Art by Daire Lynch

The Water Bowl

by Rab Swannock Fulton

A thin woman with pale eyes is listening to the latest report coming live from RTÉ’s Galway studio. She looks at the man standing at the entrance to her kitchen, and then points to a large ceramic bowl by the sink. “Take her some water,” she says; her voice weak and shaky, “she’ll be thirsty after…” She looks away from the man, too upset to keep eye contact with him; then completes her sentence, “after everything that has happened tonight.”

The man picks the bowl up. His face is normally a ruddy colour; tonight though his skin has a strange sickly green glow to it. He catches his reflection in the window and his skin’s colour reminds him of the little plastic stars he once put up in his daughter’s bedroom. The man manages to stop himself laughing at this thought: focusses on picking up the bowl, understanding he is in danger of slipping into hysterics.

On the radio a correspondent is trying to make sense of the horror that has befallen the city. Death here has an established form: the elderly in their beds, the young in their cars or in the river, pulled into the waves by drink or depression. Now though reports are coming through of a terrible act of random brutal violence. The news is unclear. What is known is that an armed response unit had been called to a house in a Salthill cul-de-sac; that something happened leaving injury and death in its wake. There is speculation that terrorists may have been involved; however, the Garda spokesperson will only confirm that two persons – a female foreign national and an Irishman – are being sought. The cul-de-sac is sealed awaiting the national forensic unit.

The man at the sink is one of the two people that the Gardaí are looking for. He watches the water tumbling into the bowl, tries to push the image of the water into the deepest part of his being, desperately trying to make the splash and gurgle and the glint of light on the water drown out the other images in his head. What is still only vague rumour and conjecture for many is for the man an all too precise reality.

His hands are shaking too much to turn off the tap. He watches helpless as the bowl begins to overflow. The thin woman comes over; she looks a little less pale now, as if the sight of another person’s stress has somehow diluted her own. She turns the water off, picks up the bowl. “It’s okay,” the woman says, offering the bowl to the man. “She loves you very much.” The man nods, flexes his fingers, then clenches them into fists. “I know,” he says, shaking his hands now, as if he could shake the terror out through the tips of his fingers. He takes the bowl carefully, walks from the kitchen into the back yard.

Above him the moon’s form is large and circular – its silver glow bruised with the dark shadows of the lifeless lunar craters and valleys. The man sees no beauty in the sparkling orb; rather it is an ugly and melancholy thing. He turns his gaze to a darker part of the night sky where stars prick the blackness. Here is beauty. Here is where the man wants to stop, to stare forever at those glints of fire. Sometimes if you look long enough more and more stars reveal themselves. Then you feel as if you are looking down on them – like you’re God and they are your creation. He smiles. His wife had always been quick to snap him out of his more egotistical musings. He can almost hear her voice, cheerfully castigating him. The smile fades. How could he love his wife now, or keep any form of connection with her, after all that he has experienced this night?

He walks to the shed at the back of the garden. He opens the door with his foot, balancing the bowl of water carefully in his hands. A draft of air causes the candles inside to flicker. Their sparse light reveals a large dark hole in the earthen floor of the shed, out of which emanates a low growling sound. As he walks toward this terrible pit he becomes aware of a smell, growing stronger as he draws closer. It is the copper sharpness of newly spilt blood, mixed with the cloying fugue of freshly torn meat. Blood and meat that once had been men and women, whose remains now lie red and still on the road before a semi-detached house a few miles away in a quiet Salthill cul-de-sac.

The man tries not to think of the cul-de-sac. The memory of it is causing him to shiver. He tries to think of other things: like the fear he’d felt minutes before he had taken his marriage vows, suddenly acutely aware of how absolutely different his life as a single man would be to that of a husband bound by oath through richness and poverty, sickness and health. That fear had stripped away any frivolity regarding the marriage. Made him understand perfectly what he was about to undertake. Now this new shimmering fear brings into sharp relief the choices the man faces tonight – to walk away and live the rest of his life in denial, or to go forward into the truth.

He balances the bowl at the edge of the pit, stretches back to one of the candles near the door, and brings it over. He braces himself, his stomach churning, his heart tripping, and then looks down at the massive savage head of the creature below. The reek of torn bodies is stronger here, brought to this place by the pieces of flesh that hang from the massive maw of the beast; by the blood that had sprayed over fur as deep as a man’s arm, fur that is now spiked up as the blood begins to congeal.

The creature is lying on its side; eight, maybe nine feet long. Its face is an obscene fusion of ape- and dog-like features. The eyes, forehead, and cheeks have a certain simian structure to them, hinting at some form of intelligence. But the centre of the face protrudes outward, like a dog’s snout, at the end of which two black nostrils flare open and shut. Between the snout and the thick lower jaw, rows of teeth glint in the candlelight.

The creature opens its mouth, stretches it wide enough to swallow a beer keg. The creature’s tongue slips between the sharp fangs, as it steadily begins cleaning the meat and blood from its mouth and face. All the while the monster’s eyes, glowing red in the candlelight, look at the man. A louder growl comes up from the pit. The man suddenly remembers being little and his father telling him not to show he was afraid of his neighbour’s Scots terrier. “The trick is not to act frightened,” explained his father, “that way you won’t give off the smell that makes McTavish want to bite you.” The man grits his teeth to prevent even the merest chortle escaping, aware of how tenuous his grasp on sanity is at this moment.

