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The Apocrypha of Luke

Ken Kelly

Chapter 1

Dad had promised to bring them to a place where the scars of a centuries old battle were clearly visible. Luke the eldest and, more pertinently a self-important teenager, rolled his eyes inconspicuously and began to text a bored friend saying how bored he was stuck in the family going nowhere in the middle of nowhere. Paddy immersed in his football magazine and wondering which club he would sign for on his fifteenth birth day wasn’t listening. Johnny the next in line was trying to peek at Paddy’s magazine and Luke’s text only to find himself attacked on two fronts as he sat between his two older and impatient brothers. Only Mikey in the jump seat in the back responded to his father’s enthusiasm.

“Will there be swords and spears?” he asked, his mind already picturing armoured knights on snorting white stallions their shields painted with lions and unicorns, and their terrified eyes peering out from silver helmets.

“More power than all the swords on the planet” said a reassured dad, glad not to be totally ignored by his four children.

“Bombs?” replied Mikey stretching the word to its limit and he imagined soldiers dashing over smoking, broken ground, the muzzles of their machine guns flashing fire and a tank crushing a barb wire fence as it emerged from a gloomy forest.

“Greater than any bomb Mikey”.

But Mikey didn’t hear. He had one grenade left and the turret of the tank was turning towards him. This was a defining moment and Mikey had big decisions to make.

Conscious of his wife beside him dad didn’t drive like a lunatic although occasionally he let his eyes wander as he surveyed the landscape. This led to frequent readjustments and swerves to avoid oncoming cars, cattle and old farmers, and bends where the road fell away to the sea. These readjustments in turn led to minor cardiac arrests on the part of mother and some unconvincing lying on the part of dad as he tried to reassure everyone that he knew exactly what he was doing.

The road itself was picture postcard spectacular, a long black snake that followed a course between the soft green hillsides on the right and the harder unwelcoming slate grey sea on the left. At first the hillside had the straight line geometry of farmers’ fields and the sea’s waves politely washed against smooth round pebbled half-moon coves. But as they travelled further west, the farmers gave up trying to tame the land which became steeper and freckled with grey limestone outcrops which nature's blanket of green had never managed to smother. Similarly the sea became hungrier, savagely tearing at the land which now began to bristle with spear like rocks that snapped like dragon’s teeth at the frothing waves.

Seen on a satellite map from space this fringe of the continent was what geographers called a peninsula. It resembled a long finger of land, a misshapen, sapless twig with knuckled intervals. Posted in the sea around it like discarded splinters were small islands and islets, undisturbed sanctuaries to gannets and petrels. At the end of the peninsula the finger raised itself imperiously in defiance of the sea only to be separated from a lost shard which like a ripped fingernail had been violently removed by the angry waters in a time long before men had been around to witness.

The sound of the tyres on loose stone signalled that the car had halted and the four boys, in their own individual ways showed relief that they had stopped. Luke was still thumbing his phone, while Paddy busied himself concealing a page about Bolton Wanderer’s summer signing from his younger brother Johnny. Mikey alone in the back was smiling triumphantly as he had singlehandedly destroyed the now smoking tank and would surely get a shiny medal for his courage.

"Well lads I promised you a battlefield. Is there any greater than that?” said dad proudly sweeping his arm in an arc across the view in front. They were at the end of the peninsula where the sea raged relentlessly against the land on three sides.

“No respite in this conflict hey? “And he parked his backside against the bonnet of the car in order to consider the spectacle more comfortably. Unfortunately he had, and not for the first time forgotten to put on the handbrake, so hasty had he been to get out of the car.

“Jesus” said Luke “my phone’s still in the car” as he contemplated its destruction. Fortunately his mother was also in the car and saved Luke's phone, the car, Mikey and herself by pulling up the hand brake sharply. She flashed dad one of those “what the ……. “Looks that always made dad turn silent and go red. Dad on cue went silent and turned red and signalled, with an apologetic hand gesture, his embarrassed state.

Paddy felt sorry for the old man and generously brought him back from his shameful exile.

“Where exactly is the battlefield father?” Unlike the others Paddy always called his dad “father”. It was an early adolescent thing.

“Well in the blue corner Paddy, weighing in at a lot and comprising of many million square miles is the Atlantic ocean.” Paddy nodded as Luke finished his text. “And in the green and grey corner we have the Dingle peninsula defending the honour of Europe and resisting the advances of this very aggressive sea”.

Paddy looked below at the very unequal contest where the sea was pummelling the rocks.

“Land’s looking battered and bruised father. Will the referee stop the contest?” dad smiled and winked at his son.

“Smart answer, but you know the contest was stopped about ten thousand years ago”. Paddy looked confused.


“Ah ha” said dad pleased to have a captive audience and just about to return his backside to the car when he saw his wife emerging with one threatening eyebrow raised.

“Well” he continued a little less vigorously “back then everything stopped -the sea, the grass. It was the time of the great ice age when ice sheets covered every acre of this land and froze the sea. Imagine these waves frozen in mid punch.”

Paddy stroked his chin with the sarcastic theatrics known only to certain teenagers discovering the beauties of sarcasm for the first time.

“This isn’t a real battlefield” said Johnny disappointedly. Johnny hadn't yet discovered the possibilities provided by the filters of sarcasm.

“Well there is a Spanish ship out there from the Armada of 1588 which was broken on the rocks “said dad struggling. The boys' imagination was slightly stirred and dad noted their faces. He would have liked to be able to give the name of the wreck and the details of the crew and cargo but he realised he had driven into a dead end.

“What was the name of the ship dad?”

