The wind whistled in a mid-June gale, driving the gorse and rhododendrons into throes of passion. The flowers in the grass were helpless, and only the foliage sheltering in the grey stone of the ruins seemed calm. Small ferns and stinging nettles sat in the enclosure, swaying where once a peat fire filled the space with sweet smoke and music, heartache and joy, life and death.
He looked for a flat rock to sit on, preferably close to the lee wall. He would take what comfort he could get. He found a spot and took off his pack. The stone was cool through his hiking shorts, and something tickled his calf – there was a little stinging nettle he’d missed. He grunted and crushed it under his boot, not out of piqué, just so it would not sting him again.
Life and death were still in the ruins. Inside the old cottage the riot of ferns was a primal green. The only bright notes in the place were a few yellow flowers that had invaded along with the bleached skeleton of a lamb that had found its way inside.
Another lamb lost to accident and entropy.
He dug into his pack, and found his sandwich. He was hungry after a morning of tramping over a low range of mountains to this deserted coastline of Ireland.
The village had once held a number of cottages. It was impossible to say how long they had been abandoned. Possibly since the Famine? The view of the coast was spectacular. He imagined a winter of Atlantic storms, the sea white with foam and power, and the respite these stones and slate would have provided. A roof, with walls that were finished and whitewashed, and inside, a peat fire smoking in the chimney. He ate the last of his sandwich, an excellent concoction of cheese and chicken, and opened his water bottle for a drink. It was still a bit cool, and delicious.
The wind picked up, and he could hear a keening sound from somewhere. A more romantic soul might ascribe it to the banshee, perhaps the wailing of the people who once lived in this ruined place, but he had long ago given up such violent obsessions. It was the wind causing something to vibrate at a resonance that sounded like a human voice screaming. He knew his brain wanted to hear a human voice, even where there was none. In the same way he was liable to see a dragon in those clouds, or an old man’s face in the shape of the cliffs.
He had many miles to go before. He stood, repacked his bag, and slung it over his shoulders. The dragons were clouds, and they darkened in the wind.
The rain started to strike him. The storm slammed in from the sea like a shutter. The drops were cold, and driven by the wind, hit his face hard.
He walked on, with the hint of a smile.