Blood Fable
Oisín Curran


Sealed in a comet a lake burned; I lay on its beach in shock beneath the glitter of a mineral ceiling. Outside there must have been days that went on for weeks, or maybe one long night of asteroids and competing moons. I imagined that we shot past twin planets locked in tandem orbit, green planet chasing black. I invented a shattered star whose billowing gases resembled my lake’s pale flames. I daydreamed with desperation to crowd out recent memory.

In the event we must have passed too close to a sun that wrenched us from our path. Rounding it we hit the sky of a strange planet and I rattled like a nut roasting in a shell as we burned through its atmosphere. Then we dropped, smoking, into the sea. I know that we smoked as we dropped for though the comet sank, I didn’t: I shot to the surface on a raft, concussed and battered, tossed on the surf of our impact and choked by the hot vapour of our trail.

Nine weeks I drifted on that ocean waiting for my end. It found me, at last, prone on my raft in the dawn, worn out by a storm that had pitched me over heaving water for three days and nights. In those nights, between the crests of giant waves I saw pieces of the sky on fire, and shook, against my will, with each shock of thunder. For three days rain clawed my face, waves mauled me and the din split my skull. I tethered myself to the raft and surrendered.

When I woke the sea was a flat sheet to the horizon and a red sun was lumbering up the sky. On the other side of the day the last thunderclouds crept away full of water and light. I turned back and watched as the span increased between the ocean and the sun.

Now hunger took over—seventy hours since my last meal—the morning dimmed. Inventory of my rations was done with speed: three fillets of desiccated fish from the last dorado caught, and a pint of water from the still. I took a swig and spat out brine, and noted with despair the container’s ruptured seal. Breakfasting on the dorado I contemplated the spear gun, broken for the third time and probably irreparable, casualty of my last encounter with the white-tip shark that had been haunting the raft. The still could be fixed but I had lost my stock of water and must endure another molten day with a parched throat and swollen tongue. Resting my forearm on the rubber gunwale, I looked down for fish.

I was the last surviving member of an expedition that had set out a year before from a small harbor; there had been twenty of us and together we had logged a high count of unusual spectacles, but here was a new sight: my gaze dropped through numberless tons of clear water, past whale pods and schooling fish, to the lights of an underwater city. It sprawled there at the bottom of the ocean, and, whether magnified by water or magic, I saw it as clearly as I saw the sun-bleached hairs on my arm. I saw streets, towers, neon lights; I saw the city walls and the suburbs out beyond them. Hallucination clearly, consequence of hunger and thirst: so I would have thought but for the wonders of the year past. But perhaps those memories were no more than a heat-dream of the ocean. The sun steadily rose over an empty world. No life above water outside my heartbeat. Unless my heartbeat too was delusory, a temporary thickness in the air, or merely water lapping, misheard, misunderstood, and I was dying, or dead, or had never been.

I looked down again; the city still drowsed far below me. Would they look up through telescopes to see my raft above them? Perhaps the bottom of the ocean was closer than I thought; perhaps the city was miniature and just below the surface. Or I was a giant on a planet of submarine Lilliputians. Or I was more than a giant. Yes, absurd to contemplate nonexistence when to the contrary I had a surfeit of life, so much so that I was a deity floating on the amniotic waters of my creation and this city trembled in my shadow!

Then I was underwater, my raft upside down.

There were a few jellyfish suspended in the warped light. A large shark nosed around my upturned raft, ten feet away.

To my right the malfunctioning spear gun hung from a ball of cork fastened to its shank. I ran out of air.


I scrambled to the surface, gasped and heaved myself, thrashing, to the right, grabbed the cork and dove under again. Too late, the grey monster was on me, jaws wide, teeth flashing. No time to position the gun for a jab. I swung my legs under me, kicked and nailed the snout. Shark recoiled, as did I from agony in my unused heel. No time for agony: it was circling back around. I wrapped the cord of the gun around my wrist, held the point rigidly in position and waited. As though propelled by an explosion, it shot towards me. I thrust with the gun but the shark swerved up at the last instant, bit the cork and dove. The cord cinched my wrist and jerked me down.