Dad hesitated. He could have made something up – “San Cristobal de la Trinidad” but he decided to come clean and shook his head.

“Sorry lads I don’t know”

The disappointment was palpable “ah father why didn’t you make something up? We would have believed any old guff that you said. We always do.”

Dad struggled briefly “I couldn’t do that Paddy. History is about the truth not about fiction.”

Luke immediately perked up with a mischievous light in his handsome young face. “Didn’t you once say that all history was fiction- lies told by the winners?” He allowed a wave of smug triumph to roll over him but he felt short changed in his moment of glory by his father’s reaction.

“Yes Luke I did say that and I believe it. But we should strive to uncover the truth all the same. That can sometimes mean a dull silence in place of an exciting false symphony. History isn't always a great page turner.” Mikey was somewhat deflated and began to see his smouldering tank evaporate into a dream. Mam came to the rescue yet again with her picnic bag. “C’mon handsome, take me for coffee”.

“If Madame will follow me.”

Dad led the way over a dry wall made of stones shaped like a baker's loaves which separated the hillside from the road. He lifted Mikey over with a “whoosh” while the other three declined assistance, Johnny doing so after his brothers had shown the way. It made him feel older. As they started to ascend the slope, their summer sandaled feet felt the long uneaten grasses soaked in the dew and saw the liquid mist which obscured the hill twenty metres ahead of them. “Let’s go into the cloud daddy” said Mikey excitedly and he started to chase uphill after the mist. Daddy, Johnny, and Paddy followed but Luke realising that he was no longer a child felt he had to pretend that such delights were not for him. “Come on Luke” said his mother pulling his ear playfully. “I’ll race you”. And the older boy realising he was blissfully alone from the judgemental gazes of the world gave in to the simple pleasures of cloud chasing.

A strange thing then happened, for as the six bodies scrambled uphill, a warm south westerly wind blew in from the sea. It had been born somewhere in the tropics and had obediently followed its course across the wide Atlantic shedding its stifling heat and picking up berries of moisture from the moody sea until it reached landfall as a strong breeze. And if one could see a wind one would have seen it touch land and start to climb upwards, creeping up on the boys and their parents and then overtaking them. It softly blew the raindrops off the long bending grasses which sprung upright relieved of the liquid weight. Finally it reached the curtain of cloud which billowed like a cotton sheet on a clothes line, and then started to retreat to higher ground. The wind insisted on total unconditional surrender and the mist gradually gave ground until the entire hillside was visible.

The warm tropical air felt good on the boys’ backs and spurred them on till they were within metres of the cloud. “Look daddy the clouds escaping” squealed Mikey.

“And it’s taking its treasure with it. Quick lads stop the cloud escaping.” They chased, all the more keenly but their enthusiastic attempts to grasp the elusive mist were fruitless. Finally they gave up panting loudly as they watched the last droplets of mist disappear like ghosts into the sky.

They had reached a crest in the hill which gently rolled into an even platform of soft grasses protected to the north by random slabs of soaking limestone. These in turn pointed to the summit of the hill which rose steeply beyond them. Their action had scattered a half dozen shaggy mountain sheep who now chewed clumps of grass from a cautious distance.

“Cool” said Johnny “what a great fort”.

Three corbelled beehive huts stood about eight feet tall occupying three points of an invisible scalene triangle. They dominated the western end of the grassy platform their stony spines to the ocean and its gales like three stoic sentinels guarding the land. The four boys ran towards them, the younger two racing like greyhound puppies while Luke and Paddy showed less exuberance but just as much interest. As is typical in these parts the sun for no reason broke through the banks of slow moving clouds and transformed the place into an ideal picnic area.

“Care to dine?” said dad taking the picnic bag from mam and spreading the foil backed blanket on the ground.

“It’s not a fort Johnny. It’s anything but. This is a monastery. Pretty good builders hey?” said dad slapping the lichen covered stones. They’ve stood here for a thousand years night and day, winter and summer. He paused, letting his hand run over one large stone married to another by gravity and the care and artistry of the long dead mason. “Great silent witnesses to history. They’ll be here long after were pushing up the daisies. You’ll bring your kids here just as granddad brought me”. And with that dad gave them another slap which made one of the stones rumble, threatening to dislodge itself from its brothers to which it had been invisibly glued for a thousand years. The boys laughed as dad, red faced once again, tried to redeem the situation. "Yes the same as when I came here with grand dad."

“Was this place exactly the same when you came here as a boy dad?” asked Luke trying to imagine his father in short pants with dodgy hair like in the black and white photograph on the piano at home.

The question threw his father into a reflective silence as he remembered his own now deceased father holding his hand as they stood sheltering from the drenching rain in the first beehive hut.

“No it was raining heavily and granddad and I stood in there” he pointed at their shelter “and the huts were open to man and beast back then, there was no ugly green metal door like that”. Dad gave a “tut tut” in disgust and gently kicked the offending door with his foot. “And the road wasn’t as good, more pot holes. But everything else was here. Dad closed his eyes as if in a dream and trusted his ears “the breeze and the breaking surf and the cranky sea birds …

“Lunch” mam interrupted.

“And granny.” Dad opened his eyes. “Granny was there too”. The boys were looking at him waiting. “There was magic, back then lads. Magic! Before the scientists got hold of the world and answered all the questions and spoiled the mystery and turned us all into faithless heathens”. And then as if to disengage from his reverie he suddenly grabbed Johnny’s arm – “Along with the magic there were hungry bellies and ham and cheese sandwiches and hot sweet tea and tickles for the last to touch the picnic rug”. And with that he took off towards mam leaving the children in his wake. The others sprinted after him but Mikey who had scaled a limestone boulder and was sitting on top was at a clear disadvantage. Dad slowed down to give him a chance but then held him back teasingly, inches from the rug. “Oh dear looks the tickle king has his victim” and dad tickled Mikey to exhaustion.

