The Tall Grass

Extract taken from the Visit Scotland website;

The  picturesque Perthshire small town of Aardraven sits south of the River Tummel and South East of the majestic Loch Tummel – source of the former. Often missed by commuters as they travel either North (to the Cairngorms) or North West (to the West Highlands), Aardraven is perhaps best known for the small cluster of near-perfectly preserved 18th century buildings, courtesy of renowned architect William Adam, situated in the town’s ‘High Street’. Particularly famed is the majestic baroque-style and oft-photographed Aardraven Town Hall. Adam was also responsible for the design of Aardraven House, the imposing Category A-listed country house which sits on the outskirts of the town within the 3000 acre Aardraven Estate. The Estate is owned by John William Archibald, Laird of Aardraven, and his family. Once a working estate, employing a staff of hundreds, part of the ground within the estate now lies derelict and overgrown. Despite this the beauty of Aardraven House cannot be underestimated and is a must see for any travellers willing to head off the beaten track during a trip up north. Try to catch a glimpse of the house and its surrounding estate as the sun sets, in turn creating a truly stunning and evocative silhouette against the tranquil background.

***

Letter from John William Archibald to the Aardraven Community Council dated 24th May;

The Much Honoured John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven
Aardraven House
Aardraven Estate
Perthshire

To Whom It May Concern

It will come as no surprise to you that I am quite outraged at the manner of your previous letter informing me of the imminent ‘transfer’ of part of my estate into the ownership of the community for, as you term it, ‘sustainable development’ and the plans to ‘erect a community beneficial Ecovillage’.  Whatever the bloody hell that is.

This will NOT stand. This kind of gross insult to my name, and my family’s name, is beyond the pale. I can assure you with absolute confidence that this land, all 3,000 acres of it, belongs to myself, the Laird Of Aardraven, and my family. This will NOT change and letters of this ilk will not impede upon this irrefutable fact.

You state that ‘as per the raft of previous correspondence’ the project has been unanimously voted through, agreed and passed without any objection from myself or my estate. I can assure you that this is a scandalous falsehood. Your previous letter is the first I have heard of this ludicrous and very probably illegal venture. Socialists like yourself and that tinpot parliament in Edinburgh may very well wish to impose Land Reform on those of us who actually generate the wealth within this country but I can promise you that this cannot and will not apply to this case or to my land.

The law of ownership, under the Act Of Prescription, will prevail and when it does, swiftly and fiercely, I will be expecting no less than a full, frank and grovelling apology from yourself and all in this town that dare to question the legitimacy of my land and my family’s name. I have always kept a distance from the townsfolk of Aardraven, happy to let you dwell within your charming little town, but let me remind you that I am Laird, no less, of this area and have a good sight more sway than any council or committee that you wish to assemble. I remind you; this land, all of this land, WILL remain within my family’s name. Of that there is no doubt.

Yours,
The Much Honoured John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven

***

Letter from Irene McPhee, Chair of Aardraven Community Council, to John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven, dated 26th May;

Dear Mr Archibald

Thank you for your recent correspondence (dated 24th May). It was good to finally hear from you regarding this matter – we, and many others as I will outline in this letter, have attempted on numerous occasions to contact yourself, or any representative of your Estate, in relation to this matter.

I feel that I should clarify a couple of points noted in your letter.

1) The lower Aardraven Ecovillage project is a fully approved sustainable development intended to enhance both our town’s tourist potential and our town’s environmental credentials. Using a variety of renewable energy sources, including the Hydro Electric plant on the banks of Loch Tummel, we intend to fully power an Ecovillage which will provide facilities including shops, restaurants, museum space, educational facilities and upwards of 200 much-needed new housing units. All of which has been fully costed, funded and approved by the Community Council of Aardraven, the Scottish Government and has been verified by our legal representatives as viable and adherent to the law of the land.

2) You state that our last letter (dated 29th April) was the ‘first I have heard of this ludicrous and very probably illegal venture’. I will answer the legality part of that quote in point 3 below. As to this being the ‘first’ you have heard of the scheme, I would like to refer you to raft of previous correspondence from our Council dating all the way back to January 12th last year. Enclosed with this letter are no less than 42 letters from ourselves relating to this matter, many of which ask for an urgent response, and a further 23 from the Scottish Government outlining the terms of the agreement and requests for consultation from yourself or your representatives.

