, that his courage and goodness would not be lost to a world that was in desperate need of both.

Orla knelt down at Finnen’s side, his rapidly cooling blood soaking the knees of her dress, and placed her ear close to Finnen’s split and bleeding lips. And though it was faint, and coupled with a wheezing gurgle, Finnen was breathing, however slightly. She thanked the living God above that Finnen was somehow still alive after a savage mauling; deep, long scratches and even several deep bites to his arm were inflicted, courtesy Cillian, when Finnen had tried to fend off his attacker.

Standing up (and delivering just one more kick to Cillian’s lifeless, grinning face), she picked up the broken Finnen McKinnon in a fireman’s carry, scurrying as quickly as her legs could carry her to the local surgeon, who frowned deeply at what he assumed was simply a vaguely bi-pedal, pile of wheezing gore which Orla plopped down on a soft gurney, out of breath from her run.

Jay-sus Christ, Orla! What did ya do ta this poor bastard?”

Orla coughed, and placed her hands on her knees, out of breath from her efforts.

“It wasn’t me ya halfwit! It was that animal Cillian! Son of a jackal cornered me in an alley, an’ tried to rob me of more than me coin! Fortunately, this gent comes along all heart and no brain, an Ol’ Cillian clawed up his face, bit up his arms, an fed ‘im his teeth. Think he cracked his noggin open like an old melon as well!”

“What about Cillian? Did you call the constable?” asked the doctor, feeling for, and finding a very week pulse.

“Rammed the sharp end of a stick through the back o’ his skull. Cut ‘is throat. Kicked ‘im in his face too. He’s dead.”

Doctor McDonnel sighed.

“Well, let’s hope that’s only the first bit o’ good news. Gather the nurses; it’s going to be a long night.”

* * * * *

Naturally, Finnen did not; indeed, could not recall any part of his surgery, nor most of the months that he spent convalescing. Here, Finnen used an assortment of equally disturbing puppets and marionettes to simulate what it was like in the depths of his injury, when his brain made the wise decision to fill his head with something other than blood and horror, all to the horror of Petka and Chaim as they sat, stock still, watching the nightmarish puppet show. Doubtlessly, whatever coma-dreams he experienced would have had to be, even if just by default, a damn sight better than the hours of Frankenstein’s Monster-level-surgery that his battered form was subjected to, all in the cause of winning him back from the Reaper.

* * * *

It was a bright morning when Finnen finally awoke; the sun, which was filtering in through the partially-closed blinds stung his eyes. His vision was still cloudy and unfocused. The entirety of his body was wracked with pains- if he tried to move, they were quite sharp, and traveled the length of his body like electricity. Even while remaining still he was conscious of a dull, body-wide, pain- horrible, but lacking the pins and needles that accompanied any attempt to move. This being the case, he decided to sit still. And though he was still distinctly out of his senses, he could hear, as though quite far away, a woman’s voice softly repeating prayers– though not of the “traditional” variety.

Oh, Heavenly Father, save this poor fool.”

Oh, by the Blood of Livin’ Christ, save this poor fool.”

Oh most Blessed Virgin Mary, save this poor fool.”

Oh, Saint Michael the Archangel, save this poor fool.”

Oh, good Saint Dymphna, save this poor fool.”

Oh Saint Jude Thaddeus, Save this poor fool.”

Finally, after a length of time that Finnen couldn’t have hoped to count, he came more fully to his senses (or what few were left intact inside his scrambled brain). He sat up with a wince, ignoring the pain the the best of his ability. He gazed at the woman by his bedside, worrying over her rosary beads and inserting the word “fool” whenever it seemed appropriate– and, of course, it was for Finnen’s benefit. And while Finnen though didn’t necessarily object to being called a fool per se, he felt that the word “man” might have worked just as well. Even so, he decided not to press the point.

Upon sitting up, Doctor McDonnel and Orla rushed to his side.

“How do ya feel my boy?” as the Doctor, pressing his stethoscope to Finnen’s chest, “I had to put a lot of stuff into you to keep you alive.” The doctor’s look was an unsettling mixture of curiosity, triumph, and concern.

