While Kevin McManus has only been publishing books for four years, the Irish author’s fiction has already earned him awards, accolades and a fierce hallmark for intense, thrilling crime adventures. Kevin McManus is an award winning crime fiction writer from Western Ireland. He is an active member of the CWA (The international Crime Writers Association). In 2016 the author was awarded the Leonard Trophy for his writing and in 2017 and 2018 Under the Red Winter Sky and New Blood were voted the best Crime Novels of the year out of 2000 nominated books. His three Detective Ray Logue Novels: Death Rains Down, New Blood and Nine Lives have consistently received high praise and have been rewarded with high sales. He is also the author of the Conor Doyle series: “The Whole of the Moon” and its sequel “Under the Red Winter Sky” and book 1 of the John Morrigan series, “The Dark Path”. Kevin works as a secondary school teacher in Drumshanbo, County Leitrim. He has a great love for music and played in bands for over 20 years. He is also a keen supporter of Aston Villa FC.
Harvester of Sorrow
By Kevin McManus
A solitary figure toiled down the hollow mountain path, crossing steep and threatening cold grey and wet stone until she reached a valley of bare birch and oak with green bracken and dark heather. The ground was rough, like the bristles of unshaven stubble, and veiled the nakedness of the desolate soil. The muck and waste of the scrubland where nothing flourished ignored the goddess and the saints as unborn shoots were threatened by a legion of dark and primordial creatures smeared in tallow.
A harsh and wintry torrent blew wild across the cumbered land towards the lower fertile vale. A curlew screamed its shrill song as it rose over mist and craggy limestone peaks until it descended into a river gorge as if swallowed by the jaws of the earth itself.
Upon reaching the dulled lake shore, the lone woman waited as the mist coated waters lapped close to her bare and exposed feet. They were blackened with grime, mud and filth, but hard and firm from years of walking upon the cruel and unforgiving terrain.
As the boat came close to shore a sinewy limb was stretched by a strong oarsman to guide the lone woman onto the vessel which swayed gently as she crossed from land to board. No greeting was she granted by the flock of praying women who bowed their heads and maintained their soothing and dreamlike incantation. With a push from oak off gravely ground the craft did continue outward to the vast expanse of the lake.
As dawn was breaking heavy black clouds began to roll across the sky driven by a strengthening wind which was morphing into a gale. Viscous waves began their lash as the craft swung from side to side in a frantic waltz. The crooning of prayers intensified from the caoineadh, from what was previously vaguely comprehensible to now clear evocations to the Lord. However, the lone woman had no Christian comfort to console her, no assurance from pain to charm the silenced and unspoken words. Instead, she sat in silence and appeared oblivious to the tempest.
Their destination was a solitary lake isle, known locally as Church Island. Originally the settlement for a twelfth century monastery, the desolate and decrepit ruins were still visible from the western shore. In its time it was a place of peace and refuge for brethren who feared attack from the Norse. However, their kind has long since passed, their bones and dust scattered wide. Their sacred sanctuary was not sacked by the barbaric hordes of Asgard, but instead by time, by wind, by rain, by frost, by neglect and by ignorance. For time is the great conqueror of all matter, more savage than the sword, a brutal vanquisher that subjugates the living, the tree, the animal, the man and even erodes the very ground, the rock on which we stand. Nothing is permanent, everything is in flux, in change, in metamorphosis. Today, all soul’s day 1832, the Isle is a burial ground for the people from the mountains that veil the lake known as ‘Loch Na Scadog’, Lake of the Gusts.
The swiftness of the stormy tide brought the craft into the semi-circle of the eastern cove and the safe harbour of the secluded island. The boat was tied by creaking ropes as above the grave sky hovered far and wide. The passengers of the boat slowly disembarked as they continued to keen their mournful lament, turbulently, like the waves of the lake. They solaced each other, they balmed their pain.
Church island had been the cause of many a tear for lives taken by the lake, which feasted on the mangled bones of the dead under heaven’s lurid light. The stormy waters did overturn hundreds of crafts in centuries past, by wind and waves that roared like the hounds of hell and trembled the Gods themselves. Broken and grated timbers were thrown against the rocky shores with a deafening crash. Then the sorrowful winds did cry and bemoan the deaths as they whistled through loose window panes and keyholes, as if to beg forgiveness to the sorrowful for what they had done. For death is the harvester of sorrows.
Carrying a lantern on the dark November morning, a deacon led the way across the pass as the funeral cortege followed slowly and respectfully behind. In ones and twos, they trod towards the cemetery beneath a grove of majestic oaks and beyond to the open, yawning grave. Above it stood a priest in black who held a book within his hands, and as the group began to surround the plot his words of consolation and tribute began to flow most eloquently. The lone woman bowed her head in silence as the rosary beads clasped in the hands of the keening women were turned. She glowered upon the body lying next to the grave; it was of her late husband whose life was taken by consumption. No coffin shielded his mortal remains now, just a grey shroud in this rueful and gloomy isle where he will sleep in the shadow of its grace. His widow would not pay or did not possess the six shillings for a wooden box.
The lone woman had shed no tear yet, not even in his dying hour. Many did whisper she was as hard as the rough skin upon her feet. His body had been washed and cleaned by local women after some time had elapsed and laid out on the kitchen table. They realised that to wash it too quickly may have prevented the soul from leaving the body. A letter addressed to Saint Peter was placed within the grasp of his stiff fingers and a coin placed upon his palm to pay for entry at the gates of purgatory if that would be his destination.
As the prayers ceased the corpse was lowered into the ground where it would rest. Soil and rock were shovelled down hard and fast on top of it. The task was carried out quickly and in earnest as the oarsmen were nervously eager to begin the two-hour journey home before the swell upon the lake increased.
As the void was filled and the shovels levelled and patted the mound, the lone widow bent low and caressed her hand across it as one single tear dropped from her old wrinkled cheek and soaked down deep into the grave.