Into a Past Beyond
By R. D. Flavin

     By the time Lochan’s Ridge was reached, his feet ached from the long climb and the two bottles of beer he carried in his knapsack had lost their chill.  The first long-necked bottle gave up its cap with an unexpected spray of foam that drenched his face and chest.  Bitter and agitated, the brew wasn’t the cool refreshment he’d looked forward to, but his thirst was momentarily sated and he commenced his work.
     Facing “Fisher’s Rock,” the local name for the massive granite structure before him, he reclined against a twisted and stunted pine, and took out a drawing pad and a stick of charcoal.  From deft swipes across the paper, the outlines of the stones began to appear, yet something was wrong.  In charcoal, he could capture the general shape of the pile of rocks, but not its intimidating presence.  The rocks challenged their surroundings with mystery and stubbornly refused an exact translation onto paper.
     Yet, he tried again and again.  All afternoon, he sketched, drew and shaded Fisher’s Rock in dozens of depictions.  He drank his other bottle of beer, careful of the rebellious foam, and considered his labor and shame.  His drawings failed to capture the imposing nature of the ancient rocks.  The essence of the stones escaped his artistic ability and creative prescience.
     He frowned and felt as if he’d wasted his time and materials.  Looking at his hands, dry and chafed from the long climb, he also saw the beginnings of a sunburn making its splotchy presence known on his arms.  Working through his disappointment, he continued.

     Karen’s hand was slick with perspiration, but Hank found her touch exciting.  For weeks he’d asked her to accompany him to Lochan’s Ridge to view the old Indian ruins and for weeks she’d turned him down.  Yesterday, for no good reason he could think off, she’d agreed to go.  As he led Karen through the woods, he was clear headed and determined to impress her, despite his previous night spent nervously tossing and turning in sweat-soaked sheets.  The sleepless expectation of spending the day with lovely Karen was behind him and all he wanted he had in her touch.
     “How much farther, Hank?” she asked.  A few strands of her blonde hair stuck to the perspiration on her face.  He liked how the strands were richer in color.  It excited him. 
     Hank smiled.  He quickened his step and led them through a bramble in flower.  As if they’d passed through a magic door, suddenly the shadows of the woods were left behind and they emerged into a brightly lit clearing that marked the base of Lochan’s Ridge.
     “That’s where we want to go,” Hank said, pointing to the top of the ridge.
     “It looks like a hard climb...”  Karen squeezed Hank’s hand and said, “Come on; let’s go!”
     As Hank stared up at the ridge, a dark shape stood out against the clear sky.  The shape hoisted what appeared to be a bottle and began to drink from it.  He let Karen’s hand fall and turned and walked back into the bramble.
     “Hank, what’s wrong?  Aren’t we going up?” she called after him.
     “Not today...”
     “Why not?”
     “Somebody beat us to it,” Hank answered almost in a whisper.
     Slowly, they returned through the woods the way that they had come.  Karen was still in a cheery mood, but Hank’s was dark.  All of a sudden his sleepless night was starting to catch up to him.

