Ger Sheen and the Satanists

by David McGrath

Winner of the Bare Fiction Prize for Short Story 2014

Willy Byrne’s fuck-your-mother swagger was a swagger to mug you off, a swagger to warn were half a chance given, he would actually fuck your mother, a deed he had done to many a man of Ballybailte. Maura Byrne had breastfed him to fourteen then beat him with the brush to eighteen until she drowned herself in the Slay River, irreparably crossing all sorts of wires in the man’s head. He had been quoted in saying he couldn’t do it with a woman who wasn’t a mother—not unless he said, he equipped himself with two lollipop sticks and an elastic band.

Unsurprisingly, fulltime employment was somewhat problematic. Willy Byrne had been thrown off more building sites than asbestos for his inclination towards the maternal. For pint-money, he odd-jobbed for town-folk with no mothers above ground. Ger Sheen, having assumed his own elderly mother safe from the clutches of the infamous motherfucker, had Willy Byrne up to the farm to do some painting and weed the garden. Down in Phelan’s, with a few too many pints on board, Ger Sheen had supposedly said he may as well have hired Stevie Wonder for all the spilled paint and missed weeds. The words were sucked in and belched about the snug of Phelan’s for days on gossip-hound breath until they eventually rested on the ears of Willy Byrne himself.

“I’ll show him a Stevie fuckin’ Wonder,” Willy Byrne said and the gossip-hounds sat back and sipped their pints with smiles on.

This was Ballybailte, a town of lunatics, bullshit-artists and story-mongers, always a spit from self-annihilation, fashioning their normalcy against distorted, twisted and embellished stories of everyone else’s abnormality. Stories were the entertainment.

At a certain age that varied from man to man, when futility was recognised, the men of Ballybailte would resign themselves to Tom Phelan’s snug to see who could hang there the longest, collecting stories like scalps. Tom Phelan would nail the fallens photographs to the wall for reminder, fallen men like Seanie Pender who when the bank came to repossess, he knocked his house down with his JCB then paid the bank a visit to blow out its windows with his shotgun. A year later he was elected to Dail Eireann. Two years after that he was found dead in suspicious circumstances in a Dublin brothel. The men in Phelan’s drank over the Seanie Pender story, nodding creamy pints of stout at him and the rest of the dead and buried men on the wall, using their stories as both inspiration and warning depending on the conversation. When a photograph went up, the story of it belonged to everybody, to do with as they saw fit, adding details to details, forming the story to make sense of the senseless, sometimes tangling the original story so much in fabrication that it became an out of control juggernaut of a story that had to be reigned back in by the realists.

Not long after the Stevie Wonder comment, Ger Sheen got up like any other day to milk the cows, only to find Willy Byrne in his kitchen eating a bowl of cornflakes. Willy Byrne was wearing just his underpants, his balls sagging out the left leg of them. All Ger Sheen could do was stand there, his mouth agape, knowing what had gone on but wishing to Baby Jesus it had not, too stunned to kick the shite out of Willy Byrne, too stunned to even say anything. Willy Byrne slurped the last bit of milk from the bowl then said, “that aul one of yours could suck a frozen turkey through a tennis racket, Sheen. Right, I may go up and get me trousers.”

The gossip-hounds rallied in pseudo-condemnation of Willy Byrne’s latest triumph. “That was terrible, Byrne. A new low for you this is,” they said down in Phelan’s. “Mags Sheen is nearly eighty years old with an onset of Alzheimer’s.”

“Didn’t hear her complaining,” said Willy Byrne back to them.

“You’re an awful man.”

“How in the name of God does he be at it with all these mothers in anyways?”

“He does tell them he only has six weeks to live and all sorts.”

“There’s a mini-mam,” said Willy Byrne, “but I never heard tell of a maxi-mam.”

“Awful man altogether. Doesn’t Ger Sheen have enough be to worrying about with Satanists up there hassling him about his geep?”

