Bury the Living by Jodi McIsaac
“Can I help you?”
“Do you work here?”
“I’m one of the volunteers, yes. My name’s Suzanne. How can I help you?”
Nora thrust the picture of Thomas into her hands. It was time for complete honesty, come what may. “Right, Suzanne, I know this is going to sound crazy. I’m not off my head, I swear it. But I’ve had several dreams about this man. He told me to come to Kildare so I could talk to a woman called Brigid. And then I found this photo of him. See, it says here he died in 1923. And I keep seeing visions of the past, knowing things I shouldn’t know. So I’ve come here, just like he asked.” She stopped, unable to believe she’d confessed all of that out loud to a complete stranger.
The woman glanced at the photo for a moment, then handed it back. “Are you looking for prayer?”
“No! I’m trying to find out how a man who’s been dead for almost a century is getting into my head.”
It was clear from Suzanne’s expression that she thought Nora was mentally unstable. “Have you checked at the heritage center? They might be able to—”
“Yes, and they sent me here. I’m not making this up! Someone must know—”
“Is there a problem?” Another woman emerged from a door at the side of the church. She was short and on the plump side, with closely cropped coarse brown hair and an uneven fringe. She wore a long green shawl with a gold brooch.
“May I?” Suzanne said, taking the photo from Nora. She passed it to her colleague. “She’s trying to find out about this man. He’s called Thomas Heaney. Do you recognize him, Mary?”
Mary’s mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. “Yes, I do,” she said slowly, her eyes drinking in the photograph. Finally, she stared up at Nora. “You’re the one looking for him?” Her voice held a hint of incredulity.
“Aye,” Nora said warily. Was this woman having her on? Or was she really about to find some answers?
Mary pressed her hand over her heart. “It’s a fine day. Why don’t we take a walk outside? Thank you, Suzanne, I’ll help this young lady from here.”
Nora followed Mary past another stone coffin and a display of Kildare in the fifth century, back into the churchyard.
“Well,” Mary began once they were well away from the front door. “I’m not exactly sure how to proceed, but I’ll do my best. You see, we’ve been waiting for you.”
“You’ve been waiting for me?” Nora repeated, dumbfounded. “Why?”
“Are you a religious person, Nora?”
“Yes, o’course.” They were behind the cathedral now, wandering among the tombstones. The round tower loomed overhead.
“That’s good to hear. So many young people have left the church these days. If they only knew how it sustained us in days gone by. But I digress. I belong to an order called the Brigidine Sisters.”
“A Catholic order? But isn’t the cathedral Church of Ireland?”
“It is now, but that hasn’t always been the case. The church you see now was built in the thirteenth century, but it rests on the site of the church Saint Brigid herself had built in the fifth century. Before that, it was a site of worship to the pagan goddess Brigid. So I count it a privilege to volunteer at the cathedral as part of my devotion to the saint.”
“Makes sense.” They had walked to the base of the round tower, which was surrounded by gravestones.
“But it may surprise you that a few months ago, several of us experienced the same vision while praying at Saint Brigid’s Well. Have you been there?” Nora shook her head. “It’s down on Tully Road. It was here that Brigid herself appeared to us. She told us a young woman would come looking for a man with gray hair called Thomas Heaney. And that she wished to bestow upon this young woman a very special gift.” Mary’s face shone with excitement as she leaned toward Nora.
Nora stopped walking. “Are you saying Saint Brigid appeared to you and told you I would be coming? I didn’t even know I would be coming until this morning.”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. And it wasn’t just me. My Sisters all had the same vision. Many of us work or volunteer in some capacity at the cathedral. She must have wanted to ensure one of us was there to greet you when you finally came looking. I’m just so glad I overheard your conversation with Suzanne. She’s not a Brigidine Sister, you see.”
Nora chewed the inside of her lip. She was Catholic, sure, but the idea of saints actually appearing to people wasn’t something she’d considered before. It had certainly never happened to anyone she knew. The logical side of her rebelled. “And you all had the same vision?”
“I know how it sounds,” Mary said. “But you yourself said you’ve seen visions of the past, have you not? And dreamed of a man who is long dead?”
“Yes, but . . .”
“It’s hard to fathom, I won’t deny it. If Brigid hadn’t told me herself, if I hadn’t seen her with my own eyes, I’d not believe it.”
“Right, so, you said she wanted to give me a gift. What is it? And who’s this Thomas Heaney? You’ll forgive me for not understanding what this is all about.”
“Think with your heart, not with your head,” Mary said. “When you had this dream of Thomas, how did you feel?”
Longing. But she couldn’t say that out loud. She hardly wanted to admit it to herself. “Like I wanted to help him. More than anything. He begged me.”
“And these visions? Do you believe they were real?”
