Speculative Fiction

“Goodnight sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

                    William Shakespeare; ‘Hamlet’ Act 5, scene 2


nce upon a time, in the ancient land of Erin, there lived a warrior chieftain of gigantic stature. His name was Finn McCool. It is a little-known fact that his first wife, Sadhbh, was a leprechaun who died in childbirth. Her name, which sounds like “Sive” to rhyme with “Hive,” did not trip easily along the tongue and was soon forgotten, but she bore him a son. So was founded the leprechaun branch of the noble house of McCool.

        Many generations later, Finn’s descendant, Danny McCool, was born. He survived a childhood illness, but his heart was weakened. It would beat for less than twenty years.

        His parents asked his doctor, “How can we help Danny to grow stronger and enjoy a healthy life?”

        The doctor believed in straight talking. He said, “He’ll always be prone to illnesses, but his delicate health would be improved by fresh air and exercise. Just don’t expect him to be around to take care of you in your old age. Have more children.”

        Danny’s mother said, “Not exactly a people person, are you, Doc?”

        Being responsible folk, they enrolled Danny in a sports club where he tried his hand at all the activities on offer. He hated swimming because the other prospective athletes jeered at his puny chest and absence of biceps. Boxing was a failure. A puff of wind could blow him over, so he steered clear of a gloved fist. He fell off the vaulting horse, couldn’t keep his balance on the ice rink, and was unable to lift the caber, so he had no chance of tossing it.

        He was about to give up on fresh air and exercise when one day, his father said, “Fancy coming to a Kicker match, Dan?”

        The game was played by two teams on a field, referred to as the pitch, which had, at either end, a net suspended between two posts. These netted areas were known as goals. Each team attempted to kick a pig’s bladder into the opposing team’s goal while their opponents tried to prevent them. The team scoring the higher number of goals was declared the winner. There were other rules, but nobody bothered too much about them, and many didn’t understand them anyway.

        Danny’s ears pounded with the crowd’s roar as a booted foot propelled the pig bladder into the back of the net. “I could do that,” he said.

        Throughout his adolescence, the game grew in popularity. Thousands paid to watch a Kicker match, and shrewd businessmen, particularly tavern landlords, took an interest. They financed the building of stadiums in exchange for a share of the profits, and they enjoyed an increase in customers as supporters of the various teams called in for a goblet of mead on their way to the match and to either celebrate victory or drown their sorrows on the way home. The proprietor of the Cat and Fiddle donated a silver cup as a trophy for which the teams would compete each year. It became the major sporting event, and the best players were hailed as public heroes. 

        By the time he was nineteen, Danny was the golden boy of The Lark Lane Leprechauns Kicker Club. He could run faster and kick straighter than anyone else. He pranced and pirouetted across the pitch. He was the bard, and the pig bladder was his quill.

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        All noble souls are entitled to have a flight of angels sing them to their rest. The Heavenly auditors kept strict records. The Celestial Choir consisted of seven angels: Gabriel, Michael, Azrael, Cassiel, Ariel, Kemuel, and Haniel. Each month they consulted their appointment diary. The next client of noble blood, due to be honoured by their presence while casting off the mortal coil, was Danny McCool. The anticipated location of his passing was Troll Bridge Kicker Stadium, in four days’ time, at 4.15pm: fifteen minutes after the full-time whistle in the Cat and Fiddle Cup Final, unless extra time for injuries and other stoppages were played, of course. The finalists were the Otterspool Pixies and the Lark Lane Leprechauns.

        The angels had mixed feelings about attending the great sporting event. Gabe and Mick welcomed the opportunity to watch the match. Gabe supported the Pixies. He said, “The Cup’s ours for the taking this year, fellers.”

        Mick supported the Leprechauns. “Not if Danny boy has anything to do with it, and as long as it’s all over before 4:15.”

        The Celestial authorities generally frowned upon angels attending kicker matches, so in Gabe and Mick’s eyes, Danny had been allotted a good day to die.

        Az and Cass were indifferent to Kicker. They preferred Tennis. Ari disapproved. “Perhaps you should question the ethics of the pastime,” he said. “Are you aware that the rackets are made from catgut?”

        Cass said, “We weren’t, but you couldn’t resist telling us, could you?”

        Ari shrugged. “I’m an angel. I’m supposed to pass on information.”

        Kem and Han had little interest in sport but enjoyed the supporters’ singing, an essential ingredient of Kicker matches. Han said. “On balance, booting a pig bladder around must be preferable to excitable young Earthlings knocking seven kinds of thingy out of each other after consuming excessive amounts of mead.”

        Ari muttered, “They usually do that as well, and their tendency to spit a lot throughout the match is disgusting and unhygienic.”

        Gabe said, “Most Earthlings’activities are disgusting and unhygienic. It’s the nature of their existence.”

