The rain pelted against the windshield, reducing visibility to near zero. Phil glanced at Erin, amazed she could sleep through this storm. He realized with a sigh that they were completely lost. He thought he’d followed the signs properly but maybe one of them had been turned round or perhaps he’d just missed something. The map on his lap made little sense. Stifling a yawn, he reached over to Erin who awoke with a jolt.
“We there yet?” she asked sleepily, “oh wow, the weather!”
“I know, tell me about it. You’ve been asleep for ages. I’m not sure where we are, babe. We passed a pub a couple of miles back but this map isn’t making any sense.”
“What?” Erin said, sitting upright, “well, where should we be?”
“We should’ve been at Dun Cobh hours ago but I think I took a wrong turning or something.”
“What are we going to do?” asked Erin, “it’s so late.”
“I don’t know,” repeated Phil, slight irritation creeping into his voice, “I wish I’d stopped at that pub and asked. But it looked closed. It was dark.”
“Let’s go back and check,” suggested Erin, “maybe they’ve got a room?”
Phil mumbled assent and turned around. The tires spun in the mud as he wrestled with the steering. It had been Erin’s idea to come to Ireland and so far the weather had been reasonable. A lightning bolt ahead seemed to split open the sky. The rain drummed on the car. Phil wound his window down a bit to wake himself up, not minding the occasional pinpricks of cold rain on his neck. He found the pub and parked.
“You stay here if you want. I’ll run in and ask.”
“OK,” replied his wife, “good luck.” She watched as Phil pulled open the heavy pub door by its metal handle. There was a dull light shining feebly out of what looked like the main bar. Apart from that, it did look closed. The stone building appeared old and interesting. It had been Erin’s idea to vacation in Ireland. She loved adventure and she’d always wanted to visit.
“Erin!” called Phil, beckoning from the doorway. She locked the car then dashed over to the doorway and entered the pub, running a hand through her short blonde hair. A little hallway separated the bar from the front entrance. The place smelt musty. Erin followed Phil into the bar and smiled as she took in her surroundings. What a cozy little room, she thought. Everything in the bar appeared to be made of wood or stone, apart from the gleaming brass rail and small selection of brass and china ornaments. The bar was so quiet. There was no music, no slot machines and no customers. Behind the bar was a small Irishman with a mass of curly white hair and a dated brown tweed suit. There was the ubiquitous Guinness pump, which Phil eyed appreciatively, ordering one for himself and looking questioningly at Erin.
“A large brandy for me, please,” she smiled at the old man.
“He has two guest rooms here,” said Phil in a low voice, “only twenty euros for the night. He laughed when I said where we were going - apparently we are miles off. Stupid map. Let’s stay here tonight.”
“We don’t have a lot of choice,” laughed Erin. Phil took her left hand and kissed her wedding ring. Erin tucked her head against Phil’s chest, not caring that it was damp. The old man turned to place Erin’s brandy in front of her and watched Phil’s Guinness, waiting for it to settle.
“So,” asked Phil conversationally, “what is this place called?”
“The Green Goblin,” replied the man looking very serious, scratching at his fluffy beard, “and there’s a fine reason for that.”
“No, I meant the area in general, the village,” Phil explained.
“This isn’t a village,” replied the man, “this pub is the only building around here. The nearest village is Kilraddock but that’s about three miles away.”
“A reason?” asked Erin, curiously. The old man met her curious gaze with his old rheumy eyes. He looked around him, as if afraid he might be heard and whispered, “there are goblins about, young lady.”
Erin laughed delightedly but the man had a humorless look in his eyes. Erin assumed he was trying to scare them. Either that or he was slightly cuckoo.
Deciding to play along, she asked “is a goblin like a fairy?”
“No,” replied the man with a serious expression on his weathered face, “most fairies are good. Of course you get the odd bad one. Goblins are more mischievous. Some are playful, but some are… mischievous in a bad way. They’re the ones you want to watch out for, so you do,” He turned away to finish Phil’s Guinness.
“Are they all green?” asked Phil. Erin snorted, trying to suppress a giggle. Phil elbowed her. “I mean is their skin green? Or did you mean their clothes? I mean – well, the name of this pub…”
The man stared at them as if he was deciding whether to tell them a story. Erin hoped he would.
“So can we stay here tonight?” asked Phil suddenly, changing the subject, “you said there are rooms.”
“If you want, that’s grand,” replied the man, “but there’s no breakfast.”
“Oh no bother. We just want somewhere warm and dry to sleep. We’ll eat in Dun Cobh.” Phil said, “if we ever find it,” he added as an afterthought. Phil removed thirty euros from his wallet to cover the room and the drinks and placed it on the bar. The man rang the total into the old-fashioned cash register and returned with his change and a small brass key. He placed both on the bar in front of Phil and wandered over to the sink, rinsing a couple of glasses. Phil looked around the room. There was a big wooden bookshelf above the fireplace with several volumes on. He wandered over to have a look, interested because he owned a bookstore. As he was leafing through one, Erin approached, slipping her arms around him.