     The sun would be disappearing behind the horizon soon and he’d still not produced an adequate rendering of the stones.  As mysterious as the sure identity of those who erected the structure was, he found his annoying inability to accurately depict the landscape before him, equally so.  He was perplexed and disturbed.
     From his vantage point on Lochan’s Ridge, he could clearly make out the steeple of the Westmore Unitarian Church and the tall, brick chimney of Westmore’s largest employer, the Ackerman Shoe Works.  His charcoal stick represented these landmarks with two lines, one thick and the other thin, both heavily smudged to show the perspective of distance.  But these features were not what troubled him about his chosen landscape, it was the pile of rocks itself.  He just couldn’t seem to capture its essence on paper.
     Setting down his drawing pad and charcoal stick, with arms akimbo he approached the large, black rocks to temper his inner fury.  Round and round the structure he walked, alternating between steps of genius and blind rage.  He studied the grain of the granite, the eroded pits of time, a crack here and an unexplained stain there.  His fingers caressed the huge capstone as if tenderness could coax the aged megalith to give up its secrets.
     It worked.  On the southern side of the stone he found something which made his eyes grow wide with amazement and his fingers tremble from an unexpected familiarity.  Five deeply etched marks were underneath the stain of a great mass of long dead moss.  His heart raced at the possible significance of the long grooves and his mind tried desperately to keep up.
     Fisher’s Rock was thought to be a glacial erratic; a massive granite capstone, a leftover from the last ice age, perched atop three small boulders.  Many ancient people realized and balanced one stone on three or more to reach a second level.  Sometimes it was to mark the land as a signal, or to make a roof for a dwelling or burial, but the combining of stones to form a structure achieved its most telling usage in Europe, where the French coined the term ‘dolmen’, from the Breton ‘dol’, meaning a ‘table’. 
     From his schooldays and later ancillary and eclectic hobbies such as the near-worship and admiration for things Irish, he was somewhat familiar with the occult writing system of the ancient Celts, the alphabetic usage of notches and lines known as the Irish ogham script.  A smile bent his lips as the import of his discovery revealed itself.  He had come to Lochan’s Ridge to sketch an old coastal oddity, thought by most to be nothing more than a geological curiosity, and now he left bearing epigraphic proof that the ancient Irish once walked upon New England’s pastures green.
     With a controlled haste, he quickly grabbed his charcoal and pad and drew a sketchy facsimile of the five hewn lines.  Sweat flowed in tiny rivulets from his hairline into his eyes, yet he endured the sting and the burning and completed the drawing as best he could.
     On his way down Lochan’s Ridge, he anxiously wondered with who he could share his discovery and more importantly, with who from those he knew on the North Shore could he request assistance in the translation of the ogham.  He dared not turn south to Boston or Cambridge for fear that jealous and immoral academicians would find some way of tricking the true location of the New England ogham from him, and he’d more than likely forever lose the opportunity to contribute something of importance to the study of New England and Celtic history.
     His ongoing affairs with heavy porters and sweet stouts brought to mind a fellow imbiber of dark drinks, Teddy O’Connell, the retired head of the North Shore chapter of The Royal and Most Ancient Order of the Hibernians.  If the retired Irishman was reasonably sober, he’d be able to use his background of ogham studies and help in the translating of the mysterious marks.  They’d spent several evenings together drinking and talking about ogham, druids, and things Celtic, and he knew Teddy would be able to either help him or get him started in the right direction.
     The sun set quietly at his back while he made his way through the woods.  His step was light and his head was lighter.  The previous unrequited artistic craving for creation had been tossed an eerie sop of discovery, as ahead of all amateur imaginings he’d stepped into a past beyond and retrieved something of importance.  He hoped that his discovery would be important to the researchers of tomorrow, as well as today, and as he imagined that his name would forever be associated with the find, his smile grew broader and his step quickened.