3) The legality of the scheme is absolutely not in question I can assure you. I would like to quote from the Land Reform Act (2016) in relation to this matter. We, or any community or charitable body, are able to request the transfer of a section of privately owned land should the transfer ‘further the achievement of sustainable development and be in the public interest’, and if the transfer is ‘likely to result in significant benefit to the community and is the only practicable way of achieving significant benefit’. In both cases this has been agreed as fact. The act also states that Scottish Ministers will seek the views of the owner with the right to sell…on any application. They have attempted to do so many times, as have we, and set deadline after deadline in terms of asking for a response. None of which was forthcoming until now.

To repeat what I, and others, have stated in many of the previous letters to yourself Mr Archibald, we absolutely do not seek to cause a feeling of disharmony within this transaction. Neither are we attempting to ‘steal’ or purge land from yourself. The handful of acres earmarked for this development is, as you know, within a section of your land which is vastly overgrown with weeding, tall grass and other aspects of foliage. We completely respect your right of land, your right of ownership, but with the land as rundown as it currently is our proposal would be to regenerate the land, allowing it to help rejuvenate and enhance our town and bring in much needed revenue. Please be clear that this is not a comment on your, or your staff’s, upkeep of the land.

Please feel free to contact myself or any other members of the Community Council on the numbers provided on the back of this letter. Failing that our next Community Council meeting is being held on June 6th and you are, of course, very welcome to attend and discuss any concerns you may continue to have regarding this matter.

Yours sincerely
Irene McPhee
Aardraven Community Council Chair

***

Extract from John William Archibald, Laird of Aardraven’s, personal diary dated 30th May;

Nonsense. Absolute bloody nonsense. Spoke to that woman from the local mob on the phone for a good hour or so today. Waste of time. A broken record. Repeating the same over and over again. Quoting the new land thieving act again and again. As if she believed it would influence me in any way. Bloody idiot. Disrespectful. That’s what her and all her kind are. I’m the bloody Laird of the Estate for christ sake! Cottars the fucking lot of them. There never would have been this kind of behaviour in my father’s day. Or his father’s And so on. No. There was a fear back then. A respect. An Ecovillage for god’s sake. This is wild countryside. Not a plaything for sandal wearing hippies. On and on about the letters they’ve sent me. Tens. Dozens. Multiple. How the bloody hell should I know what letters they have or haven’t sent me. There hasn’t been the time. Or the staff. There’s been other considerations. Other problems. Problem. That doesn’t leave me the time. I can’t hire staff. I’ve tried that. And look how that ended. No. I can’t. The land must stay within the family. I will not let it go. I cannot. I’m 78 years old for god’s sake. Too old for this carry on. Too worn down. They can’t see that though. It will stay in the family. I’ll attend their silly little meeting. I won’t flinch from this.

***

Taken from the minutes of the Aardraven Community Council Meeting dated 6th June;

Irene McPhee (Chair) – Ok, now we turn to the next item on the agenda – The Lower Aardraven Ecovillage Development.

JW Archibald – Yes now, yes. I’m here to have my say finally. If you people will let me that is. Trying to shove this down my bloody throat. That’s what you lot are doing. I can assure you I will not consent to this. I will contact my solicitors and I will…

Irene McPhee (Chair) – Mr Archibald, sir, as I reminded you on the phone the time for consultation and legal involvement has been and passed. We sent numerous…

JW Archibald – Oh do shut up you silly woman. Numerous letters, numerous letters. That’s what you keep repeating time and again. A man of my stature cannot be expected to read or respond to every correspondence can he.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – Mr Archibald, if you insult Irene or anyone else here once again I am afraid I will have to ask you to leave.

JW Archibald – Oh be quiet. I am having my say. God, the amount of money I and my family have put into this bloody town and this is the kind of disrespect I have to contend with. Well I will not stand for it. That land is my land. My family’s. You will not steal it. Rest assured.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – The land is derelict Mr Archibald. In a state of ruin.