What if she did? Would it mean she was going mad? “I don’t know. They felt real.”
“Then they were. It doesn’t matter if it was just inside your head, or if you were seeing something that was really there. What matters is that Brigid was trying to speak with you.”
“Yes, but why?”
“I don’t know why she chose you. Or how exactly you’re supposed to help this young man. Or why she even wants you to help him. But she has made it possible.”
“How? He’s been dead for eighty years.”
“For this, we must go back to the church.”
Nora bit her tongue and followed Mary into the cathedral. Suzanne popped her head around the corner as they entered. “Everything all right?” she asked.
“Grand, thank you,” Mary answered. “We’re just going to have a peek at the records downstairs.” She led Nora down a narrow stone staircase into the basement of the church. They passed walls lined with bookshelves and stacks of boxes labeled in minute handwriting. Then they entered another small room, which was empty save for a dark fireplace set into the wall. Mary turned so quickly Nora almost ran into her. “You must swear to never reveal this to anyone.”
“Reveal what?” Nora was beginning to think this was some elaborate hoax . . . or a cult. She eyed the door nervously.
“What I’m about to show you is one of the greatest kept secrets of the church. Brigid, in her wisdom, has chosen to share it with you. You’ll be the first outside our society to have this knowledge.”
Nora narrowed her eyes. “What kind of society is this?”
Mary gave an apologetic shrug. “The complicated kind. To the outside world, we are the Brigidine Sisters, an order committed to service and harmony in the spirit of Saint Brigid. We were nearly destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. We survived, underground, until we revealed ourselves in the eighteen hundreds. All of that is true, but we’ve also kept this sacred knowledge secret and protected for centuries. And if you do not do the same . . .” She let her threat hang in the empty air, but Nora was not so easily cowed.
“Right, I’m beginning to think this is all a joke. Someone’s acting the maggot with me, so they are. Forget it.” She turned to leave.
“Wait!” Mary called. “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . It’s precious to us. We’ve guarded it for so many years.”
“What it is, then?”
Mary counted the stones around the fireplace. Then she pressed hard against one with the heel of her hand. On the other side, a stone popped out about an inch. Mary pulled at it until it loosened, then reached inside the hole. When she withdrew her hand, it held a small red box with gilt edging. Nora stepped closer. “What is it?” she asked.
“’Tis the only true relic of our precious Saint Brigid,” Mary said, holding the box as though it might trickle through her fingers if she looked away for a moment. “A church in Portugal claims to have the blessed saint’s skull, and they’ve sent fragments to Killester and Kilcurry, but we Sisters know that this is the only true relic.”
“Why don’t you display it? Why keep it secret?”
“Because it has power,” Mary said, still speaking in a hushed, reverent tone. She gently opened the decorated lid and handed it to Nora. “Do not touch it. Not yet.”
Nora looked into the box. It was, as she had expected, a bone. Only an inch long, it was polished white and smooth, nestled on a ruby-red cushion.
“It was from her finger,” Mary explained.
“Is this the gift? What am I supposed to do with it?” Nora asked, closing the lid.
“No, my child, that is not the gift. But the power of Brigid’s relic will bestow on you the gift she wishes you to have: the ability to travel through time.”
Excerpted from BURY THE LIVING © Copyright 2016 by Jodi McIsaac. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
About the book:
“McIsaac puts plenty of history and a little fantasy and romance into this entertaining time travel tale. McIsaac has an undeniable talent for immersing the reader in the plight of the Irish in the 1920s, at the height of the Irish Civil War. Comparisons to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series are inevitable.” —Publishers Weekly
Rebellion has always been in the O’Reilly family’s blood. So when faced with the tragic death of her brother during Northern Ireland’s infamous Troubles, a teenage Nora joined the IRA to fight for her country’s freedom. Now, more than a decade later, Nora is haunted by both her past and vivid dreams of a man she has never met.
When she is given a relic belonging to Brigid of Kildare, patron saint of Ireland, the mystical artifact transports her back eighty years—to the height of Ireland’s brutal civil war. There she meets the alluring stranger from her dreams, who has his own secrets—and agenda. Taken out of her own time, Nora has the chance to alter the fortunes of Ireland and maybe even save the ones she loves. In this captivating and adventurous novel from Jodi McIsaac, history belongs to those with the courage to change it.
About the Author:
Jodi McIsaac is the author of several novels, including A Cure for Madness and the Thin Veil Series. She grew up in New Brunswick, on Canada’s east coast. After abandoning her Olympic speed skating dream, she wrote speeches for a politician, volunteered in a refugee camp, waited tables in Belfast, earned a couple of university degrees, and started a boutique copywriting agency. She loves running, geek culture, and whiskey.