Ghost Story: That Old Saw, Again...


J. Edward Tremlett


Yeh wanna hear me story, then? Well I'll tell yeh. Won't save yeh, unnerstand?

Nah... tellin yeh this don't make us nothin. I could just be talkin teh meself, right?

Right, then. A story it is.

I came over teh this great nation a yers a wee while ago. It were during that great an bloody war yeh all were havin over the darkies. Now me, I was just a simple Irish lad, come over the sea to do some honest work an make an honest living. Didn't know that yeh loved me so much right from the start that yeh'd want me to fight for yeh, now did I?

I stepped offa the boat an some toff with a tophat handed a piece a paper. 'Here, me good man,' he says, 'Sign yer name right here if yeh please.'

'What's this?' I asked.

'Just sign it, son,' He said.

'I can't read it, old man,' I said: 'What's it say?'

'Just sign it, son,' He said. He was like one a those machines what took me mam and pa's jobs. Clack clack clack all the day long...

Now, here I was after a long, nasty time at sea, an I wanted teh go find that work I'd been told about. So I said teh meself 'Maybe it's just another feckin form. Maybe the boat people want teh be sure I made it over. Sign it an be done with it.'

So I signed it, an the toff smiled as wide as a day in the field. An I knew I'd just kicked meself in the arse.

'Splendid, splendid,' he says, clappin me on the shoulder and tellin me teh get over teh this other ship, right next teh the one I'd come over on. I walk over there, an these boys in blue uniforms start handing me more things teh sign. Then I get a blue uniform, a kit, an then a bleedin gun.

'What's all this shite, then?' I asked.

'Yer in the Army, now, boyo,' one a the men there told me. An he was just like me - Irish, right off a the boat an unable to read his own name. Just like the rest a us, there, too. A whole boat full a us, goin down the coast to fight fer somethin we didn't know nothin about...

Them chains ain't too tight, now, are they?

No? Good. It's just I seen you squirmin in them, is all. Wouldn't want yeh ter be uncomfortable, now would I?

Right. So I was taken off ter fight in yer damn war? Me, I didn't hardly get ter fight, anyhow. First battle I was in I got shot, right down from me hip. It went in me front an out me arse, breakin the bone on the way, an I went right down screamin like the wee washer woman what comes teh tell yeh that yer goin teh die.

I laid there in the dirt an screamed, watchin the people around me fall. Watching heads get kicked open... yeh understand? I knew people fall apart like wee rag dolls when they get hit by cannon, but I never seen what a line a guns can do ter people afore then. The dirt around me turned ter mud from all the blood bein spilt, an I was bein covered in things I can't even name, just lyin down there on the ground.

We didn't win that battle, no. But we didn't lose it, neither. So I had me own people lookin after me, and what a sight that was! I moaned fer two whole days, too weak ter scream, waitin fer someone ter come along and help me an not bein listened ter.

I was Irish, see, an in the eyes a yer lot that puts me one step up from them darkies. Maybe even a step below with some a yeh. The flies came around and helped themselves teh what was left a me leg, an that was about all the helpin I got.

All yeh yankees got fixed up first, and then they finally got around teh me and me lot. An what did we get? Some sorry old whiskey-sot with a saw that hadn't stopped work fer three whole days. Yeh wouldn't have even as let him work on the wee beasts a the field. Would have been cruelty teh the animals, yeh'd have said!

By this time I couldn't hardly see him, yeh understand. I was goin in and out a the world. No food, hardly any water. He looked somethin like an angel a death, standin there with that saw. An all I really could see was that saw, too.

Yeah, that's right. It's this one I got right here. Nasty little thing, innit? If yeh listen real close yeh can almost hear the flies an the screams...

So when I seen him standin over me, with this very saw in his bloody hands, I asked him if he's the angel come to put me out a me misery. An he just smiled, knocked back a shot from his flask and went teh work.

Me leg was green an cold from just below me hip. It weren't worth nothin but ter the flies and the worms. So it had ter go. That I could understand. It was proper medicine, right?

But the sot didn't use any proper medicine, now did he? He just put that saw a his anywhere as he liked and started workin... real slow, like. He even took a moment's rest halfway through the feckin bone!

I was screamin me bloody head off. Some officer what didn't have a scratch on his face walked by an asked the man why he didn't give me nothin ter bite down on? The man said he didn't have nothin as he wanted to give me.

So the officer asks if he at least gave me a shot a whiskey? And yeh know what that man said? He said 'Seein as he's an Irishman, I figured he was already plum full a the stuff, already.'

It took him ten more long, slow strokes a that saw teh get me leg off. I were dead afore it hit the ground. I know that now, but at the time I didn't know what was happenin. Me eyes couldn't see proper an I was thinkin I was back in Ireland, somehow, only me gran...

Nah. Yeh don't need ter know about that. Like I said, this story don't make us nothin.

So there's this feelin like someone's pullin me shirt off over me head. And the next thing I know there's another toff, standin there. He's wearing this mask with a big, wide smile on it and a green cap what coulda come off a Scot.

An he said teh me 'Congratulations! Yer in the Emerald Legion.'

'What's that?" I asked. I looked down at me legs an saw that I had them both back, now. That an I could move meself, again. Twas like I wasn't ever shot.