“The Satanists came after,” Willy Byrne said. “I wouldn’t have done it had I known he had Satanists up there. I’m bad but I’m not that bad.”

Satanists had arrived on the perimeter of Ger Sheen’s farm after the unlikely union of sheep and goat that resulted in the birth of a goat-sheep or geep, as they were known. Usually a geep was stillborn, but not this geep whose goat father was a dog-tormentor and as brazen as he was tough. Furthermore, the ewe in question was always getting her head caught in the fence trying for far away hills, so between the pair of them, any offspring would be determined.

The geep had sparked national interest because it was August, Silly Season and feck-all else was going on in the world. A photographer and journalist came down to Ballybailte. Ger’s big, round and red, camera-freaked face was in the Farmers Journal the next week holding the geep on his lap. This was how a group of Satanists got wind of it. What Satanists were doing reading the Farmers Journal, nobody knew. So then, as though the man didn’t have enough to contend with, Ger Sheen had cows to milk, a sick mother to care for, and a gaggle of Satanists chanting at all hours of the morning about the coming of Lucifer. To top it off, the goat was walking around the yard with a Willy Byrne swagger, more confidence than ever to upset his dog. He was half-thinking to shoot the bastarding goat. It would at least appease the dog’s problems and ensure no more births of goat-sheep to entice even more Satanists down from whereverthefuck.

“A total bunch a’cunts youse are,” Ger Sheen shouted at them from a safe distance, his tractor ticking over and foot to the clutch, ready to escape if they went berserk on being called cunts.

“All we ask for is updates on the geep, Mr Sheen, whether it makes marks in the ground or has any unusual rituals,” the head Satanist shouted back.

“Would yis ever cop on, lads. I’ve enough to be getting on with than having to deal with this shite.”

“As we said before, Mr Sheen, we’re very much willing to purchase the geep from you and be on our way.”

“And what would you intend to do with the geep?”

“Sacrifice it.”

“Ah would you all ever fuck off to fuck.”

It was time to give Father Horsebox a call.

Father Horsebox was so-called because as a young priest, he was caught stomping out the back of Tom Phelan’s horsebox while fastening his belt, followed two seconds later by his dishevelled housekeeper, a look of sweaty sex on both their faces, and it became quite clear what had been going on.

“They done it in me horsebox,” Tom Phelan town-cried.

“Go ‘way out of that, Tom,” the town cried back.

“No word of a lie, lads. Doing up his belt he was, and the look of sweaty sex on their faces was unmistakeable.”

“Why would they be doing it in your horsebox, Tom, eh?”

“Sure, wasn’t he looking to buy it.”

“Jaysus,” went the town. “In the horsebox?”

“In me fuckin’ horsebox!”

“He does come alive in an equine atmosphere,” said the philosophers.

“Aye, the fuckin’ bookies,” said the realists.

Gambling was Father Horsebox’s vice, as was drinking whiskey, swearing, smoking and women. He was also prone to occasional acts of vandalism and larceny when the gambling, drinking and women were not going so well. On the face of it, Father Horsebox was a terrible priest who, truth be told, didn’t believe in God and should have been excommunicated in his first week out of the seminary. The thing was, Father Horsebox was Rambo in a crisis and that, in a nutshell, was what Jesus was all about.

Father Horsebox was probably bigger and better than Jesus in anyways. For starters, he had a phone number. Secondly, he was an artist in talking down a nervous breakdown. Jesus was all about not doing it in the first place whereas Father Horsebox was all about dealing with it when it was done. The fallen men hung on the wall of Phelan’s would have fell a lot sooner had it not been for Father Horsebox.

Times were changing, as they always changed, and gone were the days when a nervous breakdown was simply bundled into the backseat of the car then held there by his two brothers all way to St. John of Gods. It had to be free will now—they had go to alcohol rehabilitation or wherever on their own accord which was a growing pain in Father Horsebox’s bollocks.

“Mother of Christ on it anyway,” said Father Horsebox, lifting his mouth out from between the housekeepers legs. “Hello?”