JW Archibald – My own land is my own land. What state it is in matters not to you or anyone other than my family.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – But the rest of the land is fine. Just that portion, that area. It’s an utter mess. It’s a sight and a half. That’s why we’ve proposed this Mr Archibald.

JW Archibald – It is my bloody land. I’m almost 80 for god’s sake. I can’t be expected to tend the entirety of my land at this age without any staff can I.

Irene McPhee (Chair) – Mr Archibald, we fully understand this and this is one of the reasons for this development. It will enhance the land, enhance the area, enhance…

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – Why do you have no staff Mr Archibald? Sorry for interrupting Irene but I’m just curious.

JW Archibald – That is none of your business. And I resent the further intrusion on my affairs. Apologise now.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – I do not intend to offend Mr Archibald, I’m simply asking. You used to have a whole string of staff at your disposal. It diminished over the years of course but still.

JW Archibald – This is entirely none of your business. I will not repeat myself again.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – Are you in financial difficulties Mr Archibald?

JW Archibald – What a scandalous thing to say you bloody little…

Irene McPhee (Chair) – I apologise Mr Archibald. Iain, that is completely out of order. Mr Archibald’s finances have nothing to do with this affair.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – I meant no offence Irene, I’m only asking because this development would help alleviate those troubles, bring in some extra revenue you know. That’s all.

JW Archibald – You can wipe that bloody smirk off your face you impudent b*stard. The disrespect here is sickening. You wouldn’t have dared talk to my father or his father in this manner. No, not a chance. They would have thrown the lot of you off this land and replaced you with bloody sheep without so much as a second thought.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – It’s a bit much to be advocating a return to the Highland Clearances Mr Archibald. And you speak of family, well you’ve no wife, no heir, no one to inherit the land as it stands. So, let’s be honest, in a few years time…

At this point the meeting was suspended due the threat of a physical altercation between JW Archibald and Iain Findlay, the former throwing his cane violently towards the latter. Both were escorted from the town hall.

***

Extract from John William Archibald, Laird of Aardraven’s, personal diary dated 6th June;

Bastard! Bastards! The lot of them. Especially that snivelling little bloody shit of a man. No heir? No bloody heir?! Where the hell does he get the gumption to say a despicable thing like that to me. No heir!? I’ll bloody well show him. Show the lot of them. No heir? Well they’d get a bloody shock if I…no. No. No. I won’t. Can’t. Those insignificant bloody nobodies!! Who they hell do they think they are. Just who the hell do they think they are talking to? Disrespecting. Staff? They dare to question me about my staff? My own staff!? They’ll get nothing out of me there. Nothing. Private business. Private land. My bloody land! Stupid little bloody crackpot council meeting. Christ’s sake what a joke. The Banana Republic of Aardraven. Well they’ll be hearing from the solicitors, that’s for sure. Worst of all it wasted my bloody time. Took me away. From this problem. The eternal bloody problem. Precious minutes. Wasted. Well I’ll make sure no more time is wasted. They WILL NOT take that land!!!

***

Official Notice of land transfer for 20 acres of Aardraven Estate to Lower Aardraven Sustainable Development Initiative dated 10th June;

FAO – John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven

The agreed and legally ratified transfer of 20 acres of the southern section of your Estate for use in the Lower Aardraven Sustainable Development Initiative will take place on 20th June.

The Site Manager for the project will be in touch with you before then to agree the procedural requirements and the timetable involved in the development. We will strive to ensure throughout that the minimal amount of impact is inflicted upon yourself and the remainder of your grounds during this time.

***

Letter from John William Archibald to both the Aardraven Community Council and Scottish Government dated 17th June;

The Much Honoured John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven
Aardraven House
Aardraven Estate
Perthshire

To Whom It May Concern

This absolutely will NOT stand. This land, MY land, cannot be procured. Cannot be stolen. I fully intend to involve my solicitors in this matter – this was my intention weeks ago however certain personal affairs have accelerated in and required my immediate attention. I will instruct them to enforce an immediate block on this development. You say this has been legally ratified but I GUARANTEE that my legal team will find a flaw in your argument.

