Come Forth, a Short Story by Duff McKagan

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Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. His ESPN.com column runs on Wednesdays.
James was born into the famine. The blight on the potato crop--while affecting all of Europe in an economic fashion--laid waste to Ireland and its inhabitants.

James' dad left his mother to fend for herself and the five hungry children, none older than 12 years. As her physical health started to fade, her mental stability began to slip. Slowly at first, and somehow in check. When she started to put glue in the children's nose to "keep out the devil," the orphanage came. James' mother leapt from the cliffs above Belfast soon after.

The children were spread out all across Ireland, and instantly lost all contact. James' soul ached and his heart was broken into a seemingly unmendable state. He couldn't keep down any food. Well, what food there was anyway. The orphanage he was sent to--while probably doing their best--could only manage a thin soup and stale bread twice a day. It was all that charity could afford. So many broken homes. So much hunger. So much death. Despair, to the breaking point.

A story began to spread around those orphanages, about boats that could take you to America. There was plenty of food and sun, and no blight on any crop. There was gold in the mountains, and silver in the streams. A land teeming with anything and everything. James was not immune to these stories, and soon he began a plot with another boy to forge a check from the Church. James was too smart, even at the age of 13, to ever get caught.

James devised a plan whereas at night he would sneak into the office of the orphanage and copy a check out of the book of debt notes made for the bank. He knew that he had a steady hand. He also had heard of pubs down in town that would cash checks with no proof or documentation of their validity. The pub-owners would simply take a cut.

James' knowledge of the outside world was informed by jeers of "CAT-LICKER" from the vacationing English kids, and bullies at school calling him unwanted. He would day-dream of one day having a big family of his own, and he would NEVER leave them... never EVER leave.

He grew to despise something called the "Church of England." They seemed to be the ones behind the growing discontent with Catholics like him. But James was not a large boy, and instead, would win his daily battles by outsmarting the bullies and blowhards. When they yelled and jeered he would silently plot. One day, before the town was awake, he went to every house and put finely crushed glass into the milk bottles that sat on their porches. James had kept a watchful eye of who lived where. Those bully-boys didn't come around for more than a week. Nothing could be proved. No one took a fall for it. James picked up steam.

The Protestant churches seemed to have more luster to them. The church-goers had fine horses and tailored clothes. James figured that this Church of England must have a whole lot of money, and surely wouldn't notice if a few hundred pounds went missing. Or at least he would be safely on a New York-bound boat by then. His forged check would have the carefully hand-stenciled "Bank of England - in trusted care and erstwhile prudence of the Church of England" emblazoned across it. Pub keepers wouldn't even blink twice at James' crafty hand.

James never let on to anyone, his brilliant plan. His mother once told, "Don't ever let your tongue cut your throat"...and as grand as a station that he held every word that he remembered her saying, James lived by this rule. He wrote the check for 200 British Pounds, and played a mute when he broke out of the orphanage, and made his way to the bustling town of Dublin.

The docks in Dublin were bustling with the hum of urgency, commerce, and thuggery. James had heard to be very careful down there when looking for a boat to buy fare to America. There were bands of roaming hulligans who would abscond with young men, to be slave deck-hands on sea-going ships.

He was going to find his boat, and then cash his check to buy the fare. He had forged a birth certificate that gave his age at seventeen. James Joseph Harrington cashed his check for a 10-Pound fee at the pub, and bought his ticket in steerage class for another 20 Pounds. He was on his way now. To the land of plenty, away from this nightmare of a life. He would come back rich, and find his brother and sister. The boat weighed anchor, and James' heart skipped a beat.

 
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