“Let’s bring the bags in and go upstairs,” she suggested.
“I haven’t finished my drink yet, babe,” Phil replied, “we’ll go up in a bit. Look at these wonderful books.”
Erin glanced at the selection on the bookshelf without interest. Some appeared to be written in Gaelic which was of no use to her. They all seemed to be very old yet in good condition.
“Wonder if he’d sell me one.”
“Phil, we’re on our honeymoon!” Erin scolded playfully, “can’t you forget about work for one week?”
Phil grinned. Erin saw the title of the book he’d been leafing through was “There Be Goblins”. With a contented sigh, Phil put his glass on the bar and looked around for the old man.
“Where did he go?” he asked Erin.
She shrugged, “it doesn’t matter - we’ve got the key.”
“I wanted to say goodnight,” said Phil, “he must be around somewhere.”
They waited a few minutes but the man didn’t come. Phil and Erin went out to the car for their bags. The rain was still pouring. The air was cool and Erin shivered. They brought their bags in. Another peek into the bar confirmed that the man still had not reappeared.
“Oh well,” said Phil, “never mind, I’m sure we can find the room.”
On the left of the hallway was another door which they found led to a wooden staircase. Phil started to climb. On the landing were three doors, each with a lock. Phil tried the key in the first. Nothing. He tried the key in the second door and it creaked open. He went in, feeling along the wall for a light switch. There was a popping sound as the bulb died. Phil sighed and crossed the room to see if there were any lamps. There didn’t appear to be.
“I’ll go see if he’s got any bulbs,” Phil said. Erin sat down on the end of the bed. After a few more minutes, Phil returned, looking puzzled.
“He’s not there,” said Phil, frowning, “I looked in the bar, the restrooms and the room out the back of the bar.” He walked out of the room again and tried the third door. It was a small bathroom and the light worked.
“Oh well, I’m bushed. At least the bathroom light works.”
Erin suddenly froze and looked at Phil.
“What was that?” she exclaimed, pointing at the wall adjoining the other locked room.
“What? I didn’t hear anything,” he said.
“It was like a tapping sound. I wonder if he’s in there.”
Phil knocked on the neighboring door.
“Hello?” he asked, “sorry to bother you but our light bulb isn’t working and I wondered if you had any more? Hello?” There was no answer. He shook his head – Erin must’ve imagined the tapping. Or maybe it was the old plumbing. They were both tired. He went into the bathroom and tried to run the water.
“Oh for god’s sake,” groaned Phil, irritably.
“What’s up?” called Erin.
“No water. I can’t believe he didn’t tell us!” Phil went back into the bedroom and flopped onto the bed. After a few minutes, his eyes began to adjust to the dim light and he could just about make out a wardrobe, table and window. He reached over and pulled his wife close.
“Sorry about this, babe. It’s not the best start to our honeymoon. At least it’s a shelter for the night.”
“It’s not your fault. I need the bathroom,” she whispered and kissed him on the forehead before going. When she returned, Phil was asleep. Erin closed the door and climbed into bed, snuggling into Phil. He mumbled something in his sleep. Erin lay awake for a while, wondering where the old man went. The thunder and lightning had started up again but between the sounds, she could hear that weird tapping. It didn’t sound like the plumbing. It got louder, now sounding like it was in the room.
“Phil,” she prodded her husband, “Phil, wake up, there’s a funny noise. Phil!”
“Nnnng,” he answered sleepily, “s’old building, go sleep.” He rolled over and started snoring gently. Erin climbed out of bed and went to the wall. She put her ear on it. The tapping was coming from low down. Erin followed the sound to floor level. Someone was hitting the wall with what sounded like a teaspoon. No – wait. It was something pointy. There were small scraping noises as well. She was baffled. What could this be? There were no other guests and the old man wasn’t there. Or was he?
Suddenly Erin heard something which made her gasp. A giggle - but not an ordinary one. This was a tiny giggle, a high-pitched sound like laughter played back double-speed on a cassette player. It was startling in the night’s silence.
“Phil!” she hissed across the room, but received no response. She opened the bedroom door and padded out to the landing. She lowered herself to the floor and lay on her belly, turning her head sideways to peer under the door. There was a good inch of space.
It was gloomy in there but not totally black. Erin could make out something moving. The tapping continued. She squinted slightly and thought she could see a doll-sized pair of legs over by the wall but maybe the darkness was playing tricks on her. She watched in horror as the tiny legs walked towards her but was unable to tear her eyes away. She saw a small lantern being laid down and a scream froze in her throat.
The figure bent at the knees and she saw a face peering at her own. This face was mean-looking. A heavy frown topped a chunky elfin face with sneering eyes. Part of Erin thought she was dreaming, having some terrible nightmare, but she knew she was here, looking at that thing. It curled its top lip back to reveal a tiny set of pointy white teeth and then reached under the door. Erin could see the little fingers reaching for her face. She rolled back from the door and leapt up.