This is theft. Pure and simple. I have read your so-called Land Reform Act and quite frankly consider it with the contempt and disdain it deserves. It’s an odd, bitter piece of legislation I must say. Revenge for your crofter forefathers being tossed out of their straw dwellings back in the 1800s is it yes? Either way it is a relic. Pathetic. Theft. We, the families that own these ‘estates’, are about the only thing that brings money into this paltry little outpost of a country. You should thank us for wanting to live rather than taking the more sensible route down to the more prosperous English countryside.

I could go on but I won’t. I’ll only say this CANNOT and WILL NOT happen. I will use any means and force necessary to prevent it from happening. This land absolutely MUST remain in my family’s name. Expect to hear from my legal team post-haste.

Yours,
The Much Honoured John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven

***

Extract from John William Archibald, Laird of Aardraven’s, personal diary dated 19th June;

THE END. The final chapter. All these years of seclusion, of suppression. All futile. The festering wound about to be ripped open once more. My name. This family’s name. Threatened with ruin. Degradation. Tomorrow is when they’ll discover it. When they start that daft little project of there’s. Mechanical equipment, diggers, cement lorries have already started arriving ahead of the commencement. Waiting. Overshadowing all. The wolves at the door. Ready to rip the tall grass to shreds. To plunder that land. MY Land. What should be my own private dwelling. Untouched by any other. PRIVATE! Personal. Out of sight, out of reach of those others. The problem now becomes unmanageable. They’ll know soon enough. Questions. Recriminations. NO! This land CANNOT be relinquished. Defiance. Protest. Yes. I’ll fight against this scorched earth insanity! Anything to prevent them. Those bloody solicitors. If only I’d had the time to contact them. They would have put a stop to this debacle. This affront. But the problem just wouldn’t allow it. Consumes all. MY TIME. MY ALL. What chance of escape? To flee into the acres. To flee into the countryside. I know this estate better than anyone. Better than these philistines. Parasites. But to flee would mean…no. I cannot risk. Or must I? The darkness thins, the dawn is approaching. Judgement…

***

Extract taken from the Police Scotland report written by DCI Robert Fyvie in relation to the incident at the Aardraven House Estate on June 20th;

Having spoken to several of the construction workers it has become clear that the Allan Baig, the Site Manager, having already attempted to contact Mr John William Archibald in the last week or so, knocked on the latter’s door several times early in the morning in an urgent attempt to ensure a smooth handover. No answer was forthcoming (this includes dozens of unanswered phone calls made to Archibald’s landline). At this juncture Mr Baig explained that he looked in several windows of the property and, eventually due to no further response, proceeded to the back of the property. Mr Baig arrived at the back at the house to find the back door ajar. Again he knocked several times, once more to no avail. Mr Baig then entered the property, calling out to Mr Archibald. It transpired that the property was empty or ‘abandoned’ in the words of Mr Baig. According to the latter a loaf of bread was left open on the kitchen counter, a buttered knife lying next to it, and a near-empty open bottle of Single Malt sat on the kitchen table. It appeared as though a sudden, hasty departure had been made. Mr Baig at this point thought no more of it and returned to the site to commence work.

The crew then cordoned off the land in preparation for the work – at this point it should be noted that the land had previously not been properly surveyed due to the initial silence and later intransigence on the part of the land owner, Mr Archibald, which led to a reliance on historic plans of the estate being used to scope the work before arrival. At this stage several members of the Aardraven Community Council, and other members of the community, arrived to witness the beginning of the development. At around 9:30am the first construction vehicle moved into the field and commenced digging the land. Moments later Mr Baig, standing nearby, called for the vehicle operator to cease after he noticed an ‘object’ protruding from the soil. Upon closer inspection it was found to be skeletal human remains. Mr Baig urged his crew and the community members to retreat from the field. As he moved into the field to closer examine the remains Mr Baig stumbled over a mound of dirt obscured by the tall overgrown grass and weeding. This in turn led to his discovery of further human remains. At this point Mr Baig hastily exited the scene and contacted the police.