The best thing about dad’s pointless excursions was mam’s picnic. Today was one of the best although if the boys were to tell the truth they would have to admit, however reluctantly, that the location especially now with the hot sun heating their freshly freckled faces, was an important element in the picnic’s success. Conversation gave way to silence as each person plucked something from the scene. Dad in particular seemed uncharacteristically subdued as he remembered fondly, times past when he was simply a son and had not yet assumed in his own fashion the raw burdens that settle differently on the shoulders of all fathers.

“So father” said Paddy who had the hungriest appetite for knowledge “Do you know anything about this place?”

“A lot more than about the Spanish wreck out there son” replied his father in a relaxed mellow voice. It was a monastery in Celtic times, a place in the wilderness where men came to think and study and pray. They tried to find remote places where they wouldn’t be distracted by things like women” he winked at mam who smiled in return, “and money and fighting and anything else”.

“Sounds awful” muttered Luke. “I mean why would you so that?”

Dad shook his head at how the world had changed. “They were trying to understand why we are here, what’s our purpose in life. Get a handle on what it’s all about”.

“And did they find the answers to such great questions father?” said Paddy sounding like a voiceover in a 1950 sword and sandal epic movie.

“I don’t know. They got some rough lessons though. The place was sacked on four occasions by the Vikings. The last raid was particularly brutal axe job by a nasty piece of work called Tomar according to the ancient annals”.

“Ancient annals?” asked Luke

“Records by medieval monks which give us a brief account of the catastrophes that befell the land.”

“Daddy can I go to the toilet?” interjected Mikey.


Mikey nodded.

“Go on over there” said dad like a knowledgeable guide.

“I suppose Tomar and his boys burned all the wooden buildings, killed all the older monks and sold all the younger ones into slavery.

“Mikey no! Not over there” shouted dad as Mikey was about to pee against the side of one of the beehives. “Those stones are sacred fellah show some respect. Do your wees over there.”

Mikey smiled and went over to the place designated as a latrine by his father. Of course he was unaware that this was the most sacred place in the old monastery for it was here that the first nine abbots had been buried and their saintly bones lay encased in stone three feet below where Mikey now urinated copiously while singing a nursery rhyme. “I need to wee too” said Johnny. “Ok” said dad, “over to the unholy toilet. Stay away from the sacred stones.” And so Johnny too went off to pee all over the dead abbots.

“How about we get a metal detector up here and hunt for treasure?” suggested Luke remembering the gold chalices he had seen when dad had inflicted a day in the museum on them.

“I’d say all you’d find is grass and stones Luke. This wouldn’t have been a wealthy monastery like the ones in richer parts of Ireland and besides these Vikings were a pretty thorough bunch. If there had been any gold old Tomar would have swiped it as quick as you'd pull up this grass.” And to make his point more dramatically dad ripped up a clutch of grass from the earth.

Of course he was unaware once again, that less than two feet below the exact point where he was sitting was the largest undiscovered hoard of Celtic gold which had lain in a leather bag under a flat block of limestone, buried there on the morning of that fateful raid which the analysts had recorded.

There were fourteen monks in the monastery and that summer’s morning as the sun broke on a calm ocean they had seen and heard Tomar’s single ship with thirty warriors hugging the shore. It was apparent to all that he would have to beach his long ship at the first beaching point two miles further along the coast. Mass was said and the abbot an old man of forty called Dualta, issued instructions for an evacuation. He alone would stay to face the northmen. He dismissed the monks with a solemn blessing. Some wanted to fight and others wanted to die the martyr’s death. Most were happy to run off and scaled the heights of the hill unaware that Tomar had divided his squadron and that a further thirty berserkers were moving in their direction as they ran. One young monk Fionan stayed alongside the old abbot. He had suggested poisoning the mead which the Vikings would naturally make for and of which there was a copious supply. But the old abbot would not condone murder so he laced the honey mead with a heavy laxative which caused the two men to chuckle. Fionan then carefully dug a hole away from the huts to conceal the monastery treasures; two finely wrought chalices and an equal number of patens, a bell and a jewel encrusted crucifix. So as not to know where they were hidden the old man retired to the first beehive cell where he knelt in prayer to speak with the god he would soon meet. Fionan carefully replaced the sod so that the earth would bear no marks of disturbance, the Vikings would know of no buried treasure. He released the sheep from their pens to scramble into the hills and hearing the hoots of butchery as the fleeing monks met the Vikings coming from the north, he hurried to the west assuming correctly as it happened – that the Viking raiders would not seek him there where the land tapered dangerously into the sea. Many years later as a half-starved crippled old beggar, disillusioned and dying without faith he told his tale to the annalist who gave it three lines in his embellished vellum book.

“Are the annals very big?” asked Luke. Imagining a dusty leather bound doorstep of a book with magic between its covers.

“Tragically short” replied dad once again puncturing the silent atmosphere of wonder. "Two or three lines. Just the date, Tomar, the monastery was sacked and not much else”.

Luke shook his head and he showed annoyance in a facial scrunch that might end up giving him worry lines before his time. “Only a couple of lines in what was such a big event in those people’s lives. Deserved a lot more.”