Within seconds we were far below and my heart was thudding in my ears, ribs crumpling. I swung and bounced against the hard grey body. No point trying to free myself—the cord was a noose embedded in my wrist. I seized the shark’s dorsal fin, climbed onto its back and jabbed feebly at its gills and eyes, as instructed in survival manuals, but it was useless. If anything, the creature sped up and I couldn’t find the gills anyway. My blood fizzed in my veins, lungs near bursting and I knew beyond doubt that I was done.

Three months of near-death struggle and before that the outrageous adventures of the expedition, and now, an end I had never foreseen: riding the back of a murderous fish to the bottom of the sea. And straight down I saw the twinkling lights of my city growing closer. Would they collect my bones, the citizens down there? Place them in some museum that they kept of the castaway corpses who fell from their sky? I needed to breathe; I needed to breathe, knowing, of course, that the water-breath would be my last. Yet the ocean was so warm it seemed not water at all, but the thick air of a city summer. I had the sensation of riding the back of some great bird. I felt feathers under me, the shark’s nose was a beak, its head the head of a hawk; and looking down I saw that the city was built on an island and I recognized the shape of the island and gasped—inhaling a lungful of dirty wind. It smelt of gasoline exhaust and I thought I could hear cars honking far below.

Now the bird stopped its headlong plunge and flattened out into a languid downward spiral. We were level with high-flying gulls. They wheeled and flung themselves through columns of air around us as we dropped, my hawk and I, to the city below. At length I could make out a park and as we swept down below its treetops I spotted a young couple—a man and a woman sitting on the grass. I knew them. And at the same time I understood that the creature beneath me was no longer a bird. It’s wings beat too fast to see and my hands were buried in fur behind gigantic, spherical eyes that sparkled in the sunlight. I was skimming over blades of grass aboard a fly. We closed in on the couple where they sat enjoying the spring air. The man said something; the woman, who was to be my mother, threw back her head and laughed. Without hesitation we rose from the grass and flew up her nose.



Eleven years and nine months later I heard my mother yelling that she wasn’t going to die. She must have been yelling for I was nearly fifty feet away in the outhouse at the time. Perhaps my memory of the event is coloured by later conversations with her in which she explained that she had decided death, at that date, was off the table since she hadn't finished raising me. Yet, according to her, there was no yelling. She claims that she received her diagnosis in a hospital, not in the mail. Yet my memory persists. In it, I sit on the ragged plywood hole of our outhouse, reading Dunsany’s account of how Ryan got out of Russia, glancing up from time to time to take in the view of the woods through the open door, or rather, the doorless opening. Through it could be seen the tangerine and lemon coloured leaves shuddering down from the autumn trees, a squadron of geese flying south, the horns of a white-tailed buck or two snorting and crashing through the bushes to my right. My bowels had long since emptied, my buttocks were numb and I knew that when I eventually stood my skin would be indented with the shape of the toilet hole, so I hovered between the discomfort and the pleasure of the interlude. The warm odour of my excrement had long since cooled and drifted off and I had begun to contemplate closing my book, wiping myself and rising when I heard my mother’s shouts of defiance against death.

As it happened I had just become familiar with death. Only a few days earlier a drunken hunter had mistaken my cat Shadow for a raccoon and felled her with a single bullet to the heart. That he was drunk and had misidentified her is a surmise—we never met the man, but inebriated hunters were known to infest the surrounding forest and it was raccoon season and Shadow was a “coon cat” and did bear a remarkable resemblance to those creatures. In any case, she was dead. We found her one morning under her favourite tree where she had gone to quietly expire.

Though she was my first love and though the blood from her bullet wound covered me, I did not cry. My mother wrapped her in a winding sheet while my father dug her grave. As she disappeared under handfuls of dirt it occurred to me that she’d been likewise invisible before I watched her slip from her mother’s body four years earlier. For that invisibility I had no name; perhaps it too was death. All that afternoon I considered the matter with desperate attention to quell the sob welling in my chest for if permitted to erupt I knew it would destroy me. At length I asked Myles (my father) if, in addition to being life’s terminus, death also preceded birth, and if not what did? He caught one word and not the others.