“Father, it’s Denise Dunne here. Me Dad’s locked himself in his room and he won’t come out. Is there any chance you could come over and talk to him?”

“I’ll be over shortly, Denise. Put the kettle on for a hot whiskey for me, would you, darling?”

“Grand.”

“Grand then,” said Father Horsebox, hung up and cut the foreplay short. “Sorry Eileen, I’ve to be quick about it. Brendan Dunne’s barricaded himself in his bedroom,” he said, pulling his underpants down and mounting her.

Brendan Dunne’s young lad was smoking hash outside the house as Father Horsebox rolled up in his Micra.

“He says he’s throwing you down the stairs if you go up, Horsebox,” the young lad said.

“It’s Father Horsebox to you, you little prick. Has Denise a whiskey ready for me?”

“I dunno t’fuck.”

“What’s going on with your father?”

“Locked himself in his room and won’t come out.”

“Well I know that much.”

“We’ve no dog, Horsebox—so you have your work cut out for you.”

“No dog?”

“Nope.”

“Curse of fuckin’ God on it anyway.”

“May think of something else for your big finale.”

“Fuck off you little bollocks.”

“No way. I’m hanging around here to watch you getting thrown down our stairs.”

There was one thing Father Horsebox relied on when talking down a nervous breakdown—a family dog. Without one, he was in unknown territory and the hash-smoking, little bollocks of a young lad sitting on the wall knew it.

Ger Sheen had called the parochial house but Father Horsebox was out. The housekeeper asked him to leave a message.

“Well, do you have a pen?” he asked.

“I do,” she said but Ger Sheen knew full well that the housekeeper was a doddery aul one that wouldn’t know the difference between a pen and a Tuesday.

“Just tell him it’s getting bad with these Satanists would you, Eileen?”

“Satanists,” she repeated. “Getting sad.”

Bad,” Ger Sheen said. “It’s getting bad with these Satanists.”

“How bad, Ger?”

“Is there a scale for how bad it gets with Satanists? Grand so, tell him it’s a nine on how bad it gets with Satanists would you, Eileen?”

“A nine?” she repeated. “That bad?”

“Well, I’m keeping my geep inside in the house for fear of kidnap even though it’s scaring the bejesus out of me because it has acquired a taste for chicken and won’t eat anything else. And never in a million years did I think I’d say this but I’ve brought the ewe inside too because Willy Byrne has got wind of the situation and I think he wants to have intercourse with her because it’s mother to Satan incarnate. He’s lurking about outside with the gaggle of Satanists who are chanting about it being very close to the second blood moon. It’s getting pretty bad, you know?”

“That does sound like a nine, all right. But, you may tell him yourself because I won’t remember all that.”

“What’s his fuckin’ number?”

***

The stairs were put in retrospectively when the Dunne’s converted the attic. Having had limited space for them, the architect was forced to give them an incline more vertical than a usual staircase. A fall down them would have been detrimental to one’s spine and hip, two bones that were not in great shape anyway due to Eileen’s increasingly voracious sexual appetite.

“Denise, darling,” Father Horsebox said, “put an aul mattress halfway up the stairs there, would you, love?”

“He won’t throw you down them, Father,” Denise said.

“Twenty quid says he will,” the young lad said.

“Shut up to fuck,” Denise told him then apologised to Father Horsebox for swearing.

“Brendan! I’m coming up. I would greatly appreciate it if you weren’t to throw me down the stairs when I go up there.”

The lack of response came threatening down the stairs as fast as a falling priest. It excited the stoned young lad who held his phone up and pressed record. “I am Youtubing the fuck out of this.”

“Brendan, it would be great if you didn’t throw me down the stairs that’s all I’m saying. Your young lad seems to think it inevitable. I’d really like it if you proved him wrong.”

“He’s telling you what to do in your own house, Brendan,” the young lad shouted.

Denise clipped him on the ear.

“Right, I’m coming up,” Father Horsebox shouted.