Dad agreed but suggested that recording history was for much of human existence an expensive luxury. “Too busy just trying to get by. It was a hard slog just putting food on the table”. And he popped the last ham sandwich into his mouth.

They all then fell to finishing the delicious rolls that mam had rustled up and so conversation surrendered briefly as mouths were used for other purposes. The descendants of the sheep who had once filled the bellies of the dead monks and Vikings without discrimination looked on, casually chewing clumps of fresh grass. While the bees whose ancestors once furnished the world with honey and mead and the accompanying stings sang their summer symphony in the wild flower meadow. Dad who always wolfed down his food finished first and so broke the silence.

“Well boys imagine it’s the summer of the year 925 A.D. and you hear an alien sound on the sea and you look out and behold a great Viking long ship with a dragon’s head at the front and a blood red sail slapping in the wind and thirty bearded warriors, their arms and shoulders rippling with muscle singing a rough song to their war god and the prow of their boat ploughing intently a road of white froth through the calm sea. You have an hour before they get here. What do you do?”

Mum lay back and watched the marriage of two clouds in the sky overhead and let her mind drift to things other than the early middle ages slaughter. The boys on the other hand were thinking of the very few permutations available to them in this tricky situation. Mikey, who was a prodigious poker player, was thinking in terms of bluff. Cardboard soldiers on the hillside like the three beehive cells would make the Vikings think twice about trying their luck. Johnny who had been exposed from early on to the thuggish fists of his older brothers was a hardened warrior for whom life was a series of (mostly lost) brawls. He was all for meeting the invaders on the beach as they got off their ships. If there was going to be a fight than there was no point in waiting for it to come to you. And he could see himself smashing them to pieces like one of the movie heroes who wins against the odds.

“I’d take out Tomar dad” said Paddy who nearly always saw conflict in terms of sport. “You know like in rugby match you whack their hard man and it weakens the other teams psychologically. Yeah I think if you got to Tomar early they might lose their stomach for the fight.”

“Interesting approach Paddy. I don’t know if Tomar would be would be so obliging. Would you be brave enough to go looking for him?”

“Ah sure you’re probably going to die anyway”. Both son and father, player and coach smiled. Most games they knew were won before the first kick. Luke was pursing his lips, shaking his head unconsciously yet intently. “This was bad, very bad”. He was thinking, he was processing the data, the landscape, slope , distances, numbers, weaponry, skill in battle and eventually came to the conclusion that the monks hadn't a chance and had only themselves to blame.

“What do you think Luke?” invited dad. “Hopeless” he blurted in a hopeless voice “you might as well jump off the cliff over there. They were amateurs when it came to defence. No wonder the place was sacked so often and then abandoned. For smart men they were right fools.”

“Maybe defence wasn’t a priority fellah”.

“I think I’d have been a Viking” replied Luke. Dad laughed.

“Here my warrior lord” said mam handing her husband a steaming hot cup of coffee. The clouds decided that the sun had hogged the heavenly stage too much and started drifting across his face reducing the temperature instantly by a couple of degrees. Dad wrapped the coffee with both hands feeling its warmth on his ageing fingers on whose rough knuckles were written the chapters of fights which he had won and lost.

“Do you know what I’d like?” he said slowly, deliberately aware that unanswered questions evoke the curiosity of all humans. All that is except his sons who showed no interest in what their father would like. Slightly crestfallen, but stubbornly determined he continued.

” I’d like to get a hoist and suspend myself over that beehive hut” he waited for the inevitable inquiry which inevitably didn’t come.

“Would anyone like to know why I’d like to be suspended over the hut?” He paused. There was silence. Luke and Paddy were enjoying themselves ignoring their father’s clear need for attention, but Paddy couldn’t hold in the laughter and it burst from him in a big guffaw which frightened the curios sheep on the hillside. Luke followed his brother and the two rolled on the grass laughing together.

“Mam I think these two were switched at birth. We have nothing in common genetically” complained dad.

“Hooray the gods show kindness at last” replied the two older boys as their laughter started to subside.

“Ok father” said Paddy still giggling “I’m sorry, please tell us why you’d like to be suspended over the hut like an eejit”. More belly aching laughter.

Dad waited until the comedy subsided. “Well you see that capstone sticking up. I’d say the last thing to touch that was the hand of the monkish builder. So imagine I could touch the D.N.A. of that builder resting undisturbed for a thousand years” he wrapped his hand around the mug and drank. "You'd be touching history lads”. And then as if to emphasise the profound nature of the point he slowly repeated “touching history”. Paddy stroked his beardless chin and rolled his eyes skyward.

The old abbot also wrapped his hands around the wooden chalice and drank what his faith told him was the blood of his god. His eyes were closed but he could hear the raiders around him and he could smell the sweat of one no more than a metre in front of him. He cared not to open his eyes to look upon his murderer so he kept them closed in prayer. But he heard the swoosh of the battle axe through the air mingle with the breaking waves below him to the west where the world tumbled to oblivion. The sea birds scratched the air above his head wondering if the Viking raid might provide them with some cheap pickings, and the angry bees whose hives had been turned over mingled their buzz with the curses and unholy vows snorted in a foreign tongue. A good time to die and the battle axe did its work.

The raid had yielded little for Tomar but he was content to butcher older monks, enslave the younger ones, roast a few sheep and drink heavily of the monks’ mead. In a feat of athleticism amid the burning barns and sties the drunken chief leapt onto the top of the beehive hut to the applause of his brothers in arms. He drained the phlegm from deep inside his lungs and spat heavily onto the capstone. He then took another deep draught of mead but quickly started to feel his bowels loosen. Fionan’s laxative had worked its magic and a river of liquid diarrhoea poured out of the great man onto the capstone of the hut.

