The Egg in The Bog, short fiction by Kieran Mc Gurk

Kieran Mc Gurk was the NI winner of The Great British Write Off in 2015. He has had five flash fiction pieces published in the last two editions of The Bramley and poetry in the last three CAPARTS anthologies. He read at the John Hewitt Festival in 2019.

In all the millions of moments in a person’s lifetime it’s possible, just possible, that among the pearls and darker grains there is a different thing. A thing which interrupts the perpetuity of the gravity-stricken sand which knows nothing but to fall through the pinch in the hourglass. The shaker-upper, the tapping at a watch, the blowing on a cable connection or the tactical strike to the ribs of a vending machine; human solutions to unbearable moments of stasis. This exorcism of the ghost in the machine involves a dart in and out of the no-man’s land between the yearning to preserve and the need to modify. When that foray fails it ranges between a shrug-off and a disaster. When it works and we don’t know how it has worked we are inclined to call it a miracle. Such is the case of the egg in the bog.

  One house at the edge of Leaghan Moor featured in the local paper as the last household in the district without mains electricity. It had always been too expensive for the occupant, an old man, to install because to feed off the closest supply required the installation of ten poles and the purchase of a transformer. This started a community campaign called Get the Power to Pat which, inside a week, raised the fifteen thousand pounds needed so that Pat’s house got fed and his two rooms got wired into the grid. The ground was so marshy that the longest poles available had to be procured and pressed in deep by a clabbered-up digger and men who entered the bog in yellow salopettes but returned as creatures from the black lagoon. In the team was a woman, herself once featured in the paper as the first female lines-woman in the North, a willow of a thing, tall, not as strong as the men, but ahead of most of them in her technical knowledge. Because Lady Gaga frequently throbbed from her headphones, the men called her Gaga. 

  Generally, it was only poles carrying equipment like the transformer which got fitted with an earth strip. In this case it would have been the first one in the line. The earth strip was a copper wire and worked the same way as the lightning conductor on a church. Leaghan Moor was raised in the middle, so Gaga, knowing this was a high-profile job, elected to fit an earth-strip to the middle pole in the line as well; it was the highest one in the series and the most likely to be hit by lightning in what was the most exposed part of the route. Each pole had a metal tag with a unique id, in this case ending in a sequence from one to ten. The pole she fitted the extra strip to ended in a six, but she had no equivalent tag in her procurement pack, so she had to return a month later to fit it when the line was active and Pat had the power, but used very little of it. It was the simplest of jobs and done on her own; hammer in a single tack carrying a silver badge the size of a ten pence piece.

  There was something about the location of pole six which fascinated Gaga. The undulating horizon of the Sperrin Mountains reminded her of slumbering women, quilted there, like here, in purple beads of heather and an Einstein hair eiderdown of billions of bog cotton boles which bobbed so much but stayed so silent. There were too the sudden punctures of curlew cries which startled her initially, but now soothed her inner ear. She hung about for ages to hear one and on hearing it closed her eyes, let the sound fall and fall and felt herself rocking until the squidginess at her boots prompted her to open them again and return to her vehicle. It felt then as if she had been rewarded for her diligence with a truffle; something earthy which her belly rarely got but liked so much when it did.

  Two months later, during a night of brattling, summer-solstice skies, pole six was flicked constantly by mini-strikes from above. They weren’t strong enough to damage the pole or the powerline but were channelled deep and below the bog then dissipated into a watery blister, unseen from the surface but now connected to it by pole six and its conductive strip. The liquid inside the blister fizzled and electrified an oval object resting in its lowest point. Whether by electrolysis, a rise in temperature or sonar echoes from the rumblings, conditions arose whereaby the inside of the egg upgraded itself from being a dormant ovoid of proteins and fats to an incubator within which the proteins began to feed on the fats and began to create cells.

  In late October Leaghan Moor came up in Gaga’s six-monthly maintenance checks. Once again, she soaked in the shrills and laments of nature and belonging but this time there was a rustling in the scutch grass and evidence of fresh digging or burrowing at the base of pole six. She knew it was the wrong time for new clutches of birds and out of season for badgers or foxes to tunnel out fresh sanctuaries so she worried that something was being done to undermine the power supply which she and her colleagues had provided. She pressed in divets at her feet and noticed traceries of flattened moss and separations through marsh grasses. There were too, plucked out roots of rushes and heather plants. Mountain sheep grazed methodically in the rough pastures to the north so she reckoned that a ewe had breached its boundaries and had sampled the vegetation in the environs of pole six, then decided to return to grasses more nutritious and the safety of her flock, half-helped by stone ditches and wire which bore evidence of wool left behind.

  She closed her eyes to heighten her awareness and blinked and blinked again when she opened them. At her left boot there was a tugging at the laces, a chewing and a licking at her sole reminiscent of the pup she grew up with, which became a dog and friend and soulmate and purveyor of the greatest grief imaginable when it died. Her all and only love.

  This was no dog or fox or badger or lamb or bird. It had the back of a lizard, bumpy, verdigris armour and short squat legs bent at the elbows as if it were rising from a press-up. It looked at her with a question as to why she was there, then returned to the puzzle of criss-crossed laces and the liquorice of her boots, then higher to the fibres of her socks and looked to the sheep beyond, figuring out, Gaga thought, that this material was something like the fleeces. Gaga had seen newts before, particularly in hotter days, but this was scaled up a hundred times more and had teeth the size of the barbs on the handsaw she kept in the back of her truck. It liked a pat and a scratch to the chin and in its eyes she saw the lonely reflection of her own. She blinked it away, as she had done many times before, as much as in the company of her crewmen as with the girlie mob she knew she had outgrown but still pretended to be friends with. Rather than wonder if it would follow her back and rather than wonder at what it could be and if it would survive in an unforgiving landscape, she picked it up, placed it inside her bib and walked back to her vehicle, shooshing and cooing to this new thing as if it were a baby, which of course it was.

  How to keep it, how to hide it, where it could sleep, what to feed it were questions which were answered in the next few minutes. She drove around the looping, mountain road and passing Pat’s lane, could not miss, could not miss,the white sign, edged in orange, reading, for sale. She dialled the number on it and was told by the estate agent that Pat had muddled around with the electricity meter and had fried himself to the floor in an attempt to disconnect the power and was dead and buried behind Creggan chapel now. Gaga bought the place on the spot, ripped out the sign and threw it in the back of her jeep. She called her foundling Six, after the pole she met him at, and was relieved when he stopped growing at exactly six feet, one inch shorter than herself. She researched him once and discovered he was a Scealiousaurs, but left it at that. Six stays at home, eats what Gaga eats and watches daytime TV, soaps and quizzes. He is partial to an odd nature programme but detests anything to do with prehistoric stuff or dinosaurs or anything like that.

  ‘That,’ he says to Gaga, with a translucent wink of his nictating membrane, ‘is way too far-fetched.’

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