Upon further inspection of the site we have discovered at least 20 shallow graves containing human remains buried in the field beneath the overgrown collection of grass, weeds, nettles and other foliage. Many of the remains have decayed to the point that, without the confirmation of a forensic report, I am confident to say they have been in the field for many years, possibly decades. Others appear to be more recent fatalities. All work on the site has, of course, ceased indefinitely until such times as our investigation is fully concluded.

I and many of my fellow officers approached Aardraven House with extreme caution only to find it, as Mr Baig had earlier reported, empty. At this point we conducted a search across the estate looking for John William Archibald, owner of the house and said estate. Mr Archibald was found an hour or so into the search, approximately three miles from the house, by the banks of the River Tummel. It is believed that he had fled the estate in the early hours of the morning. His condition on discovery was extremely grave and it has since transpired that he is suffering from hypothermia. Due to his condition, and his advanced years, he is currently in a critical condition on life support at the High Dependency ward in Perth Royal Infirmary.

Found with Mr Archibald was a man thought to be in his late 50s/early 60s. The man, the name of whom we are still to establish, clearly suffers from mental health issues, severe problems with his speech and had to be approached with the utmost caution as he was gesticulating violently in defiance of our officers. The limited amount of information we managed to obtain from Mr Archibald before he slipped into a critical condition, and subsequent research and initial tests, have, we believe, established that this man is Mr Archibald’s son. Mr Archibald has never married and was never known to have any children. A quick check of census information seemed to support the latter conclusion. Mr Archibald’s younger sister, Annabelle Archibald, did live in the property for many years however she passed several years back. At this stage the identity of the man’s mother has not been established.

The man has since been remanded in custody for questioning.

***

Extract from article entitled ‘AARDRAVEN HOUSE OF HORROR’ taken from The Courier newspaper, dated June 29th;

The man, now believed to be 59 years of age, known only as ‘Boy’ to the authorities, and son of John William Archibald, Laird of Aardraven, has been arrested and charged with 20 counts of first degree murder. Men, women and children, the majority of whom are said to have worked on the Aardraven Estate over the years, are said to be among the victims.

John William Archibald, who remains in a critical condition at Perth Royal Infirmary although he is currently off life support, has been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the covering up of the crimes and burying the remains within the grounds of his estate.

Sources from within Police Scotland have revealed to us that ‘Boy’ was, they are now certain, born of an incestuous relationship between Mr Archibald and his youngster sister Annabelle Archibald. The birth of the child understandably brought shame on the family and they subsequently took measures to conceal the matter from the public withdrawing further and further from public life – their widowed father Robert Samuel Archibald, previous Laird of Aardraven, died from heart complications only one year after what is now understood to be ‘Boy’s year of birth.

Thanks to snippets taken from interviews the authorities have ascertained that ‘Boy’ was kept locked away in a room in the East Wing of the house for large portions of his life. As deep-seated mental health issues and brutally violent tendencies began to reveal themselves as he approached adolescence, Mr and Mrs Archibald struggled to contain their child. The issue grew significantly worse as the years progressed. Mrs Archibald died in 1997 thought, at the time, to be as a result of natural causes. This verdict is now being re-examined in light of these recent discoveries.

A police timeline seems to suggest that ‘Boy’ committed his first murder in his late teens, bludgeoning an elderly farm worker to death with a pickaxe in the kitchen of Aardraven House after escaping from his room one day. Mr Archibald has allegedly confessed to the burying of the man’s body, and all the others, under the cover of darkness within the section of his land recently earmarked for the Lower Aardraven Ecovillage development. Several of the remains are expected to link conclusively to a number of open missing persons cases stretching back as far as the 1970s. The sources have thus far refused to entertain or comment on the rumours that many of the remains were subject to signs of cannibalism.

The discoveries of course account for the rapidly diminishing staff numbers over the years leading to the more recent situation of no staff at all working on the Aardraven Estate. So much so that the estate had seemingly ceased all operations. This may explain the estate’s alleged erratic and perilous financial state. The estate is, by all accounts, on the verge of bankruptcy.

