“The Hills and the Bogs” by Megan Szostak


Jimmy Juliano

From the 2018 Edition of Young Idea, available in late May

October 14th, 1940 – London, England

I sit here now, telling my story for the first time in nearly thirty years. The last person I told was my childhood psychologist, Dr. Ernest Fowler: a Scotsman with copper spectacles and a pipe, always smoking up the room. Once a week, I would sit down in the stiff-backed velvet chair, facing an eternally shuttered window and an anemic fire sputtering in the hearth. He would look at me with his piercingly green eyes, pupils like ink-black freckles, perfectly dropped in the center of his irises. And he would wait. And I would talk. And without fail, after I recounted my tale, he would say in his deep, raspy voice, “yer bum’s oot the windae,and I would be dismissed. This tedious process continued until the fall of 1913, when the Doctor suddenly passed. The memory of my encounter was shoved into a dark corner in the recesses of my conscious mind. But now, as I fear for my life, I feel obliged to record my tale lest it become lost in the hills and the bogs of County Donegal.

I was not raised by my actual parents, but rather by an unreliable nanny-man named Nigel, who was supposed to act as my de facto father. My mum and dad were often too busy to be bothered with a child, and with Nigel very much uninterested in the happenings of my life, I was often left to fend for myself. Father had a rather large estate in County Donegal, Ulster, so naturally, I passed the days wandering the halls and the grounds. If I was feeling particularly daring, I would sneak out unto the bogs, wading through the cool, standing water and weeds in search of nothing in particular.

I was a lad of but ten years when I began to notice an unusual presence about Nigel. Not like this had been out of the ordinary, as the man was always olagonin’ about something or other, but he was seeming oddly distant. He seemed to be trying to be even worse at his job than usual, which was awfully difficult, considering his work ethic was normally far from acceptable. I had a ritual of greeting the old toad with a “mornin’ Nigel,” to which he would respond with a grunt or, on days when he felt particularly chatty, a “don’t ‘assle me ye maggot,” cueing me to spend the rest of the day far away from him.

But it was mid-September of 1910 when Nigel really changed. His constant effin’ and blindin’ had ceased and he loafed in Grandfather’s old library every hour of every day, just staring at the walls of shelves and dusty books. I thought he was going through another one of his girlfriends leaving him in favor of another man, but these times usually involved him snapping at me for the smallest things or instituting corporal punishment. Now Nigel just sat, staring at empty air, his piercing eyes focused eternally on the walls of books. I had spent dozens of hours scouring the shelves of that library in my lonely childhood and had come to know the organizational system quite well. The most ancient of the books were shoved haphazardly into the revolving case, which I discovered, much to my dismay, on a cold, stormy day several years prior. The bookcase had been left turned around for what must have been years, leading my immediate family to believe it was just another wall of mahogany panels. This was the section of the library from which Nigel would not tear his eyes. I decided to carry out an experiment. I would walk into the library and, in front of Nigel’s glare, begin waving my arms and shouting expletives that would normally earn me the cane. Nigel acted as if he did not notice. And so I sat, in a large room void of fellow life that would take any interest in my well-being, feeling so incredibly alone.

I must have dozed off that afternoon to the sound of the hooring rain on the thin roof, because the next thing I knew, I was being awakened by a scream and blast of violently cold wind coming from the revolving bookshelf. Nigel was still in the room, his now lifeless body feebly slouched in the armchair, sagging to accommodate his weight. His voice was echoing through the rafters, his last utterance repeating and repeating up above before the cold air swept his final breaths away. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, I heard a voice, thick with a brogue, coming from the wall. It sounded as if the speaker was talking in tongues, but then I started to hear English amidst the foreign sounds. “Lookup ter th’ skies me boy, their shouts yer must not ignore. Seven ‘ton ill fall the-nite, lest yer beware the lightnin’ war. Pull out yer mask with foreign eyes, an’ take tha’ final breath, for seldom ill ye fend a pain as eminent as death.” And then all was calm. The rain had settled to only a spitting, the sky still the color of the Ulster hills.

The rest of that day became a blur, with Nigel’s death arising much suspicion amongst the neighbors. My parents, for the first time, began to take concern in me, probably because, had I been found guilty of Nigel’s passing, their reputation would have been spoiled. Guards and investigators were in and out of our home for days on end, trying to identify the killer. I refrained from telling any of the authorities about Nigel’s presence prior to the attack, or the voice and cryptic message it gave to me, for I would just be seen as a lad with an overactive imagination and psychological problem.

