Maine artist Libby McNulty’s dreams are haunted by the terrifying Wild Hunt of Celtic legend. As if that isn’t bad enough, the landlord threatens her and her friends with eviction in order to turn their apartments into more profitable condos.
Tom O’Sylvan is a reclusive combat vet who serves as the building manager. When Libby discovers Tom is also the Huntsman, legendary leader of the Wild Hunt, myth and ordinary life begin to collide. Can the two of them face their demons to save each other from danger?
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Antler and Bone (Celtic Magic 5)
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2023 Siondalin O'Craig
Libby McNulty reached a paint-spattered hand toward the chipped mug on the counter, not turning her gaze from the six-foot-tall canvas standing on a low easel. Her brush remained poised in the air. A drop of chartreuse paint clung to its tip, quivering as if envious of the heavy raindrops splattering the studio windows.
The image of the woman in the center of the canvas looked a lot like Libby, or rather what Libby would have looked like if she were a goddess of the hunt in medieval Ireland. The painted huntress wore a green velvet gown instead of threadbare Lee jeans rolled up around her calves, and her auburn ringlets bounced free under the canopy of autumn beech leaves, rather than tucked haphazardly under a bandanna. In her left hand, the woman on the canvas held a bow, while her right clenched an arrow rather than a paintbrush. Their luminous chestnut eyes were exactly the same though; alert, intent, seeing something beyond the edge of the picture.
Libby took a sip of her tea and grimaced. It had gone cold, and the milk was sour. Its taste spread across her tongue and pulled her mind back inside the white-washed wooden walls of her studio. She shivered.
The air was cold and damp, colder than it ought to be in September. Soon it would be Mabon, the autumnal equinox, when the equal length of day and night brought balance before the long winter slide, through the pumpkins and trick-or-treating of Samhain, into the darkness of Yule on the longest night of the year. Usually, the Mabon season meant sunny T-shirt days and warm sweater nights, but the persistent rain this year had Libby shivering in her plaid flannel shirt.
She set the mug back down on top of a folded letter pocked with tea stains. The letter was signed by Dave Wolf, Vice President and Senior Partner of James Carbill Real Property LLC. In other words, her landlord. It said something about selling the building.
Despite the fact that she had a five-year lease with a renewal clause, the letter made Libby uneasy. That lease had so much fine print, so many pages she hadn’t read. Her anxiousness to sign something that said she’d have a home and a place for her art for five years had her putting blinders on, made her impatient.
She ran a chipped fingernail over the thick paper. It was signed in real blue-black ink from an expensive fountain pen. Libby knew ink and pigments better than leases; she made most of her own from bits of trees, flowers, mushrooms, and stones that she gathered from the forest and rocky shore surrounding this little town of Lisna, Maine. She was able to make ink and paints from the plants and barks and stuff she found walking through the woods -- materials that were free to anyone who could read the land. Yet that blessing was so easily used for evil rather than beauty. She pondered how many people’s lives around the world had been changed, even eliminated, by the stroke of ink on paper, wielded for power rather than art.
But I have my lease, Libby reminded herself again. They can’t kick me out, at least not for another five years. Over the drum of rain, Libby could hear the creaking floorboards that rested overtop of her studio’s tin ceiling, footsteps of her little band of apartment neighbors. Straight overhead was the apartment of dear little KatieMor. Next to that, retired lobsterman Jim Johnson lived with Mario Perkins. Jim with his cane and Mario with his walker both relied on the Limerick Block elevator as the only way they could stay living out their end days in their own hometown. Donna Constantine, the librarian. The Halls, who had a business training nonprofits how to organize. And Tom O’Sylvan -- Tomayo -- the building manager. Libby often heard his distinctive footsteps heading down the stairs and out the door late in the evening, his big black Irish wolfhound padding by his side.
Fingering the triskele medallion she wore around her neck, Libby stepped back and took another look at the painting. Behind the Libby-as-Huntress stood a cloaked and hooded figure, its face obscured. They stood at the edge-line between a harvested field and a late-autumn beech forest. The Libby-Huntress looked off-canvas, toward where, in the real forest just north of town that it was painted to resemble, a mysterious standing stone jutted out of the ground in a mossy clearing. The stone -- a foot taller than Libby, and covered with a patchwork of pale green and orange lichens -- had become a grounding point for Libby in her many hours of wandering through the woods, gathering fiddleheads, ramps, and nettles to eat, along with oak galls and dyer’s polypore mushrooms to make ink and paints.
That man whose face lay hidden below the dark hood haunted Libby’s restless dreams. She could feel him now, pulling her out of her studio again, out past the brick walls of the Limerick Block, beyond the small bounds of the village of Lisna, back into the painting, back into the trees.
The bright green drop of paint let go and landed with an audible plop on one of Libby’s black canvas sneakers. Libby looked down.
I just need a good long walk, she thought. If only this rain would let up. A few hours in the forest would set her back to rights, let her get some sleep, some real sleep, a night without fractured bits of nightmare shocking her awake. Visions of the stone, the hooded man, a hunt, and all-consuming flame.