A spokesperson for the Aardraven Community Council has confirmed that, as of now, the plans for the Lower Aardraven Ecovillage have been put on hold indefinitely. Many believe the plan will be fully abandoned in the coming weeks or months as the gruesome details of the story fully emerge and entirety of its impact is felt upon the town as a whole.

Wonder

I see you in your sister’s eyes
that twinkle and shine so bright

I see you in your brothers strength
because he won’t give up the fight

I see you in my dreams
and when I close my eyes

I see you in your Daddy’s smile
as he kisses me goodbye

I cannot frame your pictures though
then place them on the wall

Nor hang your stocking up
and wait for Santa Claus to call

The day you grew your wings
my heart was broken but unseen

I will always wonder, my angel,
who you would have been

Puppets

Empty headed fools
perform their routine
with no original thought

Do not challenge them,
for Puppets,
controlled by the
invisible hand of power,
spew toxic waste
from gaping mouths

Blinded by narrow minds
and ignorance,
they see only one vision
for the world

There is no place
for the sick, the wounded
and the needy

Puppets,
empty of mind
and of heart

Silhouette

May2017

Behold, the scene that fed my past,
though my childhood laughs did not echo there
and the silhouette of what is left
is flattened now, with those bare
and winter-ready trees
having autumn-lost their drinking cups
stand blindly, looking up,
dry towards a dimming sun
which paints moist a faint landscape glow
though I see no field or garden now
and there is no gardener to wipe his brow
in summer heat,
in this cardboard cut-out version
of my childhood seat.
I see but a scene set forever in fading light
where no detailed features may return,
no matter how hard I wish or fight.

Final Sunset

May2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

She has not always shone
for all to see,
her light hidden often
in the shadows

Eclipsed by brighter stars,
her brilliance has flashed
only briefly through gaps
in the clouds

Only those flying
closest to her have
felt her warmth,
have seen how brightly
she can shine

And when her
final sunset arrives,
the sky will glow
with colours so wondrous
and her life
will live on
in those who loved her

The same

We’re not the same
You and I
For I am nothing.

I will not grow a beard
Nor wear a cap upon my skull
Nor wrap my head except how I please
And, no doubt, as you can tell,
I will freeze until,
I eventually burn in hell.

I will not sink on bended knees
To the absent air
Nor sing songs in a wealthy house
While the poor go bare,
I will not pray for a better place
Yet sit and stare
At the human race.

You and I are not the same
As I will cease to exist
While your tidings will forever live,
Forever resist
The message
Of not to retaliate
But forgive.

I will not kill
In any name
For any reason cannot be right
There cannot be a fight
In any name
In mine nor His
For I cannot see the message there.

I’m not like you
For I will die
And no honour give
To my soul laid bare.

Bitter

Those Meddling Kids

‘Ahh! Fuck sake!!’

‘What’s the matter with you?!’

‘What’s the matter with me!?’ snaps Louise, ‘Thorn bushes, jaggy nettles, sharp branches catching on and ripping my tights! Take your pick!’

‘Oh chill out…’

‘Don’t tell me to…arghh!!!’ a stray branch, crookedly reaching out of another seemingly strategically-placed thorn bush, stabs into her leg, ‘don’t tell me to fucking CHILL OUT! Ok!’

‘Ok, ok.’ Ian raises his hands in a conciliatory, point-taken gesture.

‘Why the bloody hell are we… traipsing through the woods… in the pitch dark anyway!?’ Louise spits the sentence out between winces as she forcefully rips a scattering of thorns out of her leg.

‘I told you, you’ll see. Just wait, you’ll see’ answers Ian in an infuriatingly smug manner.

‘How did we get here in the first place anyway? And where the hell are the other two!?’

‘I’m not sure, they’re probably just…’

‘Ripped tights, blood dripping down my leg, my Uggs are caked in mud, I’m soaking wet, freezing. Whatever the hell this is can’t be worth it, surely!’

‘There they are. Look – beyond that tree…’

‘Where?’ she kicks through a large pile of frail, browning leaves, slipping slightly on a concealed, sodden, log beneath. She reaches out to balance herself, her brittle palms fiercely grabbing hold of an obliging branch. ‘Fuck sake’ she utters under her breath.