“Yes” said dad still imagining the builder proudly patting the last stone in place. “Just imagine what you’d be touching”.

Luke and Paddy gave one more of those juvenile sarcastic "hmms" while stroking their chins and then chuckled some more.

Chapter 2

Luke’s Story

Luke was not just a self-important teenager. He was also bored. There is a time in the affairs of all teenagers when they outgrow the family. Summer holidays with his dysfunctional parents and brothers, punctuated by meaningless excursions, bad weather, trips to the same old same old places which hadn’t been interesting the first time, and so many rows didn’t do it for him anymore. He wondered how he ever found the family holiday anything but the equivalent of a two week relationship with a polite ugly girl. You hate it but you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so you let it linger.

He had been saving the big chip with its sharp carbonised point till last. Still thinking about a polite but ugly girl he had managed to escape from, he lost himself in a day dream prodding and pushing the beast of a chip around the now empty plate, imagining it to be a savage Minotaur that had to be controlled and manipulated at a safe distance. The chip seemed to snarl at each contact with the metal fork which Luke was starting to use as gladiators of old used Neptune’s trident. He then considered the option which a large net would provide. A well timed and precisely targeted cast and the manic, growling chip would be reduced to impotence. However miss and the crazed bloodthirsty creature would grow in confidence and now be able to focus single mindedly on the trident. Luke swished the chip across the plate and with one rapid swoop stabbed it while still in motion piercing its crisp hide and feeling the softer mushy flesh beneath its armoured coat. He twirled the fork while the chip still writhed and wriggled, then satisfied that the combat was at an end he popped it into his mouth. “Thanks mam and dad that was delicious” he lied.

The ‘treat’ of fish and chips in a restaurant overlooking the crashing Atlantic as his dad had promised had turned into a disaster. His younger brothers both wanted to sit facing the sea but Paddy the older of the three had craftily occupied one of the two seats with the necessary view and had steadfastly refused to budge. Dad was about to declare war and give the long winded, over used account beginning with the hated words “when I was your age” and ending fifteen minutes later with a sulky “so a bit of gratitude would be appreciated, thank you”. Mam knew that if dad got to make this speech all would be lost, so she went into United Nations mode digging deep into her deep wells of tolerance and patience. “How about we share?" she smiled wearing her imaginary blue helmet. “Mikey you can sit there for ten minutes then Johnny you can sit there for ten minutes”.

“And what about Paddy?” they both complained in chorus.

“Ah ah” said Paddy teasing most unhelpfully “possession is nine tenths of the law” he said recalling what his dad had said in a conversation only yesterday.

“Isn’t that right dad?” he added smugly. Mam looked at dad and then all eyes turned to him. Dad was about to explode but a grumpy waitress had arrived and everyone had to put on their happy family faces.

Of course Johnny and Mikey didn’t like anything on the menu except the cheese burger which was predictably off the menu because they had remarkably run out of baps for the burgers. Eventually they grudgingly settled for fish and chips which dad promised would be exquisite. Chapter two of the disaster struck when the waitress brought out four glasses of lemonade. Mikey had only taken his first sip when he replaced the glass on the table accidently knocking it over and creating a Noah like flood everywhere. Dad didn’t need to go to the bathroom but was sent there by mam. Mikey began to cry while the others hugged their lemonade tightly in case they were asked to share.

Chapter three began when dad tempted fate by heartily observing how hungry he was. “I’m starving. I’m really looking forward to a big plate of fish and chips. Cod straight from the ocean”. The cod in fact came from a box in the freezer. The plate was big but the fish was a skeletal dwarf from a famine stricken part of the ocean, accompanied by a countable number of chips who had failed P.E. at chip school, the empty space on the plate filled by sagging pieces of lettuce who were in need of therapy for depressed lettuces. The silent disappointment was loud.

At this stage the disaster was upgraded to a catastrophe, in the long wait for food Mikey had unscrewed the top of the salt seller. Johnny now picked it up and emptied a small mole hill of salt which as it was Johnny quickly became a mountain, all over his dinner. He instantly burst out crying, while Mikey equally instantly burst out laughing. In his defence Mikey told mam who was trying to rescue Johnny’s unrescuable dinner that dad had told them how he had done something similar to his friends when he was a kid. Mam turned with fire in her eyes towards dad who red faced and silent covered his eyes and went to eating.

Johnny’s dinner, like the promised treat was beyond hope trapped, in the ninth circle of hell reserved for hopeless causes. The ship was sinking and dad was frantically trying to salvage some of the floating wreckage of their excursion. His eyes lighted on the ice cream menu which pictured all sorts of attractive desserts at inflated prices that would have been a rip off in down town Paris. He was dangling these in front of Johnny and Mikey as a weary parent dangles a rattle in front of a screaming child who looks like they’ve got another couple of hours of high octane crying left in the tank and has every intention of using it. The boys naturally weren’t impressed by the idea of the banana split “can I have it without the banana?”

Mam took the desert card and gathered the chicks together to explain and entice in her primary school teacher voice. Dad seized the moment. “Here", he said to Luke and Paddy handing them a five euro note each. "Stay together. You know where the car is. We’ll see you back there in thirty minutes. Remember stay together." Luke and Paddy were glad to escape but their siblings saw what was happening and Paddy couldn’t resist letting them see the five euro note as he needlessly changed it from one pocket to the other. As Luke reached the door of the restaurant he could hear his father saying “when I was your age”…… the ship had finally sunk.