“I have brought you water,” he says, managing to keep his voice clear and steady, if a little quiet. The creature’s mouth opens again, revealing teeth as long as a man’s finger, as sharp as steak knives. Its tongue lolls out long and pink, as the beast begins to pant in anticipation. The man places the bowl at the edge of the pit, but instead of completing his task he stands up, turns towards the shed’s door. Another sound though stops his departure: a snuffling, sucking noise.

He turns again to the pit, looks at the creature’s face, then moves his gaze along its body. The creature’s belly has little hair on it; the naked skin is the same maggoty colour as the beast’s face. Thick teats protrude from the skin and attached to one is a small dark shape. The man watches in fascination as the little furry shape pulls and plucks at the teat. It is so intent on its task that sometimes its squat ugly face pushes deep into the soft skin of its mother’s underbelly.

The man begins to feel a strange connection with the monstrosity below him. He understands that the beast is exhausted. It has fought the Gardaí, escaped through the gardens and side streets and hidden lanes of Galway, and is now feeding its child. Though powerful and massive, the creature is not full of infinite energy. It too, like the man himself, must be physically and emotionally drained.

The man bends down and carefully lowers himself down into the pit. As his feet touch the bottom of the lair he can feel hot wet breath on the back of his thighs. He is scarcely one foot from that huge and terrible visage. Though lying on its side the creature’s head is level with the man’s chest. He reaches up for the bowl, carefully brings it down and then turns around and places it before him. The beast bends forward, begins lapping the water up into its grim mouth.

The water is finished within seconds. “I guess you’ll want some more,” the man says. For a moment he feels almost tender towards the creature. He raises his hand to stroke the fur behind its ears. The creature’s head snaps up, its fangs extend another five inches, its eyes black now with anger. Its grabs the man by the arm: the viciously sharp points of its teeth digging into his soft flesh.

It need only flex its jaw muscles by the smallest amount and the man’s arm will be torn off. Any sense of tenderness, or indeed bravery, on the man’s part has now vanished. The man can see it happening – the ripping of his body, the spraying of his blood and organs around the lair, the shredding of his body into bite size pieces for the creature to eat at its leisure, maybe even regurgitate bits for its pup to chew at.

Instead the creature remains perfectly still. “I’m sorry,” the man pleads, tears pouring down his face. “Won’t. Sorry. I hate it too. Being patted. On the head. Sorry. It’s so patronising. I know. Please. Oh please.”

The creature lets his arm go, turns again to the bowl, laps up the last few droplets. Then it delicately picks the vessel up between those teeth that but a few seconds ago had been bared and readied to rip the man apart. “You want more water?” the man asks, voice shaking and thin, just a little too high pitched for his own comfort. “No problem – I’ll go get some.” The creature drops the bowl into his lap, then brings its ugly face closer. The man feels cold, starts shivering, as the creature’s mouth draws nearer to his head. He tries to fight down the image that is welling up in his mind. Fails. Sees it all again with perfect clarity.

The Ban Garda on the ground, her broken riot shield still held in her hand, only her hand is now a good ten feet away from her body. From the handless wrist blood spurts thick and dark into the moon glowed star sparkled sky. A weird high EEEEEE noise escaping from the Ban Garda’s mouth; her head, encased in a helmet, held in the massive jaws of the monster that holds her pinned to the ground. The Ban Garda’s body twitching as she tries to release her head, the sound of the helmet beginning to give way: a delicate sound: gentle, crackling, like thin ice melting under a sun surprised winter morning. The EEEEEE getting louder, intenser, like you would almost think it could break glass. Then a loud crack as helmet and skull both give way. Brain and bone and blood shooting out from the sides of the creature’s mouth…

The man in the lair squeezes his eyes shut. His body is shaking uncontrollably now. The beast’s head draws ever closer. Its red eyes stare at his face and then its tongue flicks out. It covers the man’s entire face in one slow lick. It licks him again, its saliva dripping from his eyelids, from his nose, and his lips. The creature licks him about a dozen times. Then it bend’s down to the bowl, picks it up between its teeth, taps the man on the forehead with it.

The man opens his eyes, grabs the bowl, an insane part of him is saying nice doggy nice doggy, but the sane part is keeping those words well locked in his mouth, just in case the nice doggy takes it as a patronising remark too far. Instead a quiet noise begins building up in his mouth, not unlike the EEEEEE that came from the Ban Garda. The man turns, throws the bowl out the pit, scrambles up after it, gulping the EEEEEE down.

By the time he reaches the kitchen his face is bright red. Stepping inside he finally takes a deep breath, then another, gulping air down. “You okay?” the woman inside asks. She is a lot more relaxed than she was earlier. If the authorities had known where the lair was they would have arrived already. It’s time now to take a breath, relax, work out what to do next. The man nods. Keeps nodding, manages to stop himself, says, “Nice doggy, nice doggy wants more water.” The woman grins, “And did you call her ‘nice doggy’ to her face.”

The man laughs loud and full. It is laughter born of incredulity and revelation; of seeing death and living through it. He holds out his arm. It is dotted with little purple bruises, evidence of the teeth that almost – but didn’t – rip him apart. “Jesus,” he manages to gasp, “I thought it was going to eat me.” The woman guides him into the living room, places a cup of tea on the table beside the chair she makes him sit on. “That creature is not an it,” the woman says in a stern voice, “it is a she.”

The man gulps down some more air. “I know,” he replies in a quiet voice. “She’s Linda my wife, and the pup is Cassandra, our little girl.” He shakes his head, one sharp quick shake. Then slumps back exhausted, sips the hot sweet drink. The woman begins to inspect his arm, looking for any cuts on the skin, knowing even the slightest prick could prove catastrophic.