        The Cup Final day dawned. The celestial choir hovered above Troll Bridge Stadium and watched the supporters, bedecked in their teams’ colors, making their way through the turnstiles and onto the spectator stands. The Leprechauns’ supporters wore green and white striped scarves and bobble hats. The more adventurous had painted their faces green. They stood like rows of cabbages ripe for the picking. On the other side of the pitch, the Pixies’ supporters wore the same apparel in red and white stripes. The red-painted faces resembled little devils bobbing in the flames of Hell.

        The angels descended and sat cross-legged behind the touchline. They were invisible to all living beings, with the possible exception of cats.

        The crowd roared, chanted, and sang as the two teams made their way onto the pitch. Danny McCool was the last to appear. He was a skinny kid, tall for a leprechaun: a sure sign of his dual genetic heritage. He had a mop of ginger curls and a freckled face. His adoring supporters chanted, “da-NEE, da-NEE, da-NEE.” 

        A green-faced female threw a frilly, pink undergarment at him. It failed to reach the pitch and landed in Gabe’s lap. He passed it to Mick, who passed it to Az, and so on, to Cass, Ari, Kem, and Han, who cast it aside like a satanic temptation. To any observing Earthling eyes, the frilly garment would appear to have been carried on a gentle breeze before settling beside the corner flag. Danny watched its progress. His vision blurred, and for a second, he thought he saw seven, winged, white-robed figures sitting cross-legged behind the touchline. He shook his head and wondered if someone had spiked the milk he’d poured on his cornflakes at breakfast.

        The referee blew his whistle and the match began. After thirty minutes, the Pixies scored the first goal, creating much jubilation among the red devils. Two minutes before the half-time break, the Leprechauns equalised, and the green cabbages were overcome with joy.

        Neither team scored a goal in the second half, but the referee announced that sixteen minutes’ stoppage time would be played.

        Danny McCool had fifteen minutes to live.

        Fourteen minutes later, Danny had possession of the pig bladder and a clear run on the goal. He was about to shoot when a frantic Pixie jumped on his back and brought him down. The crowd roared for a penalty and the referee agreed. Gabe declared that he’d changed his allegiance from the Pixies to the Leprechauns.

        Danny lay still.

        The Leprechauns’ supporters chanted, “Get up, Danny.”

        The Pixies’ supporters chanted, “Snore, Danny, snore.”

        The angels gathered around him, and as he took his last breath, he saw them and said, “Help me, fellers. I have to take the penalty kick.”

        Then his noble heart stopped.

        They looked at each other and nodded in agreement.

        Danny’s ghost watched from the touchline while the angels lifted his lifeless body to its feet and manoeuvred his legs in a walking motion onto the penalty spot. Az jerked Danny’s foot against the pig bladder. It shot up at an angle that would have missed the goalmouth by yards, but Cass took flight, caught it, and flew with it into the back of the net.

        The crowd burst into song. The angels joined the Kicker choir. Gabe and Mick were baritones, Az and Ari were warbling tenors, Kem, Cass, and Han laid on a descant, and they sang Danny McCool to his rest.

        “Oh Danny boy, your famous feet were flying,

        Across the pitch we watched you rock and roll.

        You saved the day when all our hopes were dying.

        Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, you scored the winning goal.”

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An Interview With Maureen Bowden

Intrepidus Ink: As of this interview, you’ve published 172 works, which is amazing! 👏 What encouragement and advice do you offer writers who aspire to publish prolifically?

Maureen Bowden: Enjoy what you write and you’ll do it better. Make sure your dialogue sounds natural, so your readers can believe in your characters, and always follow the submission guidelines of the publication to which you’re submitting.

II: You write song lyrics, mostly comic political satire, set to traditional melodies. 🎵 So interesting! How does satire fit into your fiction? 🎭

MB: A lot of my stories are inspired by mythology. I call them my mangled myths, and I use them to poke fun at our world and what’s wrong with it. An example is “High Society,” published by The Lorelei Signal in Jul 2021.

II: You’re a Pushcart nominee; additionally, you’ve won the Oldie Magazine poetry competition and the Open University Shakespeare Society’s Sonnet competition three times each. Many of your publications are listed here. With all of this wonderful success, what’s next for you? 💚💚💚

MB: I intend to keep on writing as long as my brain keeps working. I have no aspirations to write a book as I love writing stories, getting them finished, and sending them out into the world. Please keep reading them.

II: You can count on it, Maureen! 🤩 Thank you for sharing your excellent words with us. 🙏 Best wishes in all your publishing endeavors.

Author Bio

Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian, living with her musician husband in Wales. She has had 172 stories and poems accepted by paying markets. She was nominated for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize, and in 2019 Hiraeth Books published an anthology of her stories, ‘Whispers of Magic.’ She loves her family and friends, rock ‘n’ roll, Shakespeare, and cats.

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