The general warmth of the late afternoon sun felt good on his face and the cocktail of wave sound and salty fragrance from the sea was refreshing to his senses. He briefly felt like a man unfairly condemned who had escaped and was scouring the breeze of freedom and sanity.

“What will we do with our unimaginable riches, Luke?” inquired Paddy who was two years younger than Luke. They had shared many pages from the book of life, not always harmoniously but in time this would be the glue that would cement their relationship.

“What are the options?”

“Main St. man for two reasons.”

“Which are?”

“One, it’s the only place with shops. “

Luke nodded, the reason was sound. “And the second?” he enquired

“There’s a sport store there.”

Not so sound thought Luke but the first reason was good enough. They walked along the marina towards the main street past the pleasure craft bobbing on the oily waters. On the far side a large commercial trawler was unloading boxes of frozen fish into waiting trucks whose doors smoked with icy vapours while seagulls cackled like aggressive beggars their hungry bellies aggravated by the bloody smells and sights in tantalising abundance before them. The fishermen themselves scurried about like the gulls, and like the gulls they spoke a language which Luke could not comprehend. It made him think of the wider, rougher world from which these strangers had come. Had they wives and children waiting for them in some backward country where the very fabric of nature and life was different to this relaxed and sun dappled marina. He took in the people drinking ice cold drinks in designer clothes. Here was a country of law and order, of fresh running water and electricity where the stuff of life was so plentiful and white toothed ladies had big decisions to make about whether to wear their designer sunglasses around their neck or use them to push up their freshly laundered hair.

Luke had reached the age where life, his own and that of the planet he was trying make sense of, was no longer simple. It was all so very complex at times throwing up big thoughts that hurt his brain.

They had come to the sports store a small colourful cave of overpriced clothes and foot wear. A pyramid of precariously balanced footballs was the only evidence of sports otherwise it was really a clothes shop. Paddy was immediately drawn towards a pair of Nike football boots whose tag screamed out “half price” in psychedelic colours which reminded Luke of the lures used to catch fish. These metal baits swam like quicksilver in the ocean, their magic twists too powerfully irresistible for the beguiled fish. He thought of the dead fish frozen in boxes at the marina who should have resisted the charms of the fishermen. Luke had some sense that these shoes had been made by someone younger than Paddy in a Vietnamese sweat shop being paid a bowl of rice a day. Some poor half educated kid who would be dead before he was thirty from exhaustion and environmental poisoning, coughing up his guts in a twenty first century workhouse, then dumped without a prayer in an unmarked pauper’s grave and sheeted in lime to accelerate the process of decay. The price had been slashed from 215€ to 104€ and was a" must buy! “Luke shook his head in disgust.

"Can I help you?" Said a smiling young and very attractive shop assistant who was folding some clothes that a previous customer had left in a disorganised heap.

“Actually Yes. I’m having a really crap day. My younger brothers have spent a large chunk of it fighting, my parents are at the end of their shelf life and my other brother is going to spend twenty minutes in here trying on shoes that he has no intention of buying because all we’ve got is a lousy fiver, which let’s face it, won’t buy you anything here except those dodgy tennis balls which are probably made in slave labour camps in China by undernourished four year olds. And I’m still starving because in the fancy restaurant down the way they give you a big plate and no food and I don’t have a girlfriend. But hey you’re a fine looking babe with a fit body and although you’re a few years older than me why don’t we give it a try? “

Luke thought about saying this but decided on the less adventurous “no thanks, just browsing.”

The girl smiled back and was about to return to the cash desk when Paddy asked her if they had the special offer €104 rip off in size eleven. He had big feet for his age. “I think so. Let me have a look”. She disappeared through a door behind a life-size cut out of some unknown famous sweating female athlete whose piercing gaze told you that you needed Powerade isotonic thirst quenching flavoured drinks to relinquish lost salts and make you a winner. Luke retched. He’d had enough “Listen Pad. I’m going next door. When you’re finished here follow me into the next shop. Is that clear?”

“But dad told us to stay together”, Paddy taunted.

“I’ll be five minutes max in the shop next door so I’ll be back before you’ve tried on your precious boots. So wait here”

With that crystal clear instruction, Luke made his way to the exit while Paddy began to explore the rest of the shop.

There are different types of disappointments in life. When a girl you really fancy goes out with a guy you really loathe, that’s at the serious end of the disappointment spectrum making it around 8 of 10. If she leaves you to go out with him after he has beaten you up in front of everyone and posted it on YouTube and it goes viral, that’s probably a 10. Going to see a movie you’ve been eagerly anticipating and finding it sold out is probably a six. Exam results are always a five or a four, they are among the more easily bearable disappointments. Flopping down in front of the TV not expecting anything to be on and finding out there’s nothing but cricket, current affairs, shows about gardening and cooking is about a two or “disappointing but I’ll get over it”. As disappointments go, the shop next door was about a two but given Luke’s dour mood since being forced out of bed that morning by his irritatingly happy parents, it was about a three.

The shop itself looked like a house whose windows were too big. The windows themselves were remarkably clean precisely square and plainly framed by dark ebony wood. A dust free pine coloured wood venetian blind obscured all life behind the glass. And that was more or less it. Luke wondered if it was a specialist opticians or a solicitors practice, till he saw in gold leaf lettering in medieval script above the door “Antique Adventures Shop” below which was a sign seemingly suspended in mid-air that simply said “Open”.