     “My boy, ever since Sam Morison from his on-high at Harvard announced that the Norse didn’t make it as far as New England, no one has taken seriously ‘anything’ discovered which suggested pre-Columbian explorations in the New World by any seafaring Celts or other ancient peoples.”  Teddy O’Connell was not entirely sober, but his mind wasn’t exactly shrouded in an alcoholic stupor either.  His ideas were concise to the point of being painful and his pronunciation was both melodic and correct, put forward in his usual overly stressed brogue.  O’Connell was often heard to remark that he had three things against him; his race, his religion, and his drinking, and as not to expose himself to a fourth charge, he should at least strive to speak English correctly.
     “Teddy,” the young artist implored, “help me with the ogham, no matter how tenuous you think the evidence.  I don’t care who wrote this, I just want to know if it says anything.”  His head was no longer as light as it had been the previous evening, but his ardent sense of discovery was still strong within him.
     “You know, boy,” O’Connell said in his best tutorial tone, “there’s been lots of talk lately that the Red Ochre Indians, the so-called Maritime Archaic, are responsible for all these dolmens and stone circles here in New England.  They’re an extinct killer whale cult from thousands of years ago who sailed out past Iceland to the shores of Scandinavia, England, and even pressed as far as the coast of Normandy and into the Basque region of Spain.  The current money says that the Red Paints brought back the mound and stone building technology and used it in New England and the Midwest.”
     “Thank you for the update, sir,” the young artist snapped.  “Now, if you would be so kind as to assist me in establishing the correct translation of this,” he said while thrusting his drawing arrogantly in the old man’s face, “I will most immediately appreciate it.”
     “And, if you would be so kind as to approach the bartender and fetch back a pint of half and half, I’ll see what I can do for you,” he said pleasantly, while taking the drawing from before his face.
     By the time that the young artist returned with both a partially regained sense of manners and a tall pint glass of mixed stout and lager, O’Connell had a knowing little grin planted squarely in the middle of many similar wrinkles which were to be found on the old man’s face.  Although, none had the power of that sliver of his Irish smile.
     “In consonantal ogham, before the Grecian inspired introduction of diacritical marks and vowels, these five strokes would have served to represent a word consisting of either one or more consonants supplanted by vowels of one’s own discretion and guess, in lieu of the original engravers intentions.”  O’Connell sent a full fledged smile over the top of his half and half, took a hearty swig, and continued.  “Now, having allowed my archaic Goidelic to get a bit rusty from not having anyone to converse with in the Old Tongues, I can only say with just a tad of surety, what letter or letters these marks might stand for.  And, as far as spitting out an exact word or phrase, you had best consult a Gaelic grammar dictionary.”
     “Well, tell me what letters you see,” the young artist pleaded with an edge of disappointment balanced in his voice.
     “The five lines could represent a ‘g’ and an ‘n’ and any favorite vowels you might wish to insert before, after or in the middle.  Hence, my steering towards a dictionary; there might be dozens and dozens of words with ‘g-n’ or ‘n-g’ in Goidelic.”  The old man’s tone was solid and serious, but a twinkle flashed in his eyes which dispelled the failure of futility and plainly denoted his private source of satisfaction.  “The ‘g-n’ could possibly stand for ‘gaine’, meaning ‘incarnation’, and which might prove that these were ogham-employing Christian Celts; shades of the blessed St Brendan and his wrong turn in the summer of A.D. 557, or was that 558?  Oh, I forget what guess I used to make...”
     “You said that it could also stand for just one letter.  Which one?” the artist asked nervously, his voice taking on an embarrassing upwards lilt.
     “Ahhh, ...that’s an adventurous alternative!” Teddy O’Connell boomed out loud and took his half and half in hand, sipping and spilling some of its contents in the doing.  “The five lines could also stand for the letter ‘r’ and if the mind may be allowed to entertain ‘ruadh’ or any other variant form of the word ‘red’, as they’re all pretty much the same anyway, we could begin to approach all of the colorful and allusive possibilities and implications of this mention.  Why, perhaps we may even have a find of great historical interest with possible sinister implications.”
     “Sinister implications!” the artist repeated in wonder.
     “Possible,” O’Connell affirmed.  “‘Red’ could stand for the blood of sacrifice; the rock could mark the spot where our pagan ancestors carved up the least liked in the tribe or clan and offered up as a choice morsel or three to the Sun and those above.”
     “Didn’t you just say that you believe that all of the New England megalithic structures were erected by some Red Paint Indians?”
     “I did...”
     “Couldn’t the ‘red’ refer to them?”
     The twinkle in his eyes stopped their flashing and he answered somberly, “I agree with the disclaimers that say that most of the marks were probably caused by plows or were tooled by bored Freemasonic farmers after the Salem Village hysteria of 1692 and the Dunwich madness a few years later.  Some say it was the leisure before the Revolution.  I think that hoary Sam Morison was correct and the ancient Irish, like those of the present, would surely as the Sun sets in the wayward West, be too drunk to sail anywhere.”  To which he quickly added, “Of course, if I had another tall half and half in front of me, so that I might quench my occasional thirst, I might be open to a suggestion that St. Brendan himself paddled to South Boston and consecrated that miserable stretch of land to the Irish for all time.”
     “That’s absurd!” the artist scoffed.
     “And, ultimately, so is all the speculation about pre-Columbian Celts in New England with a hankering to leave behind grapholithic graffiti.”
     “But...,” stammered the artist.
     “Leave the Irish out of this one, boy,” O’Connell advised.  “If you wish to pursue it, you’d better start thinking Amerindians or post-Columbian practical jokes.  The Irish in water, past some whisperings by the Norse, doesn’t hold water; so to speak.”  And, as it goes, after the first laugh it got worse.  He bellowed out several lungfuls of laughter.
     The young artist could not fathom the old man’s humor.  A moment ago, they shared in the reconstruction of an ancient mystery and now the drunk retiree only wished to get drunker at his expense and to sell his loyalty for another pint.  The artist pushed away from the table to leave.
     “Feelings hurt, boy?” O’Connell asked with just the right amount of tenderness to put a sarcastic twist to the question.
     “Good day and thank you,” the artist said, leaving.
     “And a good day to you, too, boy!” Teddy O’Connell called out after him.  The old man added a final message in Gaelic, but the young artist couldn’t hear it clearly and he immediately dismissed it as in all likelihood, a dirty or vulgar slur anyway.
     Ire had replaced the ardent inspiration that he’d previously felt.  He glanced at his watch and walked toward the woods and Lochan’s Ridge.  He figured he had four good hours left in the fading Summer’s day.

