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The 2023 Second Prize

The Hourless House

by Oliver Back

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The famed poet, Dylan Thomas, was ordered by his doctor to abstain from alcohol. He was
dispatched from London to dry up … in County Donegal, Ireland.

Shivering, Thomas crossed Glen Lough in a rowboat. The mist whispered across the bay.

Daylight cowered behind the reigning mountains.

“Brave man to stay in that house at this time of year,” said the boatman. “The housekeeper was evicted on Christmas Eve one hundred years ago. She cursed the house: ‘None who sleep there on this night shall ever wake.’ The family was found dead the next day.”

“No wonder the rent is cheap,” replied Thomas.

“I wouldn’t scoff. Faeries and banshees dwell here. And the dead of Ireland.” As the words frosted on the air Thomas felt a thousand eyes leering from the mountains and a hiss inside his head. He saw the house warp in the wind.

The boatman left him at the bay. Seeking solitude to write and resist temptation, Thomas faced a ten mile walk to the nearest town. Milk and bread were left for him each day, but he never saw the supplier. He longed to explore but snowstorms and gales forced him inside. One morning, the delivery included an addition and a note: ‘Poitín warms, but drink in moderation. More than one spirit emerges from the bottle.’

Thomas hid the alcohol, but as Christmas neared, he craved tender oblivion. He wrote of the ‘hourless house’ that slumbered in a ‘funny dimension.’ Thomas found it curious that no matter how much poitín he drank, the bottle was always half-full. The fire blazed without intervention and one night he screamed “I am the dead!” and a voice murmured “Join us,” into his heart.

It was Christmas Eve. Thomas had long stopped tracking the calendar but the tolling of jingle bells that stalked him round the house whispered festive dread. He flung open the door to leave, but he was faced not with glacial wilderness as before, but an ancient dark. What was left of his soul curdled as he peered into the void. Something spoke from the house:

“You shall go peaceful into that long night.”

Thomas turned and saw a woman veiled in a cloak of spiders. Every nerve sparked to run but he knew the chasm behind him was the end of all things. Despite the terror, he glowed knowing he was no longer alone. He proffered the bottle to the spirit, “Would you care to join me for a drink?”

***

Thomas woke to pounding on the door. The boatman was stunned to see him alive and invited him for Christmas Dinner. Thomas accepted, relishing golden company. He returned to England, but the words of the spirit haunted him every night. He was compelled to ink his pen and write a poem.

It was published to acclaim that following year. On Christmas Eve, Thomas stumbled home drunk from the pub. As church bells rang at midnight, he felt that tinkled hiss and the woman appeared.

“You will pay for changing my words.”