“I see the company of timid ghosts. At evening also when the sun is low. Each with its finger to its lips goes by poor wild unutterable mysteries.” — William Butler Yeats

Ireland, October 1847

The young physician from London had just arrived in Ireland at the urgent invitation of a famed colleague, regarding a mysterious exotic ailment. His host refused to elaborate further. Intrigued, he had accepted and soon came to regret it. He had naively anticipated being enchanted by the cheer of friendly locals and the picturesque sight of lush green hills and fields. Instead, he was confronted by a people and land tortured by starvation and desperate poverty.

The country roads that he traveled by horse-drawn hansom carriage were thronged with the dispossessed and starving…some accepting exile to the Americas. Others aimlessly staggered wandering the roads weakened by hunger, having suffered eviction, and now were condemned to freeze and starve. Caravans of wagons loaded with bountiful food rode past the emaciated spectres of people.

One wagon was stuck in the uneven road and it was swarmed by men, women, and children maddened by hunger. Armed men beat them off.

“Move back or we will shoot ye!”

The shots that ensued and the prolonged bereaved wail would echo in his recurring nightmares. A perpetual keening haunted the air. Condemned poachers stealing to feed their families were hanged by makes shift gallows on the roadside as “an example.” His eyes lingered on those of an emaciated woman clutching an incessantly crying child. She soothed him with an almost skeletal hand.

“They brought this all on themselves…don’t heed any Fenian talk to the contrary,” the pompous coachman advised him.

“We have a gentleman passenger onboard. Keep off. I’m warning you…”

Hands reached through the coach window begging for the smallest scrap of food. The coachman intervened with his whip…

He opened his mouth to object, yet timidly held his tongue. It would not do to alienate his hosts prematurely, he reluctantly reasoned. He curtained his window and sighed deeply, brooding over the mysterious circumstances of his invitation from a prominent colleague.

The storm had swept in suddenly and fiercely. In the aftermath, the local patrols found an entire shipwrecked fleet broken on the rocky shore…some were merchant ships, most were coffin ships, ships carrying refugees and exiles of hunger. One ship especially harboured a dark secret…an inspection revealed a grisly discovery.

“A slave smuggler,” it was determined. The lone survivor was shackled amid rows of chained corpses in the hold. He was oblivious to the rescuers, gibbering and singing feverishly it seemed, and shaking from exposure to the elements. The captain and crew were unaccounted for. Suddenly, a prominent physician who catered to the local elite arrived on the scene, insisting that the enigmatic castaway be placed under his care.

The condition of the enigmatic castaway eluded him…he consulted standard references and then more obscure texts to no avail before sending for a distant relation…a novice physician he could manipulate. Whatever is afflicting him, it must be contained, he resolved.

Warm broth by the bedside remained untouched.

“Feed him. I need him alive…for my studies…his condition is…most intriguing…”

“How so, sir?” his steward asked.

“As if I would ever consult you. You are in my service for your brawn, not your brain…”

“One of the housemaids was caught stealing food…says its for her starving family.”

“Throw her out of this house and whip her beforehand. We’ll have none of that.”

He pored over his books, consulted obscure texts…

“His affliction is unknown to me…some exotic malady. It must be contained here…and not allowed to spread in these shores. Restrain him.”

“The bindings won’t hold…he bit me!”

“Restrain him, I said!”

“It’s George, sir…the bite he got from the patient is getting infected…it’s getting worse…” his steward fretted.

“I’ll see to it later,” he said dismissively.

The patient thrashed, shuddered convulsively, writhing in the throes of some malaria-like fever, his mouth frothing. His eyes turned pupilless. In feverish dreams and red visions…of a tropical island and flames, ritual dancing, and drums in atavistic rapture. He thrashed, writhing violently as if in fever, envisioning himself dancing around flames to drumbeats…the drum increased in tempo like a climax to a ritual. Lips moved in incantation. His eyes rolled back to pupilless whites.

The young physician was greeted outside by one of the manor house maids. Maeve he learned her name was.

“They’re torturing him,” she confessed. “Please don’t tell the master I said anything…

“I am sworn to professional discretion, miss.”

“You are a gentleman.”

“I’d like to think so…”

“What are ye doing here, then?”

He found himself blushing awkwardly at her deep green eyes and lilting brogue of her melodious voice…found himself thinking of her later as he donned his best suit for a party at the invitation of his host at a stately country manor house against a background of brooding hills.