To get away from all the commotion, I wandered the bogs from sunrise to sunset even if the weather was dreadful. The bogs were not the most pleasant of places to spend even a minute of time, with their deep mud and seemingly bottomless loughs full of leeches and fabled monsters, but I took my chances, knowing that being attacked by leeches was better than being bombarded with questions from the policemen. The days were getting shorter, as it was now late November, which severely limited the time I had out of the house. Despite this now-frigid weather and short days, I kept to the bogs, but came to notice another oddity. I knew every person who lived within fifty kilometres of me, and no one in their right mind would visit the middle of County Donegal in late autumn, so it was much to my discomfort when I became aware of a man who spent his days standing alone along the side of the hills, completely motionless. I eventually realized that he looked like Nigel had on his last days–seemingly unaware of my presence no matter how much of a commotion I made.

I made the situation into a bit of a game, where I would see how close I could get to the fellow before my nerves got the best of me. It was naturally extremely concerning when I discovered that he had eyes the color of moor grass and had a rough-shaven face. The man was an exact copy of Nigel. His edges seemed blurred in the way you see something through a misted window, but a fetch nonetheless. I had read ancient tales about fetch sightings before; I had once found a crudely-bound leather book in the library on the subject. With a rational enough mind, I knew that certain encounters with the paranormal were just figments of the imagination, but one had to be constantly wary of potential consequences. I thought back to the voice in the library, feeling chills run down every limb of my body in recounting the cryptic poem. Fetches were supposed to be omens of a certain death in the near future, although most accounts had been characters of night terrors. I decided it best to tell my mum of “not-quite-Nigel.”

With much persuasion, I got her to come to the edge of the lough, across which the fetch’s hill could be easily seen. He was standing there as he always did, and I tugged on my mum’s sleeve asking, “see yer man, mum? He looks like Nigel an’ ‘as been standin’ dare for weeks without movin’ like!”

My mum scanned the side of the hill, but had no reaction to what I thought would send her into the lough from screaming too much. Instead, she looked me in the eye and said, “there ain’t no man ye muppet,” and proceeded to slap my behind for dragging her out for no reason. I tried to protest, but she had already called for the carriage to take us into town. With one final glance back to the hill, I saw the fetch flicker like a dying candle and then disappear completely into the mist.

And thus started the three long years of talking with the Doctor. Again, I refrained from mentioning the library, as I thought it would be better to not be sent to the asylum at the young age of eleven. I would tell him that I saw a man that looked like Nigel standing out in the bogs day after day, and Fowler always told me that I was crazy for thinking so. I now assume that he believed if he told me I was insane often enough, I would come to believe it and be cured. Of course, this never happened, but after the Doctor’s death, I thought it best to tell my parents that he had fixed my head and that I had just made the man up. So for years I lived with the psychological burden that was Nigel’s death, the fetch, and most disturbingly, the voice in the library.

The last newspaper I received before all chaos broke loose in the streets of London was dated October 8th, 1940. Prime Minister Churchill has christened the War “The Lightning War” for the use of aircraft on all sides. Air raids have replaced my childhood lullabies of lashing rain with loud propellers and screams which, for the last week, have put me to sleep every night. Tonight I sit at candlelight at my mahogany desk, finally able to decipher the voice in library. Lookup ter th’ skies me boy refers to the air raids I will never escape. Their shouts yer must not ignore tells of the Germans in the air and the Londoners in the streets. Seven ‘ton ill fall the-nite means that seven hundred will perish in the attack this evening, lest yer beware the lightnin’ war–this war we fight today. Pull out yer mask with foreign eyes, an’ take tha’ final breath, references the gas mask I purchased three days ago, and my final breath of fresh air before the bombs will take away my breath forever. And I know that I will die tonight, for seldom ill ye fend a pain as eminent as death phrophesizes just this.

As these words fall into place in my mind, I wish that I could have known what they meant thirty years earlier. I could have warned this city, this country, this side of the world what the Germans had in store for us, but I did not. Had I told Dr. Fowler, could he have deciphered them for me? Or would I have been sent away and left to deteriorate with my gradually failing mind? I will never know. I urge you to take my story with great caution, knowing that the hills of the bogs of County Donegal possess something that cannot be explained, something that, if interpreted correctly, could save the lives of thousands or send one’s own life into utter despair and confusion.


The front door of the row-house broke down with a crash of smoke, and out of the flames stepped a figure, tall and lanky with bright, green eyes piercing the air. His familiar face remained unchanged after thirty years, still staring as he had done when his final breath passed his lips. His grey hand reached into his dark trenchcoat and emerged with a mask which he pulled over his face. A tube hung limply at his blurred and grey chin, a reminder that his second final breath could come at any second. A fearful face of a man at a typewriter and desk of mahogany stared back, in awe of this presence that had stepped into his house. Before words could be exchanged between the two men, a squealing sound came from the sky, getting louder, louder, louder until the roof was struck. The house was sent straight into flames and debris, but by some miracle, a thin stack of papers, still wet with ink, next to the typewriter, remained untouched by not even a spark. As the smoke cleared and the flames ceased, only a single body lay on the ground, covered by a thin layer of dust, never to be washed away by the rains of the hills and the bogs of County Donegal.