[ Back to Liam ]
"Nah, my parents never married. No, they were totaly in love. Just never got a piece of paper to prove it."
Victoria Hayden met Gabriel Cormic while she was attending Trinity College in Dublin. Gabe was partaking in the best pubs of Temple bar when Vicky and some of her college mates came in. Gabe excused himself from his friends with the classic, "Gotta go see about a girl." Six months later, Victoria was pregnant with Liam.
She finished college, but only barely. The traditional catholic university did not make it easy on the unwed mother. The three of them lived in a small flat together and made life work for the most part. Gabe never proposed, and Vicky never suggested marriage. She seemed to get that Gabe's reluctance was more complicated than just fear of commitment. He was a good provider though, working by day as a warehouse loader for a shipping company, and by night as a bouncer in the Pub they'd met at. He kept the bills paid and food on the table until she got a job related to her marketing degree.
When Liam was two, her new job took them to Belfast. Gabe seemed relieved to be leaving Dublin. He bought a small house from a cousin in Bellyclare, a small village about 11 miles out of Belfast. The three of them moved in, and gave every indication of settling down.
At first, Vicky was fine with Gabe's strange relatives popping in at all hours and taking her not-husband off to do unspoken things only hinted at in hushed tones at the doorway. Gabe always came back, and usually with money. Maybe not for a few days sometimes, but he made sure to always make it up to her.
It wasn't until the ravens started talking to her son that she started demanding explanations.
Young Liam, like many of his kin, attracted the attention of all manner of blackbirds as an infant and toddler. In Dublin, she'd be a little freaked out when crows would land on the stroller and drop things in the bassinet. She couldn't always shoo them away, but Gabe would whistle at them and they'd leave off for a few hours. He'd usually joke about it (as he did a great many things) and make her feel better. But if he wasn't around they would gather around and... watch...
It didn't get any better in Northern Ireland either, if anything, it got worse. Toddler Liam would babble at them, and they'd start squawking excitedly and fly around, chorusing at each other. The worse incident was the summer after Liam turned three. She left him out on the front yard to play while she ran inside for sandwiches. When she came back out, the yard and surrounding trees probably had three hundred blackbirds. Crows, Ravens, Magpies, Rooks, even Jackdaws. They sat silently in tree branches, on the grass, on fence posts, on her car -- everywhere. They just... stared. Some at her son, some at her. She walked as carefully as she could, picking her way through the mind boggling number of birds, trying to disturb them as little as possible. They watched without comment as she picked Liam up and walked back into the house. As soon as the door shut, they took off with a cacophonic storm of caws, crows, and the thundering of a thousand wings taking flight. She wept in fear until Gabe came home from work that day.
He said nothing as she relayed the story, swearing she was not insane and hadn't imagined it. He said he believed her, and that he'd fix things. Vicky demanded answers, but Gabe just grabbed his coat and left. A few hours later he returned with Lucy, a 4 month old Irish wolfhound. Vicky was not a dog person, and was especially unsure about a dog that would grow to be roughly the size of a small pony, but Liam shrieked in delight as the puppy went bonkers trying to lick his face off. Gabe promised the pup would keep the birds away. And she did. Birds don't like to be chased by barking puppies. But puppies love to chase birds.
There was never an incident like that again. At least not that Vicky was witness too.
Lucy quickly grew, and it was clear she was Liam's dog. At five he could ride her around like a pony, and she never minded, no matter how much he was scolded for it. Vicky's initial misgivings about having such a large breed were eventually drowned out by her appreciate for a dog smart enough she could trust the her to baby sit her... energetic... child. Lucy would herd Liam in by curfew, bark when he was into mischief, comfort him when he was upset. Gabe often called Lucy, Liam's "Furry older sister." He thought this was hilarious. Vicky would only half smirk. She was grateful for Lucy, no matter how much she ate.
Gabe, while never failing to provide for his young family, was often gone. He would disappear for days at a time, often with strange men and women introduced as his cousins or uncles. The only person he would sometimes disappear with that was never referred to as a family member, was Damien White. The two men seemed to be close, often seeming to be college mates, though it was obvious Damien was far more educated than Gabe. And British, when Gabe was very Nationalist in his political outlooks. Still, he was the only one of the strangers that would show up and treat Vicky like a regular human being, and not just this girl Gabe was living with. She liked Damien.
But only being around fifty percent of the time was taking its toll on their relationship. As well as never marrying. They fought more, and he disappeared for longer stretches. She was tired of secrets, and Gabriel's life was sewn up with them. His family treated her with indifference or contempt; Lucy the dog would get more attention than she would if one of his weird uncles would show up late on a Friday to drag Gabe off to deal with the family business.
Vicky imagined everything but the truth. She thought maybe he was in the IRA. As Nationalist as he was, it seemed likely -- but his friendship with Damien threw wrenches in that. She thought maybe he was in the Irish mob -- long disappearances, only to come back with a wad of cash. But he never had any weapons, not even so much as a billy club.
Never in a million years would she have guess he was a shapeshifting hound, who spent his long absences fighting off demonic horrors, rogue fae, vampires, and formorians.
Not until they came knocking on their cottage door looking for him.
Beginning of the End
"I remember my mum screamin'. Then a crash like someone threw a car through the side of the house... because they had."
Liam was seven when the formorian giant found the cottage on the edge of the river where they lived. Gabriel had been gone for three days without a word. It was the dead of winter, and the middle of the night.
Lucy barked for thirty minutes solid. Vicky, unable to do anything to comfort the dog, had gone to chain her up outside in egasperation. Liam was screaming, because Lucy never slept outside when it was cold. Vicky had no sooner opened the front door, leash in hand, to put the Irish wolfhound outside when Lucy broke free and tore off into the darkness, barking the whole while.