Death falls! he cried and whirled his ax, Death falls on your neck! Ax paused flash-welded to the sky. Beads of sap boiled up from the pale face of a log to meet the sweat raining from Myles’s nose. The ax fell—log snapped apart and knocked the ground; Myles rested, head bound in a sweat-soaked rag. I caught up the log halves, stacked them and placed a whole one upright for division. Death is simple, he declaimed, Unlike birth which is a feat of unparalleled difficulty. A feat of rage—explosive. We each of us seek our incarnation. The ax fell again and wedged in the log. Feverishly, his face locked in a grin, Myles raised ax with log and banged the ensemble on the aching stump. Sweat flew from him and from the rag on his head and the rag at his neck and his dripping shirt, until the log sundered and he leaned against a tree, breathless and purple. You chose us, he gasped, You picked us from the lineup and now we’re in for it.

From her position nearby where she was planting a spindly pear sapling over Shadow’s grave, Iris (my mother) called out that although I was, without question, the cause of their union, I couldn’t be blamed. Myles replied that I certainly could be—it was only logical. I blame him, he said proudly, but I admire him too—the effort it must have taken to force the two of us together. To beget is simple—to be gotten is a trial of cunning and tenacity. Iris raised her dirt-streaked, tear-stained face at this and retorted, For a man to beget is to pleasurably pollinate. For a woman—nine months with cantaloupes hanging from your chest and a watermelon in your belly to be shat whole at the end of it.

An endeavour at which you failed, Myles grunted as he smote the next log. I slapped black-flies and gaped at a puddle of water smeared with a metallic rainbow of spilt chainsaw gas. I daydreamed, or tried to, but it was no use . . . their voices rose inch by inch. Like Caesar’s mother, Myles went on, You required a blade. Iris paled. Inform your son where you were then! she exclaimed, Bidding adieu to your lovers while your child was cut from my body. Myles responded that he’d done that long before, months before, and, as she well knew, on the day of my birth he walked with trepidation in the hospital garden (as though in Gethsemene’s antipode) awaiting the arrival of his son, his heir, his fate. Yes, of course, now Iris remembered (how could she forget?) that he had strolled among the lilacs while she bled. This, said Myles, is rank exaggeration, as usual, but how, in any case, could she be expected to remember anything from that glorious day when she was doped to the gills for the knife, while he, he was in a state of ecstatic transport as he beheld and held me in his arms for the first time.

I remember, I said quietly but abruptly, and fell to the ground in a trance.


A hundred years had passed since a shovel had struck this soil or an ax divided the local wood; the stones of an old farmhouse foundation had become the outline of a frog pond and trees swarmed over the undrained, swamp land erasing all evidence of human toil. Now my parents had come to reclaim it with chainsaws and fire. For my part, I advanced with a pint-sized bowsaw through the close alders whispering apologies to the saplings that I gingerly severed from their roots and watching salamanders start slowly from beneath overturned stones. And later, after the wreckage and the bonfires, the crack of hammer blows bounced back from the receded forest as my father and his fellow disciples raised beam over post and a house stood once again on the land. In the middle of that land, on a clump of grass I lay in my trance, feet to the trees, head to the house. Loose corners of the black tar paper swaddling the house were flapping and membranes of plastic that served as windows bellied and smacked in a wind that blew in over the forest from the ocean. And how do I recall these details if I was in a trance? Perhaps memory fills in the scene on my behalf. I do recall my parents kneeling above my prone body waving away the black-flies; panic-stricken as I spoke from my reverie. And they tell me that my eyes had rolled back in my head and my joints were rigid. Sealed in a comet, I muttered, A lake burns.

Miles picked me up from the grass and carried me into the house. Iris rushed ahead to prepare a battery of flower remedies and herbal tinctures. Settled on a bench, staring blindly at the ceiling I continued, detailing my travails aboard the comet and the raft.

My poor little pumpkin seed, Iris cried, We must take him to hospital. She was bathing my forehead with a potion-soaked cloth. Settle down, Myles said, He’s fine. Let him speak for it seems that, like Yeats’s wife or Edgar Cayce, he has access to another plane of consciousness. He speaks of the adventure of his incarnation. It is an immram, a Celtic vision voyage through the bardo spoken of in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Unperturbed, I continued, describing the strange transformation of the shark.