“Stuff?” asked Finnen wearily; he went to run his hand through his hair, only to find his head now completely bald; a mixture of stubble, and a thick, angry row of blood-sticky stitches that ran from the top, right of his head in an arc that ended at the back of his skull, just above his neck. His beard was similarly absent, and his teeth were aching painfully.

“Oh,” Doctor McDonnel said dismissively, opening the shades to let more of the sunlight filter into the humble, sparsely decorated room where Finnen had been convalescing, “Don’t sound so worried. Cillian- may he burn in hell- did quite a number on you. Took a bite out of your shoulder, knocked out a handful of your teeth, bruised your ribs, clawed up your face… but the worse thing of all was that he cracked open your skull. Dis, without your previous, gorgeous, thick mane of red hair, I dare say, they would be sweeping yer brains into the gutter.”

“Stuff?” asked Finnen again, as if unfazed or even unaware of the Doctor’s previous comments; presently, Finnen was trying to push back the stars that were entering his peripheral vision.

“Heavens, yes!” said Dr. McDonnel with, what some might say, with a bit too much glee reflected in his clear Irish brogue, “All kinds o’ stuff!”

“Quit it, McDonnel, just tell the poor bastard how ya Frankensteined him in his sleep,” snapped Orla.

“Fine,” pouted the good Doctor, “Here’s what happened- and it was bloody revolutionary! First we had ta deal with that leakin’ skull. We chalk-boarded some ideas, you know- balsa wood, tree bark; hell, I even thought about modifying a deer’s antler! But the nurses insisted ya wouldn’t want ta be a beast o’ the forest, so we ended up settlin’ on steel. Bolted it over the crack in yer skull, and now your as healthy as a man who was beaten fit to meet his maker, then gone through weeks of agonizing surgery to put you back together without tinkerin’ with yer brain meats too much in the process!

“Also had a dentist here- put silver teeth where your real ones were knocked out and snapped up by school kids with an over-zealous belief in the tooth fairy…fairly disturbing scene actually… Anyway, the silver’s will serve ya just foine.

“And one more thing- since our dearly departed Cillian had taken it upon himself to take a bite out of ya, we had to treat you for a veritable cornucopia o’ infections- one was only seen in overly-promiscuous voles. Voles! Jay-sus, how did he manage that one? But fear not! A bit o’ penicillin and we managed to stop it before it reached your johnson and did…whatever vole STDs do.”

“Stuff?” replied Finnen drowsily; his eyes fluttered, and he dropped back on his pillow and into a coma-like slumber.

* * * * *

It was another few months before Finnen was up and moving, and a few weeks more before he was fully ambulatory, being able to put his feet on the floor without collapsing on his face. When the haze of his injury had fully lifted, he changed into a new set of clothes- a simple white cotton shirt, and brown trousers held up by suspenders. When his wits were again about him and he felt quite different than he ever had previously. His brain no longer trotted along like a contented deer, grazing here and there, but now seemed to race along at the fevered pace of a whippet-dog; his shyness and reserve had seemingly evaporated and were replaced by an almost reckless self-confidence– reckless, of course, would become the operating word. In short, he felt like a new man, and in a sense he was as parts of him were indeed new- but something had changed radically within him.

Upon hearing Finnen walking around, he was met by Doctor McDonnel and Orla, both of whom had kept a close vigil on his sick-bed. They were quite happy to see Finnen (a new, pleasantly deranged Finnen at that), stretching, and nearly dancing about.

“Looks like that pig’s blood really did the trick!” exclaimed the good Doctor, scribbling notes in his careworn notebook.

“I have to say, pigs blood or not, I feel like a new man!” At this, Finnen rubbed his hands vigorously over his bald head, noticing that the stitches were gone, and replaced by a long, thick band of scar tissue which, now completely healed, no longer hurt his head (or his brain) as it did before.

“Constable dropped this off,” said Orla with a smile, holding out a thick wad of currency.

“There was a price on Cillian’s head- a big one at that-after the law found out Cillian ‘ad been dealin’ in murder for quite a time.” She placed the bills in his hand, and closed his fingers over the bundle of money.

Instinctively, Finnen passed the bills immediately to the doctor.

“For the cost o’ my care…you saved my life. If its not enough, I’ll work off me debts.”