     Hank slept through breakfast and rose shortly before lunch.  His mother tried but couldn’t convince him to stay and take something to eat with the family.  His younger brother and his two little sisters giggled and guffawed as he stumbled and bounced and tripped and fell, in his reckless hurry to leave the house to go visit with Karen.
     “Will you be home for supper?” Hank’s mother called out.  No answer returned, not surprising her at all.
     Karen sat on the top step of her porch and was nearly in tears from laughing so hard by the time that Hank reached her.  He was a mess; his hair was uncombed, his shirt-tail was out, his left knee was ripped from a nasty fall that he had taken on rounding the last corner, and he’d forgotten to put on his socks!  Bruised, bleeding, tattered and tired out, Hank still felt good enough to laugh along with Karen.
     “Sorry ‘bout yesterday,” Hank said after the all-out laughing had been reduced to just the occasional chuckling.
     “It was still a nice walk,” Karen said, giving her long, blonde hair a gentle, backwards toss while she spoke.  She drew her hair away from her face and added in tease, “Even if we didn’t get to see any Indian ruins.”
     “We could go today,” Hank offered eagerly.  “It’s not too late!”
     “Oh, I don’t feel like going for a long walk and climb today,” she said with just a touch of pout in her young voice.
     “What do you feel like doing?”
     “I dunno,” Karen played dumb with a smirk and waited for Hank to suggest something.
     Hank caught on after a minute and said, “ How ‘bout I make you a deal?”
     “What’s the deal?” Karen asked, bringing her face just a few inches from Hank’s.
     “If you promise to go with me back to Lochan’s Ridge tomorrow and see the Indian ruins,” Hank bargained, “I’ll agree to do anything you want today...”
     “Anything?” Karen asked slyly.
     “Anything,” Hank answered; a look of utter sincerity branded across his face.
     Karen’s father thought Hank to be a fine lad when he got home from work and discovered that the lawn had been mowed, the garage straightened out and the trash carried to the street.  Karen’s mother thought that Hank’s parents probably didn’t feed him well enough, as he took seconds of everything and thirds of what he really liked.  Hank was happy to do some yardwork for Karen because the next day he would go back to Lochan’s Ridge holding hands with her.
     He hoped and prayed that this time, they would be alone.