Luke stood back to the edge of the pavement and considered the two shop fronts. The sports shop was a master class in marketing, dynamic and energetic with luminous colours screaming at you to enter and famous sports men and women insisting that sport wasn’t just something you played, it was a life choice for winners. Losers needn’t apply. With chiselled chins and sculpted torsos they told you to come to the battlefield. Beyond Wayne Rooney’s scowl, Luke could see his brother Paddy examining the pyramid of differently coloured footballs which were precariously balanced in the middle of the store guarded by the cardboard stars. Suspended overhead was the imperative instruction “Failure comes to those who never try!”

His eyes returned to the “shop next door” which was as attractive as a disco in a nursing home. And just as Luke was shaking his head he noticed a sign in the window in a script that he could only describe as “yawn” on what appeared to be a rectangle of thick, white card the sort one expects undertakers to hand out with their business details for cut price coffins and burials.

He wondered how he had missed that white card the first time. It had the opposite effect of the flashing neon sign- it almost suggested “keep walking; there’s more life in the old folks’ home at the end of the street.” Luke headed towards the window and read the text to himself “Due to a serious lack of customers we have lowered our price. All currencies accepted signed the manager. Antiques adventure shop.” What a loser thought Luke. This guy must have had a worse business teacher than me.” Luke as you might have guessed had a very bad business teacher, the sort who ironically wouldn’t have made it in business. "People who need counselling become counsellors and people who couldn't run a business become business teachers", his dad would often quip.

Just then his gaze returned to the sports shop where he could clearly make out Paddy closely examining a luminous orange football which was at the centre of the base of the precariously balanced football pyramid. He found himself saying softly “” Paddy I hope you’re not intending…” but his eyes were pulled back to the vacant plate glass window of the “Antiques Adventure Shop.” The sign about the “serious lack of customers” was no longer to be found and there suspended in its place was a new bolder, bigger effort informing Luke “all adventures €5 today”.

What struck Luke most was that there was a black star at either end of the appeal. “Woooo” he thought. “We’re starting to lose the run of ourselves”.

And then he saw Paddy place both hands on the luminous orange ball. Luke only had time to mutter “I don’t believe…” before the entire edifice of footballs began to spill like a fevered dam burst of colour. Luke’s survival instincts kicked in and just as a soldier in a bombardment dives into the nearest shell hole without appraising the dangers within, he put his hand on the brass handle of the door of the shop before him and entered.


Chapter 3

As the door opened it triggered a quaint sounding bell which announced his arrival. Luke felt a surge of wind which ruffled his sand coloured hair as if in opening the door he had created a draft. But then everything was still except the single tick of a clock. Luke waited at the door for the expected second tick but none came.

What did come were the words “Ah welcome young man” packaged in a strong but gentle, manly voice. The owner of the voice was standing upright behind a polished walnut desk surrounded by a polished brass rail whose perfect bend skewered the reflection of both Luke and the owner of the voice. Luke thought he had detected a hint of a fruity fragrance, which he now realised was due to a large orange sitting untouched by the brass rail. Beside it slightly larger in size was an hour glass. The hour glass was not filled with the usual fine free flowing sand but with what seemed like, small but not tiny, perfectly round glass heads mostly black and white but with an occasional stand out red. Seeing the boy's focus linger on the hour glass, the manager tapped it with the index finger of his left hand and said in a pleasant voice “it appears your time has started.”

Luke noticed that a white bead had dislodged itself from the upper section of the hour glass and had remained suspended just below its stable, sleeping brothers above.

“It doesn’t seem to be travelling very fast” observed Luke pointing as the motionless bead. The man was what polite people call elderly. Luke struggled to put an age on him. He seemed to have the wisdom of an ancient and yet he had the energy and vigour on someone his father’s age. Unlike his father, he didn’t seem to have the care worn lines which life's battles etch on the faces of life’s fighters. Nor did he have the bloodshot tiredness that he often noticed in his dad’s eyes when he was making an effort, but struggling. Forty Luke thought. No 80 eighty, and then gave up.

Luke noticed that his comment about his bead not travelling very fast briefly struck the not so old, old man in a way that made him dress his face with a look of mild surprise. “An astute observation young man. Me so old and you so young. But then time is relative. We could have a very pleasant and enjoyable conversation for..." He stopped and sought Inspiration and an answer in the air above him. “Say half an hour and it would only feel like five minutes. But if we were to find ourselves in the darkest dungeons of the Spanish inquisition." He paused as if remembering something, the colour of his face drained to white momentarily and Luke detected the faintest of shivers. “Well I have to say five minutes in one of those places feels like five days. Yes”, he continued his colour returning. “Time is relative.”

Luke found himself nodding. The big treat dinner of shrunken fish and chips had felt like five hours. As the old man had been speaking, Luke had been multitasking. He had listened because it was both polite to listen and because the man had vitality in his speech which made him want to listen. Furthermore his accent was puzzle wrapped in an enigma. Luke found himself hearing words pronounced in a spectrum of accents. He heard two or three clearly Irish inflections. The flat Dublin tone which often slipped from his father, the musical Cork lilt which reminded him of his grandfather and the rather black heavy rain drenched dialects that the terrorists in films about Northern Ireland spoke. But he also caught echoes of Cornish pirates, premiership footballers, New Zealand rugby players, American presidents and BBC newsreaders. It was like a stew of sound as if this man had learnt English from every environment and from none.