The matriarch of the manor had taken to sleepwalking in nights leading to the storm…she had stepped out of the manor house during the raging maelstrom. She was found shuffling aimlessly amid a procession of starving wanderers, frozen in place from the deep cold like eerie statues. She succumbed to illness and lay in state amid flowers and candles in a dark room.

“The hearse carriage is late…must have stopped at a tavern, no doubt.” The lord of the manor grimaced skeptically.

In the depth of the night, the enigmatic patient suddenly began to sing in a calypso voice. Incantations of necromancy echoed down the corridor to the room of the deceased. Eyes opened suddenly and she rose at his bidding from the coffin…

“Untie me…remove the chains…” he whispered.

Maeve, making her rounds, saw him illuminated in the candelabrum light; his frightened eyes met hers. She sighed compassionately. She looked around to see that they were alone.

“Go then…out the window…quickly, before they see you…Godspeed.”

She watched his retreating form before he was enveloped in the mist…she blew out some of the candles, and in the darkened manor, she saw a gowned figure at the foot of the stairs, trailing shadows as it seemed to glide rather than stride back to her room…and coffin…

“Sweet Mary and Joseph…” she crossed herself.

He fled under cover of mist and darkness…drawn to a place of ancient power…crisscrossed wounds of the lashes inflicted slaver’s whip pulsed in the cold. He stood amid a ring of ancient monoliths and lit a fire, its flames swayed like charmed serpents as he began to chant. Transfixed, he fell on the cold ground, shuddering spasmodically. Hundreds of eyes reopened with his in the darkness…bodies rose with him…

“I hope you’ve brought your appetites.” The affable host welcomed his many guests to his manor house. They were escorted from their carriages by liveried servants into an opulent banquet hall and ballroom.

The young doctor politely excused himself. Guided by a lantern, he turned as he saw a shadow and almost dropped the lantern. He saw a pale sunken-cheeked face watching him intensely.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear you approach. Here…I packed away some food…”

He dropped it as the figure lunged forward with startling speed; others appeared, thronging the food ravenously. He backed away unnerved. Something uncanny about this. He retreated to the stables…the horses were nervous, as if they sensed something. Outside, the mastiff barked repeatedly as the host tried to address the company for a toast.

“Do see what’s bothering him,” he muttered irritably to his steward.

Mist clouded the window…suddenly, a pale hand materialised…thin, almost skeletal-armed and trailed over the pane searchingly, leaving scratch marks…then others appeared and began to claw at the window.

“How unsightly…my apologies, ladies and gentlemen,” the host grimaced.

“Perhaps offer then food?” a guest ventured.

“How gracious, miss, but one mustn’t encourage begging. If they are hungry, Her Majesty has graciously established proper facilities for their benefit…”

“You mean workhouses…”

“No need to trouble yourselves over such matters on this auspicious occasion, dear guests. My man will see that these uninvited guests will not trouble us further…see to them, Giles,” he ordered his thuggish gamekeeper…

“Beat then back if you need to. They are alarming the guests…”

A few leagues distant, a British officer drew reign before a mist-enshrouded field, ordering his command of redcoats to halt.

“Rider approaching! Who goes there?”

“God save the queen!” a voice cried out in a frantic tone.

“Hold your fire!”

“Captain…” A haggard disheveled rider saluted.

“What news?”

“Our fort and garrison have been overrun.”

“Those guns are new and some of the finest in Her Majesty’s army. Nothing living could withstand those guns.”

“Nothing did,” he answered cryptically.

“The regiments have fallen back to Dublin. You’ve been ordered to cover the retreat, to the last man if need be…orders from the top. Good protect you all.”

The rider galloped away with a nervous glance behind, leaving them waiting in tense expectation in the rising mist hovering before them eerily.

“Form ranks!”

He heard a drum then…an ominous throb in the darkness…not the anticipated regimental drum

of an advancing army. Like a tribal drum…its tempo increased like the climax of a dark ritual.

They clutched their rifles in anticipation of what would emerge from the mist. Suddenly, a riderless cavalry force erupted from the mist, throwing their ranks into wild disarray.

“Regroup! Form ranks!”

He expected a great force of regular French soldiers to approach and intended to meet them fire for fire. Shapes stirred in the mist, amorphous at first. As if restless shadows were granted form and face gaunt figures stirred in the mist. A crowd of haggard famished people? Only a rising then? All this for a mere peasant uprising? He scowled contemptuously.