“Phil! Wake up!” she screamed, “there’s a thing next door! It’s not human! Oh god we have to get out of here!”
“What are you talking about?” Phil exclaimed into the blackness, “did you have a nightmare?”
“No!” she yelled once more, “listen!” Phil heard the tapping noise. It had become louder.
“Just get back into bed and go to sleep. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Erin opened her mouth to protest when she saw the wall again. There was a small jagged piece of light shining dimly through. She yanked the blanket off her husband. He sat bolt upright and turned to face his wife.
“What the hell has gotten into you!” he exclaimed.
The lightning ripped through the sky, lighting up the room. In that split second, Phil could see the stark terror etched on his wife’s face and her fearful brimming eyes. Suddenly they both heard giggling at the same time.
“What the hell…” he began. Another flash of lightning lit up the room. There was a small hole in their wall.
“It’s coming through!” screamed Erin.
She leapt off the bed and grabbed her bag. “Come on! We have to get out!” She heard more of the sheet-rock crumbling. Phil sat up, rubbing his tired eyes. More plaster crumbled off the walls as the tapping got ever louder. The final flash of lightning revealed a small hole and a little ugly man wielding what looked like a tiny pickax. He had a lamp and was just standing there motionless with an ugly grimace. The lightning lasted maybe two seconds before it was dark again.
“Jesus!” yelled Phil. He leapt out of the bed and grabbed his bag. He felt a sudden sharp pain in his leg and heard the giggle again. He kicked out in the dark but his foot didn’t connect with anything. Phil grabbed Erin’s hand and ran out of the room. Again he felt something stab him in the leg. He dropped his bag and cried out. The pair of them dashed downstairs. The lights were also out down there. They pulled open the door.
“Shit!” yelled Phil.
“What?” cried Erin, her strangled voice fighting to be heard over the heavy rain.
“The car keys! They’re upstairs!”
“No!” she cried, “it’ll get you!”
Phil raced back into the pub and stopped. Everything looked strangely normal. He wondered for a second if he’d imagined that ugly little thing in the bedroom. He looked at his leg. The blood was trickling down on to his foot. He listened. There was no sound coming from upstairs. The downstairs light lit most of the stairway. Phil carefully crept up the stairs, cursing quietly every time he trod on a creaky step. He could see the outline of the car keys on the nightstand and went to grab them and his bag too.
Phil started to run downstairs but froze – the thing was standing on the middle stair menacingly wielding its pickax. Phil briefly considered jumping over it.
“Get out my way,” he snarled. The thing giggled again - that unnatural, high-pitched sound. It climbed one stair. There were now only four stairs between it and Phil.
“Run!” Erin screamed from the bottom of the stairs, “run! Just run!”
The thing swiped at his legs as he ran past, taking another gouge out. He cried out in agony. The pair of them ran outside, Phil scrabbling in the bag for the keys.
“Hurry up!” yelled Erin, “come on, please come on!”
Phil found the keys and opened his door then leapt in and threw open Erin’s door. The troll was walking towards the car. Erin was deathly white and hyperventilating. She appeared to be on the edge of hysteria. There was a pop and hissing noise and the car seemed to sink to the right.
“The tires!” shouted Phil, “it’s slashing the fucking tires!” He slammed his foot down and the car swerved off into the night on its three good wheels. Phil was now running on pure adrenaline. Beside him, Erin quietly wept into her hands.
They drove until they reached a police station. Phil pounded on the door which was opened by a small and tired-looking man. Erin was at his side and the two of them burst in.
“What the bejaysus is going on here?” asked the confused policeman, “you two look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
“We’ve just come from The Green Goblin,” began Phil. The policeman shook his head.
“Ah, now you don’t want to be going up there, lad,” he said, “not after what happened and all.”
“What happened?” breathed Erin, clutching on to Phil’s arm.
“You don’t know?” asked the policeman.
“Look, we’re from out of town,” Phil began to explain, seeing the policeman’s puzzled face as he looked at Phil’s naked bleeding leg and Erin’s nightdress. “We were staying there tonight and -”
“Breaking and entering eh?” said the policeman, becoming interested.
“What? No it was open,” said Phil, “the owner gave us a room and -”
The policeman began to laugh. He shook his head.
“Don’t give me that. Old Paddy died months ago and everyone knows it! No one else has been in there since. They say it’s haunted.”
Phil and Erin shook their heads, looking bewildered.
“He went stark raving mad, started going on about goblins and things. Well I reckon he was a bit touched. Anyway, one day they found him outside in his nightshirt, stone dead. No cause of death but the look on his face. Well, Jesus, it was sheer terror,” the policeman now had a faraway look on his face, “I don’t know what happened to the old bugger, lad, but he looked like he’d been frightened to death…. literally frightened to death…”