Father Horsebox, being a representative of existence, had to come to its defence quite often, particularly at barricaded bedroom doors. He had knocked on worse but the bedroom door of an incensed widower seeking revenge on existence was still a tough day’s work.

“Brendan,” he began, “If it was the other way around, Brendan, and it was Sharon locked up inside the bedroom and heartbroken. What I mean to say is, you’re alive for her now, Brendan, so that she doesn’t have to bear the weight of such sadness.”

“Fuck off, Horsebox,” Brendan said.

Father Horsebox’s phone rang. “Howaya, Ger. Satanists, Ger? Am I hearing you correctly? And you haven’t had a drop to drink? Willy Byrne is what? Chanting what exactly? And I thought I heard it all. Right well, I’ll be out as soon as I can, Ger.”

Father Horsebox hung up the phone.

“What was that about?” Brendan asked.

Bingo, thought Father Horsebox. Without a dog, a geep being tormented by Satanists was the next best thing.

“Satanists are on Ger Sheen’s farm after his geep,” Father Horsebox said. “They think it’s the coming of Lucifer and I think Willy Byrne wants to ride it.”

“That fuckin’ Willy Byrne.”

“That fuckin’ Willy Byrne is right, Brendan. He’s an awful man altogether. And that poor little geep, Brendan—didn’t have a great start to begin with—what with not being accepted as either a sheep or a goat, and now it’s all scared and worried—never done nothing to nobody and them bloody Satanists want to sacrifice it to Lucifer, what?”

There was a silence.

Father Horsebox put his finger to his lips to tell Denise and the young lad not to say a word, to let the innocence of animals resonate.

The key turned in the bedroom door.

“Here we go,” the young lad said.

Brendan came out, red-eyed and weary. “Come on, we’ll go out to Ger Sheen’s and see if he needs a hand,” he said.

“Fuck it anyway,” the young lad said.

Brendan, the young lad and Father Horsebox drove to Ger Sheen’s farm. The gate nudged open with a push of the bumper and they snail-rolled into the farmyard finding neither sight nor sound of a Satanist. The lights were all off in the house. Brendan turned off the engine and they listened to it cool until Ger Sheen ran across the farmyard towards them, naked as the day he was born, the fear of God on his face.

“What happened, Ger?” Father Horsebox asked but Ger Sheen would never say, not to them, not to the Sergeant, not to the Dublin homicide detectives when the Satanists, Willy Byrne, the geep and poor aul Mags Sheen were all dug up out of his silage pit.

“What happened that night, Ger?” asked psychiatrist after psychiatrist but Ger Sheen was gone, long gone, eventually wasting away in the corner of a Dublin psychiatric hospital.

Without solid explanation, there was nothing could be done but speculate. The story met somewhat of a cul-de-sac. There was nowhere for it to go but around and around, the gossip-hounds piecing it all together from the accounts of Father Horsebox, Eileen the housekeeper, Brendan Dunne and his young lad—bits being added, bits being taken away. After the Sunday World exposé, Father Horsebox eventually admitted that the Head Satanist was his and Eileen the housekeeper’s son. They had hidden him away in a boarding school where he fell in with Satanists and being an illegitimate child of a priest, he had quickly climbed the ranks. Father Horsebox was finally excommunicated and moved to America with the housekeeper. Brendan Dunne claimed that Ger Sheen was not naked. His young lad said he absolutely was naked. Some said this, some said that. The story would find a common ground until some bored and drunk gossip-hound went messing with it all over again.

Tom Phelan framed the photo of Ger Sheen holding the geep then hung it on the snug wall. And when people asked about it, the story would always begin the same—Willy Byrne with his fuck-your-mother swagger, a swagger to mug you off, a swagger to warn were half a chance given, he would actually fuck your mother—a deed he had apparently done to many a man of Ballybailte.

David McGrath

Ger Sheen and the Satanists by David McGrath was the winner of the Bare Fiction Prize for Short Story 2014 and first appeared in Issue 5 of Bare Fiction Magazine in March 2015.