“You are to disperse in the Queen’s name or face royal justice…failure to comply will be treated as an act of treason. That is an offense punishable by death…”

They seemed oblivious to threat of the guns. His horse seemed uncharacteristically skittish…stomping and bucking…something was making it nervous…they pressed forward and a nagging feeling of alarm vexed him. Something was untoward about this…every word he uttered and snort by his unusually restless horse, steamed in the chill air, yet despite the many present among the advancing crowd, none could be seen breathing visibly. They appeared unarmed…not a pike or scythe to be seen among them. They reached out their hands, moaning.

“Disperse in the King’s name! Rebellion will not be tolerated. Under her majesty’s law it is punishable by…death…” he repeated.

His eyes locked on a pale face amid the throng with startling recognition. His façade of composed and stern gravitas faltered…

“This…this is impossible…I had you hanged…and you…”

His horse grew more restless and wheeled uncontrollably as they began to mass in greater numbers and shuffle forward, their hands reaching out…He raised his sabre…His hand trembled at the hilt.

‘Orders? Orders, sir?” a soldier prompted…

“Give…give them a volley!”

“You heard him! Volley!”

Their ranks erupted in a devastating salvo.

“First rank fire! Second rank fire! Third rank Fire! Fire at will!”

Acrid dark smoke mingled with the mist…miasmically.

“Cease fire!”

Surely nothing could survive that…suddenly, figures lunged in from the mist…

“Fix bayonets!”

He was thrown from his rearing horse, that promptly bolted. He had fallen awkwardly and struggled to rise, suppressing an unseemly, agonised cry. They came then…like a wild force of nature…a dark wave of insatiable hunger. He brandished the sabre, but they heeded it not…

“God save the…”

He screamed as teeth bit into his arm and his sabre fell….and he was submerged by the onslaught…

“Regroup!” he cried out…


They were already in full retreat…scattered shots…then silence.

Inside the mansion, their congenial host reassured his guests.

“And with that, our valiant protectors have no doubt set our enemy to flight…no doubt the rabble have been put in their place by Her Majesty’s finest. A toast then. God save the queen and her valiant soldiery.”

“God save the queen,” they choired, raising their glasses. “Some music then…Stradivarius…please feel free to waltz…”

Strains of the music could be heard outside as massing shadows were cast on the wrought iron fence…it fell to a sudden onslaught that converged on the manor house.

“Ah, one of our gallant saviours…Dudley, a bottle of our finest for our good captain.”

A bloodied, wild-eyed redcoat with a torn uniform burst in.

“Run, ye fools!”

A few others followed. They broke the panes of the windows with their muskets and fired out into the darkness. Suddenly, the gamekeeper outside was pressed against the glass, shattering the panes; hands reached through, forcing the door open. Knowing what was coming, one of the redcoats put his gun to his own temple.

They undead swarmed the banquet table, devouring the goose and venison. The more frail figures were crowded out. Their eyes turned to the host and guests intently. Tables were overturned as barricades to hinder their inexorable advance as the guests cowered in terror; flames rose higher and the dead drew ever closer…

“Take them…take them all if you’re hungry…leave me!” the host screamed.

On impulse, he grabbed a serving girl.

“Here! Here! Take her instead! She is nobody!”

He shoved her forward.


The doctor pulled a medieval sword and shield mounted on the wall and stepped in to save her as hands reached for her…

“Maeve, come on. Follow me.”

Their soulless eyes smoldered crimson in reply to the fire. They reached for the host then, their shadows converging like a dark wave. He cried out a final time as burning debris fell; the roof gave way and he was buried with the undead in flaming wreckage as they swarmed him voraciously.

“I have a horse waiting…come on, Maeve. I’ll get you out,” the doctor urged.

He pulled her up on the horse…the burning manor was an inferno behind them…he drew rein as he beheld the besieging ranks of the undead, encircling them. He was a man of the scalpel, not the sword.

He confronted the voodoo shaman. His face was painted ritually pale. Crimson streaks like red tears striped his sunken cheeks. The undead stood at his back like an army. He sheathed the sword.

“May we pass…we are no enemies of yours…”

The dead parted ranks, allowing them to pass. They rode for the harbour and evacuation ships bound for the Americas. He awoke from exhausted sleep to the sway of a deck and huddled people crowded around him. A sudden storm forced their departing ship to limp back to Liverpool. Suddenly, they were intercepted by a British man of war commanded to stop the spread of the mysterious infection.

“They mean to sink us…”

He awoke to the jolt of his carriage ride, a nightmare…nothing more.

The carriage rode into the manor house grounds and he was welcomed congenially by his host.

“I trust your journey was eventful. Pleasure before business for our distinguished guest of honour.”

Above the toasts and laughter…outside he heard a drumbeat…louder and louder…

“Is there someone at the door?” the host asked…

“Do see who it is…”