“No need my boy!” said Doctor McDonnel placing the money back in Finnen’s hand, “Healing is what I do, and anybody willing to take a beatin’ fit to greet the Reaper to help another person- well, the pleasure was mine.”

Thinking for a moment, Finnen examined the money in his hand with a frown, then muttered a little “ah-ha!”. He leafed off a few bills for himself- sufficient for some additional clothes, lodging, sundries, and food, then placed the still sizable roll of paper into the hands of Orla.

“What are ya crazy, ya bald bastard? I’m not taking this blood money, especial as it was my fault that your egg got in a scramble.” Orla shook her head, and attempted to give Finnen back the cash.

“No,” said Finnen sternly, “When I was spittin’ teeth, you could have ran, but you saved my arse. You’re a good lady Orla, but Jesus Christ on ice-skates, would you kindly find an occupation more fitting of your caliber? Open an inn or pub or somethin’.” Orla then only hesitantly took the money, hugged him close, and left the room with misty eyes.

It was not only Finnen’s personality that had undergone a drastic change. The quiet, bookish man was gone (though his intelligence remained), and any hint of shyness had dissipated completely from his person, as did any and all sense of etiquette or good manners. It had been often said that “Cleanliness was next to Godliness”- well, at least to Finnen’s reckoning, he had met God in a sense, and decided that there were more pressing issues to attend to in the world. Finnen, though having become loud, crass, and crude, was now fueled by the singular pursuit of protecting people and helping others. In short, he had become chaotically good- and chaos was about the best way to describe it. He had encountered evil out of costume that night so long ago- he had seen it, garishly dressed, and had smelled it splashed with expensive cologne. And he knew that evil had many disguises- from the upper-crust devil, to the crusty, ragged demon. And he would find them, whether they tried to cut a purse or play wicked with an unsuspecting barmaid. And he would hammer them like a nail into a bit of wood and build a rickety shrine to justice so that as long as he had breathe in his body, so that those whose hearts did not wax wicked could live their lives in peace.

Chapter Fifteen

Finnen McKinnon was a quiet man. He dressed impeccably. He read a lot of books. He was painfully shy, but not lazy. He was a jack of all trades- mending fences, tending to farm animals, working the land- and all with the distinct air of a true gentleman- he politely removed his hat for passing ladies, was always quick with a please and thank you, and was a rather passive individual. At that time, Finnen sported a neatly-trimmed mustache, and long, dark red hair, which seemed accentuate with his abnormally clear green eyes, which always held some manner of innate kindness whether he bowed, smiled, or exchanged a handshake. And, surprisingly enough to Petka and Chaim, he apparently spent his former life as a genuine teetotaler. Finnen, as he was, may have continued his life in an entirely polite and prosaic fashion– however (as fate would have it) a walk one night beneath the gaslight lamps and the stars, when the spring humidity was just starting to settle thick over the streets, would change all that.

It was about nine o’clock pm when Mr. McKinnon was enjoying a brisk walk down main street, occasionally stopping to gaze into the infinite, star-freckled firmament above, wondering if anything was gazing back. Everything on this night was as normal as the countless hundreds of nights he had spent in the same occupation, until a shrill cry of “help!” pierced the darkness of an adjacent alley. Finnen grasped his oak walking stick, as if to make use of it as a weapon, and ran towards the cry of distress that had so shattered not only the night’s normal peace, but also his strange, star gazing reveries. What he found sickened him. What he saw brought blood to his eyes.

A well known man- considered by wealth and blood to be of impeccable reputation and upper-crust status named Cillian had cornered a woman of the evening, name of Orla, in the dark and curving alley. Cillian, dressed in the finest of clothes, gold buttons gleaming by the light of the street lamps, had a twisted grin and a long knife, no doubt as sharp and capable of bloodletting as the man himself. Finnen had never been formally introduced to the man, but Finnen always felt distinctly ill-at-ease whenever he entered the pub he frequented. The man had a good name, a good amount of money to spend on drinks, and a very bad air about his perpetually smiling face- there was almost an emptiness to that smile which matched a similar lack behind his eyes..

