Night Harvest

By Eadbhard McGowan

It is a sign that autumn is close at hand, fast approaching and leading in a straight line to Samhain, when the crops and the grass stand in full splendour on the fields.

The warm weather of August is quickly gone and September and October, the harvest months, open the door to the Otherworld – just enough for souls and other weird entities to enter our world. 

The full harvest moon, nearest the autumnal equinox in September, is bright as a polished disc on the black sky, and stands illuminated by the sun on the night sky. One can see the silhouette of the old church of Ireland on top of the hill in Killorglin. The silver that the moon casts over the town reflects on the River Laune as I drive over the bridge. 

I park the car and climb to the tapas restaurant in the former church, ascending step by step. It reminds me of my walks in the old alleys in Jerusalem, Toledo or Paris. A black cat walks up with me, a night companion, but it abandons me and disappears in a side door.

I look up to the bell tower of the old building that still wears its religious pride and severity, though inside people now enjoy Dionysian pleasures. It is, therefore, not unusual to find the symbolic plants of this Greek god, vines and twirling ivy, on the walls. On a free part on the wall I see, to my surprise, a graffito sprayed in red: a triple cross, the sign of a preceptor of the Knights Templar. But who painted it on the wall? At this moment, it came back to me that the place where the church was built had been a Knights Templar encampment established by the knights who fled from France after being betrayed by King Philippe Le Bel on Friday, 13th October 1307.

Not feeling hungry, I have a mind for a few stuffed olives and a glass of wine. The restaurant is nearly empty. A woman is sitting in the corner; undefinable age, long black hair. She looks at me with an evil and malevolent glare that fills me with horror and sends shivers down my spine.

I quickly murmur the exorcism: Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux. 
May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide…

I leave a tenner on the table, make the mano cornuto in her direction, rush out of the door and walk down to Lower Bridge Street and drive out of town.

Passing by a field, I see a farmer on his old tractor cutting the grass.

I have heard a lot about making hay during full moon as a kind of superstition. Curious, I stop, welcoming a break. 

There is something mystical in hay-saving, but also something mystical, since time immemorial, attached to the word save, saved or saviour. 

The tractor passes by, but I do not hear a sound.

It disappears down the field to take another turn and, when the tractor comes back, the attached mowing machine is like a racing horse with floating mane and tail. When they disappear again to come back after another round, it seems the driver is wearing a white tunic. 

The overhanging shrubs and bushes obstruct my view and fool my eyes. To have a better view, I approach the corner of the field. As I stand near the fence, I am surrounded by silence.

Not a sound can be heard.

Arriving at the edge of the field I breathe in the cold, crisp air. Mist swirls just above the ground creating a grey, velvet-like carpet. A perfect night in autumn, full of the magic and mystery that fills the air of this townland. Only the cry of a late bird and the bark of a fox can be perceived.

There is no movement. No sound.

Days later, I pass by the field again and, to my surprise, the grass stands high, not a sign of a cut or a bail. Maybe I had dreamt it or mixed up the field in the darkness.

Out of curiosity, I again walk up the hill to have a look at the triple cross which intrigued me. But it was gone. Washed off, only a tiny trace of red paint left. I turn back and cross the street to Giovanelli’s. I open the door and enter the trattoria to have a double espresso or a red Ponte de Diavolo and a few oysters.

I lean back and relax in the chair and look out of the window. People walk their dogs up the street; a cyclist pushes his bicycle through the town.

At this moment, the woman who glared at me a few nights ago passes by the window, stops briefly, looks at me again with an unmercifully probing gaze, then disappears from view. I throw a bit of salt in front of the door to confuse the spell.

The Ponte de Diavolo calms my perturbed heart and the Cromane oysters are of an excellent quality. I wave goodbye to Daniele who is working in the kitchen. The steam makes him look like a Celtic magician offering sacrifice.

When I return to my car, I find a triple cross drawn into the dust on the bonnet.

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