'It's green,' this toff said: 'Green like yer leg, green like fresh wet grass what yeh slip in an break yer neck on. It's accidents, lad.'

I just looked at him, see. I'm sure yeh can remember what it was like when yeh first realized yeh'd died? No beat a yer heart, no breath in yer lungs... just a cold, dull feelin from bein stuck in a cold, dull world.

An this fellow wouldn't shut his mouth. He went on about how I coulda been with those Grim fellows over there if I'd have been shot an died clean, or how I coulda been with those Gaunt fellows over there if I'd have just laid there an died a the greenrot.

Which one are yeh, again? Ah, yer a Quiet one, now? I didn't see as there were many a those, there.

But here I was, unlucky in me death but lucky ter be in the great, Emerald Legion. 'Yeh gots ter make the best a what yer handed, lad,' he said.

'But if I'm dead, where's Lord Jesus?' I asked this fellow: 'Where's the angels come ter take me away?'

An he just smiled at me an said: 'Yeh don't have ter worry about that old story no more, lad. Here's where yeh find out the truth.'

Now, I've always been a good Catholic, yeh unnerstand. That's probably why I rose straight up like Jesus in the tomb an punched this fellow's lights right out a his feckin head.

That got me some attention from other folks wearin green caps just like his. They didn't look too happy with me, just then. So I picked up an left as fast as me legs would take me. Damn if I didn't outrun them all.

Now, it weren't too long afore I realized that if I didn't have any friends, here, then I was as good as dead all over again. Yeh need people ter stick with and stand by, right? Especially when yer new in town, an not too sure a how things work.

An that's about when I found the Spooks. They found me, really. But I'm sure yeh take my meanin.

Yeh see, one thing I appreciated about them, right from the start, is that they were straight with me. No tricks. No like that toff at the docks an his feckin papers, or that toff at the battlefield an his stories a being lucky. They told me what they were about, they told me what they could do fer me, an they told me what I'd need to do fer them.

That's right. Straight ter the point. They been straight with me ever since, an I've been straight with them. It's not what I expected out a me death, but I guess it's a damn sight better than some a the other things.

Like bein where yeh are now, right?

Now, see, yeh got no one teh blame fer this but yerself, do yeh? We're always straight with people. Maybe a little too straight.

But yeh knew, right? Yeh knew that they'd be waitin fer yeh when yeh tried ter bust the deal? An yeh knew they'd take yeh right off a the street in the light a day an no one'd so much as look at yeh? An yeh knew they'd be lockin yeh in a room with someone like me, too, right?

Now... maybe yeh didn't know about me saw.

I went back an got it after the war was over. Twas a simple thing ter bring it over here. I thought about bringin the doctor over, too, but I took one look at his state an I decided he could wait fer the Plague-Dogs.

Twasn't him I really angry at, see. Twas this.

An you'd be surprised at how strong it is. Or maybe yeh wouldn't? All those people dyin under it, takin that last thought a how it felt ter have these dull teeth scrapin through yer bones.

The bassard never sharpened it nor washed it, see. Not once through the whole war, nor after. Course, he didn't have any custom after the war, did he? Sad auld fecker, drinkin himself ter death.

An here... twas like I said? Yeh can still hear the flies and the screams when it's up close teh yer ear.

Come on, stop it. I ain't even started, yet.

It's no use screamin like that, now. I told yeh we weren't nothin just cause I told yeh me story.

This is just business, see? We were straight with yeh, but yeh weren't straight with us, an now there's got ter be a reckonin a some kind.

So lessen yeh got some reason I shouldn't be givin that reckonin out, I think we'll get started, right?

Outside the shed was a large, black man dressed as a servant might have, once. He stood with his hands in his pockets, watching for any sign of anyone being interested in this place. As he did, he rolled a lit pipe from one side of his mouth to the other and watched the sun go down over New Amsterdam.

New Amsterdam? They called it New York, these days, and he supposed that he should do the same. But in his heart it would always be New Amsterdam, regardless of what the Quick called it.

It was his memory, and he'd change it when he wanted, thank you. Freedom was a wonderful thing...

There was a bit of a rustle behind him. The Irishman came out of the shed, holding his saw. There wasn't so much as a drop of plasm on it.

"Hallo, mick," the black man said, offering him his pipe.

"Hello yerself, darkie," the irishman replied, taking it and puffing. He had a look of total satisfaction on his face.

"How long yeh been out here, then?" he asked, handing the pipe back.

"Not long," the man said: "I replaced Jacques just as you were getting to how you acquired that saw."

The Irishman smiled, holding the saw up to the fading light: "It's never too long after that bit, is it?"

"Did he tell us what we wished to know?"

"An then some. Never fails."

"Have you ever had to actually use it?"

The Irishman smiled: "Well, I think I was usin it. Just not like how it's supposed ter be."

The man nodded, smiling as he puffed at his pipe: "Quite an odd use for it, though."

"Well, tis like that Reaper told me? 'Yeh gots ter make the best a what yer handed, lad.'"

"Quite true," the man said, quickly bringing something else up to talk about. He knew the Irishman too well to just leave it at that; a dangling silence was all the excuse he needed to bring up that old saw, again...