     The sky was a waning spectacular of orange and blue over an encroaching background of cold gray.  It would be dark soon and the wind would likely shift and blow in from the sea, bringing a cool ocean air far inland.  He regretted not packing a light coat or jacket.
     With an uncontrollable trembling in his fingers, he nervously reached out and traced the five grooves on the large capstone.  The sense of history was intoxicating as he stroked the lines with appreciation, becoming lost into a past beyond his previous imaginings.  Slowly, he was drawn back from the hold of history as he noticed that one of his fingers had been sliced open upon the sharp ridge of one of the deep grooves.  His blood had already stained the stone bright red.
     “Red on red,” he mused out loud.
     He watched his blood trickle down the face of the blackened granite and disappear underneath.  His vision was somewhat occluded by the growing dusk and he couldn’t see where the drops of his blood pooled at the base of the dolmen.  The trail of blood left the mysterious lines and flowed down the face of the capstone and disappeared from view somewhere in the darkness of the structure.
     Crouching at first, he bent his head and peered under the capstone, which probably weighed over two tons.  Shadow and dusk had combined and draped the floor beneath the dolmen in an impenetrable carpet of inky dark.  Straining his eyes brought no further clues, so he climbed upon his knees and ventured his entire body into the space created by the structure.
     Panic invaded his mind with the act of crawling to a sure and awful death if the proper tremor teased the land and the heavy capstone slipped its three base-stones and came instantly down upon him.  His teeth gnashed together as something shifted uneasily in his stomach.  First dizzy and faint and then angry and self-conscious; by breathing deeply, he relaxed his panic and set it free.
     He extended a single shaking finger and felt the surface of the underbelly of the massive capstone.  The stone had the worn texture of rough ice, smooth and cold to the touch.  Though one hand was undoubtably still bleeding from the gnash on his finger, he reached out with both of his hands and grasped the span of the dolmen’s underbelly and gave the capstone a mighty hug, as if to test its steady balance on its base-stones.
     His injured hand groped free from the underbelly of the capstone and blindly felt around on the opposite side of the stone’s surface from where he had located the five deep grooves.  His heart suddenly skipped a beat in surprise as his fingers traced out the outlines of five more similar marks.  He had discovered another set of mysterious lines!
     Questions careened away from one another and his mind reeled, lacking answers and he laid down with urgency on the floor beneath the dolmen and didn’t move.  Two sets of deep grooves appeared in his mind’s eye and he thought long and hard.
     The image of hard working and industrious Celts chiseling away some arcane message with primitive tools vanished from his thoughts and was slowly replaced with another image; a darkness of no escape.
     A sound reached his ears of five long claws on one side of the stone and five long claws on the other.  He heard dull scraping and felt an impossible shifting in Lochan’s Ridge beneath him.
     His hands found his ears in the darkness and clamped down hard, trying to stave off the horrible sounds of his own mind bending and breaking.  Still, the sound of the scratching of something unimaginably hard against solid granite got through.  His eyes shut and the darkness took away everything.  The sound of the scratching was gone and so was the sound of his own screams.  Everything was gone.

     “Are we going up this time?” Karen asked, looking up at Lochan’s Ridge.
     Hank shaded his eyes with his hands and scanned the top of the ridge for any signs of life.  “I don’t see anyone up there, so it looks like we’ve got the whole place to ourselves,” he announced with a joyful sound of relief in his voice.
     Karen leaned over and gave Hank a quick kiss on the cheek and then ran towards the ridge and began to climb.  “If you beat me to the top,” Karen yelled, “you can have another!”
     As Hank clamored and climbed after Karen, he called out in return, “What happens if I lose?”
     “Then you get two kisses!”  And they both laughed, making the climb easier and more fun.
     They stood in awe of Fisher’s Rock, the ancient and mysterious stone structure erected seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
     “So, killer-whale Indians with red war-paint built this?” Karen asked in earnest.
     “Probably,” Hank answered.
     “Look!” Karen said excitedly.  “There’s lots of red paint over there!”
     They both ran towards the dolmen, stopping just short of all the red paint.  “I wonder if those are whale bones?” he asked.
     While Karen looked at the red stains on the white bones and the black stones, Hank stared at the clear blue of Karen’s eyes and the soft, new corn yellow of her long hair and mustered up enough courage to ask for his two honestly earned kisses.
     He found her lips much more interesting than any old pile of Indian rocks.

The End.

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