My little potato beetle, said Iris, by now typing dictation at warpspeed on her manual Olivetti. Myles too was scrawling notes in his nearly illegible (but aesthetically intriguing) penmanship. When I retrieved them years later he told me that, following Yeats, he still intended to devise from them a vast mytho-poetic hermeneutic. For her part, Iris had undertaken extensive revisions of my muddled, run-on sentences. The onion-skin sheaves of her typing would, over time, come to contain great quantities of revisions, cross-outs and notes in the margins. It is from my parents’ combined records that I now reconstruct that trance-narration. Filtered, then, through the syntax and vocabulary of three adults, how far from, or close it is to, the original delivery of my eleven-year-old self I cannot know.

Whether or not I remarked my scribes at the time I don’t remember. Neither can I recall whether my trances were involuntary or self-induced; whether I faked it all or genuinely recalled an uncanny vision from another world.  These days I have no creed other than confusion, nor do I know anything certain regarding my existence before or after the life I currently lead. Indeed, this life is mystifying enough. Nabokov alleges that the cradle rocks above an abyss and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. But is this common sense? It is not common to me. I find nothing sensical about birth or death.

In any event, it would seem that we all three wished to believe that some grandeur had generated the lives that we were then living. And so I spoke (or muttered, according to the marginalia) as Iris typed and Myles scribbled. I described how my adventures had begun a year before the descent of the comet.



I had been lying on a beach, tightly wrapped in a moth-eaten pea coat when a young man named Rook came across me. There had been the scraping of the shale rock underfoot as he approached—a lonely sound that gave the impression of hollow stones lying on top of a hollow planet, grinding under the salt-stained, weather-worn leather soles of Rook’s shoes. They were city shoes, expensive at one time, and heavy, strange footwear for a cabin boy. He walked up to me where I lay damply napping in the overcast light, and said that all was ready, the ship prepared, the crew assembled, and that I should come at midnight for he would be on watch then and could spirit me aboard. Rook grimaced down at me (but that was the shape of his smile) and then continued his walk.

I did not follow him, didn’t want to press my luck—it had been by following him that I had convinced him in the first place: a week before when I saw him stalking the beach, staring at the waves, I recognized him as a crew member of the Lizzy Madge, and seized my moment, begging for passage in pathetic and enthusiastic terms. He grinned, and that was the first time I saw his smile: gaunt, nearly skeletal; when I think back to it I wonder if there weren't some vanity in the way he tried to conceal his nicotine-stained teeth: the quick, involuntary spasm of rictus, a funny canine grin followed, almost as quickly, by an attempt to put the lips back in place, bringing the curtain down prematurely on the smile. He smiled, clamped the smile, and promised that he would think about it and had I any money? I had a little. He nodded skeptically at the amount, scratched his chin and said he would come back in a few days. We left it at that and he continued to walk the beach, smoke and watch the waves.

So, this day, three later, full of hope and fear, I returned to my sea-cave. It was a decent shelter, the driest of several holes in the headland that formed the eastern border of the beach. It was where I’d lived for the past six weeks, subsisting on raw bivalves and the dregs of Night Harbor back alley trashcans.

Now, at last, I was on my way. I paid my respects to my hovel, gathered up from their hiding places my two belongings—a photograph and a copper turtle, and, at midnight, headed for the port.

Night Harbour was a backwater, barely quaint, a hinterland of fisherpeople that gave off a perpetual odour of diesel and brine. But there, at the end of its crumbling, poorly lit dock floated the Lizzy Madge, rocking dimly in its own private atmosphere of scruffy glamour.

As I walked up the gangplank I gripped the railing and felt the engine throbbing in it; the blue paint still tacky and stinking from its latest coat, the irregular surface a record of adventures, after each of which a rough scrape-down, a thick batter of blue slapped on, the engines retooled, the barnacles shucked off, the hold stocked with provisions and the blunt nose turned out to sea once again for some new destination reeking of corsairs, dubloons, crossed swords . . .

A hand gripped mine and wrenched me through a doorway. I heard Rook’s voice urging silence, then the door closed and locked and I was in the dark.