Orla backed up slowly, trying to put as much distance between herself and the grinning madman as possible, though the alley ended in a brick wall, making escape impossible. Cillian, with a a gleaming white, toothy smile had been beckoning Orla to come closer to him, his actions all the more disturbing by the occasional, uncontrolled twitch or jerk that racked Cillian’s tight-wound frame. Most disturbingly, the edge in his voice, and his narrow-eyed focus betrayed a motive far worse than simple robbery- Cillian, in this moment (and perhaps in countless other moments in his life) was a predator, cornering his prey.

Now Finnen McKinnon was hardly a fighter– in fact, he meandered around town as a peaceable, if not nearly invisible being. People recognizing him as a polite entity, or even perhaps an entity of politeness- some wayward ghost who simply wandered the little byways of the village for the soul purpose of unerring etiquette. But despite his quiet, well-nigh largely unnoticed personhood, he was not a coward- and he would not abide an innocent woman be victimized by the shaky, frothing animal who was closing the distance between himself and the spilling of blood, knife in hand, cloaked in a darkness from within and without, neither seen by the physical eye.

In a move that would alter his life forever, he made his presence well known.

Hey!” shouted Finnen in his deepest, gruffest voice. He stood as tall as possible, and his hands were wrapped tightly around his walking stick, white in the knuckles and ready for a fight, win or lose. His voice echoed off the smudged, brick walls of the alley, and momentarily captured the villain’s attention- Orla (and his violent intentions toward her) were, for the moment, forgotten and he turned to face Finnen. Finnen McKinnon, a meek individual at the best of times, shivered with adrenaline as he held his walking stick as a matter of defense. But despite the fear that he felt, he stood, facing the beast- he was now nothing more than a tangled web of nerves and anger.

“Oh-ho-boy-o!” chided Cillian through clenched teeth, advancing slowly on Finnen, step by step, slow and menacing, as if savoring every moment of the intruder’s fear, “Oooooooh-Hoooooo-Boooooy-OH!” Cillian was clearly a man of few words when looking for blood, and the few that he spoke floated on a near palpable miasma of cologne and sweat, that wafted in the air between the two contenders.

Step. Grin. Step. Grin.

Cillian, in his bloodlust, moved like a jittering, fluid thing- much as if his bones were pliable especially for his predatory purposes. His eyes seemingly staring through Finnen, perhaps targeting the spots to stick him where he would bleed and hurt the worst. And finally, after Cillian was close enough (he, as far as Finnen could recollect, never blinked), Finnen swung his walking stick in a wide arc– with lighting speed Cillian blocked it with his elegantly dressed, and thoroughly muscled forearm, snapping Finnen’s makeshift weapon into splinters. Without missing a step, and with preternatural speed, Cillian’s wiry form pinning Finnen to the ground. Despite his thin, dandy appearance, it seemed to Finnen that Cillian weighed as much as a bear, and was a viscous as one to boot- Finnen hardly stood a chance, for the violence had begun.

First, Cillian (having thrown the knife to his side, preferring apparently the more visceral experience of beating a man to death with his bare hands) began scratching deep wounds into Finnen’s face with his immaculately groomed fingernails; each wound was etched in deep crimson, and the spray of his blood only seemed to spur on Cillian’s animal drive to kill. After the savage clawing, Cillian balled up a bony fist (as heavy and unyielding as a stone), and drove it over and over into Finnen’s face, until he was nearly unrecognizable. A sickening crack indicated indicated Finnen’s skull had been fractured from his head being slammed on the pavement– Finnen’s eyes were blackened and his nose broken, was spurting blood.

Between spitting out broken teeth and choking on blood, Finnen managed a week, “Run ..Lass…” hoping at least to have bought the poor woman a few minutes to escape. As for Finnen, though the blows to his skull and scratches to his face continued to rain down upon him, it seemed that the pain (which was beyond anything which Finnen had ever before experienced) began to mercifully subside. His vision was growing dark, and even the cacodemoniacle, shrieking laughter began to fade, into somewhere else, almost like it existed in a place far from him. Moments later, he was thoroughly unconscious, and bordering on dead.