‘And, look, we’re here…’ announces Ian as he pushes aside a collection of huddled branches, stepping out into a wide clearing.

Louise trudges forward slowly with her head down, taking care to avoid any further hidden pitfalls lurking beneath the withered foliage, whilst at the same time trying to ignore the fresh scraping pain on her trembling palm. She hears Andy and Michelle’s voices before she lifts her head. She stops in her tracks as she looks up. Awestruck, confused, even slightly aghast at the sight before her.

‘What the hell is this!?’

‘Brilliant isn’t it!’ smiles Ian looking back at her. ‘I mean, just look at it!’

Andy and Michelle stare over briefly, almost unconcerned with the sight before them. The latter turning her attention to the clinking bag of alcohol at her feet, the former to pulling a suspiciously over-stocked Rizla packet from his jacket pocket. Louise glances at them, appealing for some kind of moral, or even sane, support or encouragement. Their attentions diverted she turns back to the sight before her. A huge looping, swirling, plunging rollercoaster juts out of the darkness, shooting towards the sky above the opening. A pale moon, mostly obscured by cloud cover, provides the only glint of light above the mass of steel. Rustic, forgotten steel she decides as the dilapidated condition of the ride further crystallises in her vision. A plethora of rides surround the rollercoaster. Chain swings creaking cantankerously in the breeze. A water attraction, its log-shaped cars now gathering a myriad of leaves and rainwater. Wooden benches and tables cower beneath the cold; drenched, wayward umbrellas thrusting out of a handful of the benches. A host of other rides and attractions lurk mysteriously in the shadows. All forgotten, neglected. All scarred, infected even, by patches of rust. Relics of another time.

‘An abandoned theme park!? That’s where you’ve taken us? An abandoned bloody theme park!?’

‘Yep,’ smiles Ian, ‘an abandoned theme park. Cool eh!’

‘Are we in a fucking episode of Scooby Doo or something!?’ scoffs Louise in return. She turns to the other two. ‘I mean seriously, come on guys? You’re honestly fine with this?!’

Andy and Michelle both shrug their shoulders in unison, each almost frighteningly in time with the other.

‘I’m easy like’ exhales Andy, a puff of smoke accompanying his words as he gently pulls the roll-up from his mouth, a can of Fosters clutched in his other hand, ‘as long as we’ve got our supplies with us I’m happy any way.’

Michelle nods her head in agreement, accepting the roll-up from Andy and taking a prolonged drag of it. ‘Plus…’ she says, clenching her eyes shut painfully before exhaling, ‘…the pubs back home are shite.’

‘So, that’s all you need is it? A place to drink and smoke weed? No matter how cold and wet it is or no matter how derelict, and lets be honest, creepy-as-fuck the place is? Is that what you’re saying?’

‘Basically, aye’ smiles Andy lazily, taking a swig of his lager. ‘Here…’ he thrusts a can towards her which she begrudgingly accepts without thanks. She opens it, allowing the uncaged froth to simmer down, before taking a drink.

‘Right, now that your little mood swing is done let’s go and discover this place aye…I’m joking, I’m joking, I’m only joking…’ shouts Ian as he sprints away from the onrushing shower of Fosters pouring towards him from Louise’s can.

***

‘I never even knew Ayrshire had a theme park.’ mulls Louise wistfully as she slowly rocks back and forth on the creaking, straining swing. Her eyes slightly glazed over, victim to the copious supplies of alcohol and herb swilling about in her system.

‘Aye, man’ Ian mumbles in response. ‘Must have closed five, ten years ago or something. I mind coming here as a kid. Looks far better these days mind.’

The two conjoin in a sludgy, exaggerated laughter.

‘What possessed you to take us here anyway? When folk go for a drive it’s not generally to seek out an abandoned, rusting theme park.’

‘I don’t know, it just came to me half a mile or so down that road. I don’t know.’

‘I’m pished, man. Fucking pished.’ announces Andy a few chairs down, tipping the embers of his roll-up into an empty can of lager.