Vicky picked herself up slowly, calling after the infuriating animal, when she heard a yelp and whimper that could only belong to Lucy.
As Vicky stood on the porch, and stared off into the darkness. She yelled out for Lucy one more time. Tentative. Questioning. Fearful. On the very edge of the porch light was her car, then same one she'd had since college. Without warning, the back end lifted off the ground with a sickening metallic crunching grind. Then the front end lifted up.
Vicky could only stare.
Then it stepped into the light. The giant. Mutated and diseased, it held her volvo above it's head like milk crate. Mucus oozed from open sores on it's cheek, one eye rotted in the socket. It's other eye, jaundiced and yellowed, stared at her with a rage she could taste in the back of her throat.
It roared at her.
And then it threw the car at her. It seemed to travel through the air in a slow motion arc.
She stumbled backwards, and it saved her life. The silver volvo crashed through the front door and into the living room.
It lunged toward her, but then the hound was on it. Growling savagely the giant black hound ripped into the giant. At first Vicky thought it was Lucy, but the hound was easily twice the size of the grey wolfhound, and much darker.
The hound and the giant wrestled around in the yard. The giant trying to grab the great hound, but the hound was too quick. it leapt and snapped great jaws. Then the other hounds were on it. Three more great hounds leapt on it's back. Roars of anger turned to shouts of pain as the four beasts tore flesh and bone from the fomorian. The largest, the great black that arrived first, delivered the death blow, tearing the throat from the giant.
The great black hound approached her. whimpering and crawling backwards, she could only gap in shock as the hound melted into the form of her lover, Gabriel. Demanding to know if she was hurt, he seemed beside himself with worry. She fell into his arms confused, but relieved to be alive. Over his shoulder the other three hounds became men she recognized as his cousins. They faded back into the darkness without a word.
His secret was out. Gabriel revealed all to Victoria that night. He was a werehound. Monsters existed. He and his family hunted them. To keep her and Liam and other children safe.
She swore her silence.
They found Lucy and took her to the Vet. Victoria was silent as Gabe explained how she'd been hit by a car. While the vet saved the hound, Vicky wondered how many lies she'd been told in the last few years.
Just before the disappearance of Gabe
Following a brief respite where Vicky and Gabe seemed to grow closer, they fell apart again. They lived in two different worlds, and Gabe's world was not a world Vicky was capable of being part of. The only thing that coexisted for both of them was Liam.
Gabe stuck around more, but he began teaching Liam to fight. At first it was just play slap fighting, but it grew into full fledged martial lessons even before he turned nine. Gabe said he didn't know if Liam would be a shapeshifter too, but Vicky wasn't convinced. Why all the fighting lessons then? Gabe insisted even the family that didn't change into hounds still fought monsters. She didn't like that one bit.
Liam loved it though, and it soon started becoming a problem at school as he "settled a few scores" with bullies that had bothered him, the strange kid who lived on the edge of town. After a few teacher conferences, groundings, belt whippings, and other futile punishments; Gabe maybe out of wisdom and insight into his sons's nature, maybe out of desperation, started teaching Liam to play basketball.
Basketball is not a huge sport in the UK, but it's popular enough on school yards. Maybe not as much as football or rugby, but still large enough to have several leagues -- and Gabe was a fan. Soon, shooting hoops and putting the moves on someone on the court began to take the place of beating the crap out of them. Liam got very good, very quickly.
Basketball became the thing Liam did with his dad. They went to premier games, watched it on telie, practiced out in the driveway. Things seemed to be almost normal. Gabe's cousins stopped showing up late at night too. That made Vicky happier. Damien too, but she kind of missed his clumsy courtesy.
Absent Father Figure
Just before Liam's tenth birthday, Gabe left for work and never came home.
There was no accident reported on the road, he never showed up for work that day. The bus driver says he got off at his normal stop... near the Harmony Statue on Queen's bridge... but he never showed up for his shift. The police looked for a few weeks, but then it was chalked up as an unmarried man who walked away from family life.
That didn't feel right to Vicky. Sure she and Gabe fought, all couples fight. Yeah, things hadn't been smooth between them since the giant, but running away? That just wasn't Gabe. If he was going to leave it would have been with a massive fight -- door slamming, broken dishes, crying child -- not slipping off without a whisper. He'd even kissed her goodbye that morning. She was convinced something.
After a few weeks, she even got desperate enough to call one of his uncles. They didn't know anything either, or at least, they weren't talking. But they'd look into it, the man said. The family business.
After six months, there was still no word.
And the birds had come back.
Lucy was never quite as fast as she used to be after the run in with the fomorian. She mostly lay around the house and slept now, and her hips would creak and ache if it got cold; and in Northern Ireland, it is cold a lot. She still slept in Liam's room, and down in front of the fireplace when he was at school. But she wouldn't walk him to school the way she used too. And she didn't chase the blackbirds off anymore either.
Everyday there were a couple more roosting in the trees.
It has been long enough that Vicky had almost forgotten why they'd got Lucy in the first place. But when the tenth magpie made a nest in the trees in the front yard. She remembered. By Liam's eleventh birthday, there was more than she could count. She tried traps, scarecrows, tinsel on the fence posts, and a dozen other farmers tricks for frightening off crows. None of them worked. The birds continued to come, and they watched the house. They never even touched her garden. They just roosted, squawking at each other, at her and Lucy. But mostly they just watched.
Like they were waiting for something to happen.
Liam of course, was totally unafraid of them. He would laugh at his mother's concerns. Sometimes he'd go chase them off when she got insistent. He was even mildly successful at it. Whistling at them the way his father used too. Vicky didn't miss that little detail. They'd always come back though. Sometimes it felt like more came back each time.