If Finnen had remained awake, and had not been lulled to sleep by the song of the merciful Reaper, he would have heard Orla emit a startling war-cry, followed by the sickening crack of the sharp end of Finnen’s broken walking stick being thrust through the back of Cillian’s skull. If the Devil trafficked in miracles, he apparently bestowed his best upon Cillian, who it seemed was undeterred by the stick in his brain. He roared at the waning moon and charged on uncertain legs towards Orla, who, diving to the side, allowed Cillian to crash head first into the dirty brick wall behind her.

Orla dropped to all fours, searching in the shadows for the discarded knife, when she heard those same irregular steps- syncopated with evil unworldly and brain damage- growing louder. Cillian was spitting words into the darkness- like he was trying to shout his charnel intentions for the woman, but his brain just issued forth random words that, when strung together, meant even less as a whole then they did individually.

In a remarkably deft move, Orla, knife in hand, rolled out of the way of the madman’s path. Cillian, missing his target, skidded face-first on the rough ground, which did much to make all the more gruesome his appearance– he lost his front teeth, and the rough cobblestones had taken off the first layer of skin, bringing to the eye what Cillian had been nurturing so long in his heart, black as it undoubtedly was. and Now, to Orla’s horror, he was again crawling towards Finnen who had ceased sputtering blood, intent it seemed on at least being sure of taking one life before parting with his. Cillian crawled on all fours in a jerky, almost stop-motion fashion, still uttering strings of nonsensical words that, nonetheless, permeated with evil.

Orla took four or five steps, lifted Cillian’s head up so their gazes met, and cut his throat from ear to ear. A thick, crimson river poured from the open wound. Cillian was no more.

He died wide-eyed and smiling.

Orla hoped in her heart that the burning coals would be enough to inflict upon the madman his just suffering in the hereafter (it would later be found out during the course of the Constable’s investigation, that Cillian had been busy for a number of years), but then again, some people are just born bad; remorse is as anathema and unknown to their being as dry land to a fish- it’s simply a place they cannot inhabit, and therefore have no use for.

Finnen was quite a sight to see, or rather a sight that may have been best unseen after his mauling- but rather inspire sickness in Orla (who was a tough as nails and it hard as a hammer), she immediately felt pity for the poor, soft-spoken man, who she only vaguely recognized as a bookish sort who greeted her, not with a “proposition”, but with a smile and polite nod. And it was this memory- such a little thing- that inspired to do all she could to help the bleeding mass in front of her– to ensure that he parted with his life for the highest possible price, that his courage and goodness would not be lost to a world that was in desperate need of both.

Orla knelt down at Finnen’s side, his rapidly cooling blood soaking the knees of her dress, and placed her ear close to Finnen’s split and bleeding lips. And though it was faint, and coupled with a wheezing gurgle, Finnen was breathing, however slightly. She thanked the living God above that Finnen was somehow still alive after a savage mauling; deep, long scratches and even several deep bites to his arm were inflicted, courtesy Cillian, when Finnen had tried to fend off his attacker.

Standing up (and delivering just one more kick to Cillian’s lifeless, grinning face), she picked up the broken Finnen McKinnon in a fireman’s carry, scurrying as quickly as her legs could carry her to the local surgeon, who frowned deeply at what he assumed was simply a vaguely bi-pedal, pile of wheezing gore which Orla plopped down on a soft gurney, out of breath from her run.

Jay-sus Christ, Orla! What did ya do ta this poor bastard?”

Orla coughed, and placed her hands on her knees, out of breath from her efforts.

“It wasn’t me ya halfwit! It was that animal Cillian! Son of a jackal cornered me in an alley, an’ tried to rob me of more than me coin! Fortunately, this gent comes along all heart and no brain, an Ol’ Cillian clawed up his face, bit up his arms, an fed ‘im his teeth. Think he cracked his noggin open like an old melon as well!”

“What about Cillian? Did you call the constable?” asked the doctor, feeling for, and finding a very week pulse.

“Rammed the sharp end of a stick through the back o’ his skull. Cut ‘is throat. Kicked ‘im in his face too. He’s dead.”

Doctor McDonnel sighed.

“Well, let’s hope that’s only the first bit o’ good news. Gather the nurses; it’s going to be a long night.”

