The Bully and the Fly

Hannigan and the bully Stoneley

In Edwardian times, a curious Irishman named John Hannigan appeared on the Liverpool scene. Nothing about the middle-aged Hannigan was known, except that he came from County Meath in Ireland around 1905. The rest of his background is a blank. He didn't seem to work, but was never short of money, which was mostly spent in the public houses of Liverpool. He wore a pair of wire-framed spectacles and sported a trimmed moustache, but was said to be handsome, and seems to have had many female admirers. He was popular with most people because of his storytelling talent, and he was also something of a psychic and a philosopher. In June 1908, he told startled drinkers in the Vines pub on Lime Street that 'a great terror from the stars that could destroy England' was about to collide with the world. Some shuddered, knowing how many of Hannigan's previous predictions had been strangely accurate, but a few drinkers laughed and called the Irishman a drunken fool. On the following day, The Times newspaper reported that an object - thought to be a gigantic meteorite or a chunk of a comet - had impacted into Siberia. The object from space had exploded with the fury of a modern thirty-megaton nuclear bomb. It had wiped out entire forests and incinerated herds of reindeer, and the shockwave had circled the Earth twice. Had the object arrived on Earth slightly later, England would have been instantly devastated.
During the stay-behinds at the Vines, Hannigan would inevitably end up encircled by spellbound listeners to his predictions, his supernatural tales of Ireland, and his philosophising on the way society was progressing. One such night at the Vines, Hannigan was relating his tales to the clientele in front of a crackling coal fire, when a well-known lout named Bob Stoneley threw half a glass of stout into the Irishman's face.
'You didn't see that coming John,' the drunken Stoneley mocked, 'but you're supposed to foresee things.'
Stoneley and two of his fawning cronies laughed as Hannigan wiped his face and spectacles dry with a handkerchief. The landlord glared at Stoneley, but didn't tell him to leave because the latter had a reputation of being a hard man. Gerald McGuinness, a muscular seaman, confronted Stoneley, but the landlord told him there was to be no fighting in his pub.
'I'll catch up with you later Stoneley.' McGuinness threatened.
'And I'll tear you apart,' Stoneley retorted, and he started to rant about how he was afraid of nobody, and of his younger days in the violent 'High Rip' gang.
Unruffled, Hannigan suddenly remarked: 'Nothing frightens Mr Stoneley then?'
'Nothing.' Barked Stoneley.
'Even death?' Hannigan asked, and the question was followed by a hush. 'A piece of churchyard fits everybody, even you Mr Stoneley.' Hannigan added.
Stoneley was gripped with a mounting sense of dread.
'The hour of your death is near. Something in here will lay you in the ground.' Hannigan told the bully.
'Who? Who will lay me in the ground? Jed McGuinness?' Stoneley's face turned red with rage.
'No, no, a fly will kill you.' Hannigan said languidly. There were twelve witnesses to his bizarre prediction.
Stoneley left the Vines a nervous wreck. How could a fly kill him? Then he thought about the diseases a fly carried; typhoid, cholera, and polio. Stoneley bought fly papers. He scrubbed his hands before he ate. But it was all in vain. In July 1910, he was once again taunting John Hannigan. While laughing out loud, a fly flew into his mouth. Bob Stoneley choked to death as his cronies looked on in sheer horror.

Copyright Tom Slemen 2001