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THE CHERRYWOOD BANJO
by Pat McDermott

Ronan takes Gabbi for a driving tour of County Mayo's Croagh Patrick area,
a pleasant outing that takes a shocking turn.

*******

Ronan shut off the engine. “We’ll park here, and it’s lucky there’s room for us. Any other time of the year, we’d have to go into the lot. I’ll show you the National Famine Monument and the abbey ruins. There’s a fine view of the Reek there.” He checked the traffic, opened his door, and stepped out of the car.

So did Gabbi. “This is unbelievably scenic, and quiet. I’m glad we’re here now and not in July.” She opened the rear door and gathered her things.

He moved in to help. “Take your purse. I’ll carry the camera bag.”

“Okay.” She glanced at the big metal ship behind them. “That’s the monument?”

“Yes. It’s a bronze sculpture of a coffin ship. That’s what they called the ships taken by the Irish who tried to escape the Famine. A lot of them died on those ships. Hence the strings of human skeletons in the rigging.”

“Do you know who made it? I want to learn as much as I can about it, and the abbey too. It’s a good idea to include descriptions with pictures I post online.”

“I believe there’s some info near the ship. Sorry to say I don’t much more. Ben’s your man. He takes people on tours for a living. Knows all sorts of local lore and such.”

“I’ll talk to him later. Thanks.”

Ronan closed the car door and hefted the bag. “This is heavy. What’s in it?”

“Two cameras. Filters and lenses. Flash units and memory cards. Oh, and granola bars in case we get hungry. Can you manage it all right?”

“I can.” He positioned the strap on his shoulder.

No one was around. They had the place to themselves, and the weather couldn’t be better for a cold December day. Still, a bracing breeze had Gabbi tucking her hair in the little black hat she’d worn the night he tackled her. She followed him past a gurgling stream and onto the stone path that led to the monument.

All was well until he shifted the camera bag. He knew the signs—the prickling, the heart palpitations, the panic—yet he could do nothing to stop it.

The gun sling dug into his shoulder, leaving it chafed and sore from the unrelenting weight of the rifle. When he dared to look, the camera bag had become the weapon he’d carried in Lebanon.
The Famine ship disappeared. In its place stood a circular barbed-wire fence surrounding a complex of concrete buildings. The vision flabbergasted him.

“Ronan? What’s wrong?”

His voice jammed in his throat. His heart jackhammered his ribs.

“Ronan, please. What’s happening?”

The rifle vanished, leaving the camera bag looped on his shoulder. As the barbed wire slowly faded, the Famine ship reappeared. A quick check of his surroundings reassured him that they were still alone.

“Nothing’s wrong. I was thinking of something, is all.”

“Come on, Ronan. Where did you go? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I don’t want to discuss it. Let’s see the ship, all right?”

She grabbed his sleeve. “No! Not all right! This happened to you before, in the pub the other night. I’m worried about you.”

His face grew hot. The muscles trembled in his jaw. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“I don’t believe you. I want to help you, Ronan.”

“You’ve no idea what’s happening!”

“No?” A crazed look crossed her face. She shoved him hard. “Try me.”

Struggling to keep his footing, he glared at her, prepared to raise his voice and shout. Yet something in her wild-eyed expression, her heaving chest, and her obvious struggle to keep from crying dispelled the fury he’d nearly unleashed.

Grim understanding softened his tone. “Gabbi. Oh, Gabbi. What happened?”

 

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