* * * * *

Naturally, Finnen did not; indeed, could not recall any part of his surgery, nor most of the months that he spent convalescing. Here, Finnen used an assortment of equally disturbing puppets and marionettes to simulate what it was like in the depths of his injury, when his brain made the wise decision to fill his head with something other than blood and horror, all to the horror of Petka and Chaim as they sat, stock still, watching the nightmarish puppet show. Doubtlessly, whatever coma-dreams he experienced would have had to be, even if just by default, a damn sight better than the hours of Frankenstein’s Monster-level-surgery that his battered form was subjected to, all in the cause of winning him back from the Reaper.

* * * *

It was a bright morning when Finnen finally awoke; the sun, which was filtering in through the partially-closed blinds stung his eyes. His vision was still cloudy and unfocused. The entirety of his body was wracked with pains- if he tried to move, they were quite sharp, and traveled the length of his body like electricity. Even while remaining still he was conscious of a dull, body-wide, pain- horrible, but lacking the pins and needles that accompanied any attempt to move. This being the case, he decided to sit still. And though he was still distinctly out of his senses, he could hear, as though quite far away, a woman’s voice softly repeating prayers– though not of the “traditional” variety.

Oh, Heavenly Father, save this poor fool.”

Oh, by the Blood of Livin’ Christ, save this poor fool.”

Oh most Blessed Virgin Mary, save this poor fool.”

Oh, Saint Michael the Archangel, save this poor fool.”

Oh, good Saint Dymphna, save this poor fool.”

Oh Saint Jude Thaddeus, Save this poor fool.”

Finally, after a length of time that Finnen couldn’t have hoped to count, he came more fully to his senses (or what few were left intact inside his scrambled brain). He sat up with a wince, ignoring the pain the the best of his ability. He gazed at the woman by his bedside, worrying over her rosary beads and inserting the word “fool” whenever it seemed appropriate– and, of course, it was for Finnen’s benefit. And while Finnen though didn’t necessarily object to being called a fool per se, he felt that the word “man” might have worked just as well. Even so, he decided not to press the point.

Upon sitting up, Doctor McDonnel and Orla rushed to his side.

“How do ya feel my boy?” as the Doctor, pressing his stethoscope to Finnen’s chest, “I had to put a lot of stuff into you to keep you alive.” The doctor’s look was an unsettling mixture of curiosity, triumph, and concern.

“Stuff?” asked Finnen wearily; he went to run his hand through his hair, only to find his head now completely bald; a mixture of stubble, and a thick, angry row of blood-sticky stitches that ran from the top, right of his head in an arc that ended at the back of his skull, just above his neck. His beard was similarly absent, and his teeth were aching painfully.

“Oh,” Doctor McDonnel said dismissively, opening the shades to let more of the sunlight filter into the humble, sparsely decorated room where Finnen had been convalescing, “Don’t sound so worried. Cillian- may he burn in hell- did quite a number on you. Took a bite out of your shoulder, knocked out a handful of your teeth, bruised your ribs, clawed up your face… but the worse thing of all was that he cracked open your skull. Dis, without your previous, gorgeous, thick mane of red hair, I dare say, they would be sweeping yer brains into the gutter.”

“Stuff?” asked Finnen again, as if unfazed or even unaware of the Doctor’s previous comments; presently, Finnen was trying to push back the stars that were entering his peripheral vision.

“Heavens, yes!” said Dr. McDonnel with, what some might say, with a bit too much glee reflected in his clear Irish brogue, “All kinds o’ stuff!”

“Quit it, McDonnel, just tell the poor bastard how ya Frankensteined him in his sleep,” snapped Orla.

“Fine,” pouted the good Doctor, “Here’s what happened- and it was bloody revolutionary! First we had ta deal with that leakin’ skull. We chalk-boarded some ideas, you know- balsa wood, tree bark; hell, I even thought about modifying a deer’s antler! But the nurses insisted ya wouldn’t want ta be a beast o’ the forest, so we ended up settlin’ on steel. Bolted it over the crack in yer skull, and now your as healthy as a man who was beaten fit to meet his maker, then gone through weeks of agonizing surgery to put you back together without tinkerin’ with yer brain meats too much in the process!

“Also had a dentist here- put silver teeth where your real ones were knocked out and snapped up by school kids with an over-zealous belief in the tooth fairy…fairly disturbing scene actually… Anyway, the silver’s will serve ya just foine.