But while Luke had been listening to this man’s playful musings on time, he had also been taking in his surroundings which by comparison to the clutter next door, were spare to the point of monastic. The space itself was the size of a large living room. The floor was white marble through which thin streams of black twisted and coursed in unpredictable directions. Luke tried to remember from his geography classes what ancient forces had caused these black veins to penetrate the pure white of the stone. But he quickly gave up. The walls were also of white marble but this time without the dissecting rivers of black, and set into them were white sconces in the shape of medieval shields from which clean white light illuminated the room. The desk itself was in the far right, its thick rich honey colour a pleasant relief from the overwhelming white. The far wall was draped with white curtains which fell like a thick sheet of snow from ceiling to floor. Luke wondered what lay beyond this material which carried a feint motif of thorned roses growing around upturned swords with ornate cruciform handles. His eyes having finished their odyssey around the room absorbing, decoding, deciphering and processing his surroundings finally remarked the dust free cleanliness and the silence. In particular he wondered why the noise of the human and mechanical traffic from the street failed to penetrate, or how it was not possible to detect even a decibel of the rap music that he knew was still blaring in the shop next door. He tried to make sense of the roses and swords realising that the same pattern was delicately inlaid on the shields shaped wall sconces.

When his gaze returned to the oldish man Luke noted that he had removed the black jacket of his suit to reveal a matching waistcoat buttoned tight against a stomach which gave no hint of a middle aged spread. Meticulously he hung the jacket on a beautifully crafted silver clothes hanger, hanging it in turn on a peg on the wall behind him which Luke hadn’t noticed before. This reminded him of the sign in the window which he could have sworn hadn’t been there when he had looked first. Things seemed to magically appear. The jacket having been hung up the man now pulled from his desk a neatly folded apron the colour of a brown paper bag. It was then that Luke was taken a back as he saw, on the walnut desk beside the solitary orange and the sand glass with its still suspended white bead, a large metal helmet that one associated with films about Normans and Vikings. Surely that hadn’t been there when he came in.

“Where did that come from?” Luke asked in a bold assertive voice born out of his surprise.

The mystery man had just pulled on a pair of soft white cotton gloves and held the helmet aloft. “This is Mambrino's helmet. Which as you might have guessed came from Mambrino's head. It’s one of our most popular adventurers well at least among the male customers. The ladies don’t care for it. In fact I might be wrong but in all the time I’ve been here I don’t think any lady has ever chosen this fellow” he said, holding up the helmet for examination. “And” he continued tracing his finger over a large gash in the side, “I don’t think it has ever returned from its adventure undamaged.” He shook his head in playful resignation. “Look.” The invitation brought Luke closer to the desk in order to inspect the object.

“That’s a nasty gash alright. I hope for Mambrino's sake he wasn’t wearing at that time.”

The man smiled and Luke smiled back. The joke wasn't exactly a cracker but it had lightened the atmosphere.

“Unfortunately I can’t reveal what happens in each adventure. An intrinsic part of an adventure after all is the mystery about what’s going to happen. The explorer after all doesn’t know what’s behind the line of eucalyptus trees on an unexplored ridge opposite does he? A pioneer doesn’t know whether the river is alive with crocodiles before he crosses it. Adventure is a risky descent” he paused “or ascent into the unknown. So I can’t tell you what caused this” he pointed at the scar in the metal helmet “nor what the consequences were. For you to find all that out you’d have to take the artefact. That's how we refer to the adventurers.”

“So if I take this artefact” replied Luke proudly using the official word.” You’ll tell me all about these things."

“No no that’s not how it works. I’m just the Curator of the artefacts, the Guardian some might say; others might call me their Doctor.” He tapped the damaged helmet and spoke with an almost childish giggle. That coupled with his apron which was the colour of granny's tea dispelled the last cobwebs of a strained atmosphere. Luke found himself infected with the curator’s good humour. He even felt like telling him a few home truths about advertising and marketing and above all window dressing. He wanted to point out the fact that the room was far too white and most of all that as the potential customer, the only potential customer, he still hadn’t a clue what he was buying or if there was anything for sale apart from Mambrino's damaged headgear.

“Unfortunately” the curator interrupted Luke’s thought flow. He was holding the helmet aloft examining the damage to the inside “Mambrino's Helmet will be off the menu today.” Luke frowned in disappointment although not really sure why exactly he was disappointed.

“I know, I know," said the curator “it’s the nature of the beast. I’d have to say that apart from Charles Martel's battle axe or Tomar's war hammer, Mambrino's helmet is the artefact that comes back in the most need of repair.” “Tomar” whispered Luke. Wasn’t he the Viking that dad had said had raided these coasts and ravaged his way up the rivers plundering and slaughtering. He pictured him with a war hammer imagining him with muscles of a WWE wrestler salivating like a savage dog, mercilessly swinging his mammoth weapon which cut the air leaving vapour trails of freshly smoking blood.

“Of course the compensation is that the final part of Mambrino’s adventure takes place the orange Groves in Valencia. Whoops I shouldn’t have told you that.” He said with a guilty look which was quickly replaced by a more carefree expression. "Sure nobody’s going to be the wiser. You look like a chap who can keep a secret." He tapped his nose in the way that old people do when they want to keep things quiet. “Anyway the helmet always returns with an orange inside.” He picked up the fruit which as if in recognition of its role in the conversation, started to shed its fruity scent.

“Certainly smells beautiful” said Luke " but it’s hardly great compensation for all the work you're going to have to do to restore a Mambrino's head gear.” Luke felt a little smug with his irrelevant vocabulary and his mature if a little cynical insight.

“Head gear hmmm” chuckled the old man. "That’s all it is really, but the orange? You know what you are wrong there friend. No amount of your dosh” he smiled at his own reverence “could buy this chap”

“You can get one even bigger in the supermarket around the corner” countered Luke triumphantly. “And I’d say you’d be charged no more than fifty cent”

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