“And one more thing- since our dearly departed Cillian had taken it upon himself to take a bite out of ya, we had to treat you for a veritable cornucopia o’ infections- one was only seen in overly-promiscuous voles. Voles! Jay-sus, how did he manage that one? But fear not! A bit o’ penicillin and we managed to stop it before it reached your johnson and did…whatever vole STDs do.”

“Stuff?” replied Finnen drowsily; his eyes fluttered, and he dropped back on his pillow and into a coma-like slumber.

* * * * *

It was another few months before Finnen was up and moving, and a few weeks more before he was fully ambulatory, being able to put his feet on the floor without collapsing on his face. When the haze of his injury had fully lifted, he changed into a new set of clothes- a simple white cotton shirt, and brown trousers held up by suspenders. When his wits were again about him and he felt quite different than he ever had previously. His brain no longer trotted along like a contented deer, grazing here and there, but now seemed to race along at the fevered pace of a whippet-dog; his shyness and reserve had seemingly evaporated and were replaced by an almost reckless self-confidence– reckless, of course, would become the operating word. In short, he felt like a new man, and in a sense he was as parts of him were indeed new- but something had changed radically within him.

Upon hearing Finnen walking around, he was met by Doctor McDonnel and Orla, both of whom had kept a close vigil on his sick-bed. They were quite happy to see Finnen (a new, pleasantly deranged Finnen at that), stretching, and nearly dancing about.

“Looks like that pig’s blood really did the trick!” exclaimed the good Doctor, scribbling notes in his careworn notebook.

“I have to say, pigs blood or not, I feel like a new man!” At this, Finnen rubbed his hands vigorously over his bald head, noticing that the stitches were gone, and replaced by a long, thick band of scar tissue which, now completely healed, no longer hurt his head (or his brain) as it did before.

“Constable dropped this off,” said Orla with a smile, holding out a thick wad of currency.

“There was a price on Cillian’s head- a big one at that-after the law found out Cillian ‘ad been dealin’ in murder for quite a time.” She placed the bills in his hand, and closed his fingers over the bundle of money.

Instinctively, Finnen passed the bills immediately to the doctor.

“For the cost o’ my care…you saved my life. If its not enough, I’ll work off me debts.”

“No need my boy!” said Doctor McDonnel placing the money back in Finnen’s hand, “Healing is what I do, and anybody willing to take a beatin’ fit to greet the Reaper to help another person- well, the pleasure was mine.”

Thinking for a moment, Finnen examined the money in his hand with a frown, then muttered a little “ah-ha!”. He leafed off a few bills for himself- sufficient for some additional clothes, lodging, sundries, and food, then placed the still sizable roll of paper into the hands of Orla.

“What are ya crazy, ya bald bastard? I’m not taking this blood money, especial as it was my fault that your egg got in a scramble.” Orla shook her head, and attempted to give Finnen back the cash.

“No,” said Finnen sternly, “When I was spittin’ teeth, you could have ran, but you saved my arse. You’re a good lady Orla, but Jesus Christ on ice-skates, would you kindly find an occupation more fitting of your caliber? Open an inn or pub or somethin’.” Orla then only hesitantly took the money, hugged him close, and left the room with misty eyes.

It was not only Finnen’s personality that had undergone a drastic change. The quiet, bookish man was gone (though his intelligence remained), and any hint of shyness had dissipated completely from his person, as did any and all sense of etiquette or good manners. It had been often said that “Cleanliness was next to Godliness”- well, at least to Finnen’s reckoning, he had met God in a sense, and decided that there were more pressing issues to attend to in the world. Finnen, though having become loud, crass, and crude, was now fueled by the singular pursuit of protecting people and helping others. In short, he had become chaotically good- and chaos was about the best way to describe it. He had encountered evil out of costume that night so long ago- he had seen it, garishly dressed, and had smelled it splashed with expensive cologne. And he knew that evil had many disguises- from the upper-crust devil, to the crusty, ragged demon. And he would find them, whether they tried to cut a purse or play wicked with an unsuspecting barmaid. And he would hammer them like a nail into a bit of wood and build a rickety shrine to justice so that as long as he had breathe in his body, so that those whose hearts did not wax wicked could live their lives in peace.

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