‘Not as bad as your missus, Andrew, sir’ Ian smirks and nods towards the slumped, dozing figure of Michelle, defying the laws of gravity, luck and sense by somehow clinging to her equally as creaking swing.

‘Aye, she was half-cut before she got out the house. She found a Prosecco gift box or bag that her folks had stashed away for Christmas or something like. Demolished the thing. You’ve hardly been sober most of the night either though, let’s be fair.’

Ian laughs and puts his arm around Louise, attempting to pull her closer only for her swing to loudly creak back to whence it came. She barely registers, gazing up at the heights of the rollercoaster towering above them instead.

‘It’s weird isn’t it’ Louise declares.

‘What is?’

‘This place. It was so full of life once. I would imagine anyway. Screaming children, screaming parents, colour, fun. And now look at it. Derelict. Neglected. Hidden away almost. Like buried fossils or…or something. I don’t know.’

‘Jesus, man’ interrupts Andy, ‘your bird doesn’t half get philosophical when she’s baked does she, Ian. Philosophical being another word for ‘talks complete shite’ by the way Louise.’ He punctuates his comment with a laugh.

‘Oh piss off Andy. I just mean…I don’t know, I just mean…I mean it could be creepy, this kind of place, but there’s something…something beautiful about it. Especially beneath that moon.’ She nods skyward.

‘Aye, you’re right Lou…the piles of empty cans and bird, and whatever else, shite around the place really brings out the beauty in the place doesn’t it.’

‘You never take anything bloody seriously do you Andy. Ian, help me out here. Ian? IAN!’

‘What?…sorry what?’ comes the distracted reply as he turns to face them, his expression settled somewhere between confusion and worry.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Na nothing, I just…well, I’m sure…’

‘You’re sure what?’

‘Well I’m sure I just saw a man’s shadow over there, at the benches. Like…with a…with a top hat on or something. It’s probably nothing. Doesn’t matter.’

‘Fuck off!’

‘Sorry?’

‘I said fuck off!’

‘Why am I to fuck off!?’

‘You always do this. You always try to put the frighteners up me. That castle a few months ago. The Vaults in Edinburgh. Nearly every time I stay at your big draughty hole of a house. Always. I told you, I’m not creeped out here. Just drop it.’

‘I wasn’t trying to…look, I…never mind’ Ian concedes the point, turning his attention back to the spot beside the benches.

She takes a large swig of her can of Fosters, swilling the warm, flat dregs of the nectar in her mouth before letting it dribble out in disgust. Her intention of giving a scathing review of the lager is curbed as she hears a large thump, followed by a wrenching creak, to her right. She turns quickly and sees Michelle sprawled on the floor. The battle between gravity and luck obviously declaring the former the winner. Andy doubles over in laughter, only barely managing to struggle through the convulsions to lend his girlfriend a helping hand. Louise turns to Ian, naturally in that way that most couples do regardless of the situation, checking for his reaction. His attention is still fixed on the area near the benches, his brow furrowed.

‘Just stop it Ian!’ she snaps.

He turns, taking a few seconds to register her words, as if emerging from a fog of some kind once again.

‘Eh? Stop what? I’m not doing fuck all!’ his chummy, smirking demeanour from earlier now having firmly left the scene.

‘You know exactly what you’re doing! Just stop it! It’s not funny!’ She turns to Ian and Michelle, the latter now propped on her boyfriend’s knee, curled lazily around his frame. ‘He’s always at it.’

‘I’m not at anything! I’m telling you, there’s something over there!’

‘I don’t know, man, he could be onto something’ interjects Andy with all the modest, wistful qualities of an amateur sage.

‘What are you on about?’ Louise fails to mask the scorn etched across her face.

‘Well,’ says Andy, adjusting his legs, propping a half-conscious Michelle up further, ‘there’s that story about the man that went missing here isn’t there. A few years back?’

‘Nonsense.’

‘How would you know?’ he laughs, ‘you’d never even heard about this place.’

‘It’s nonsense because you two are at it! Trying to wind up tightly-wound Louise aye? Reckon I’m thick? Just because I wasn’t brought up around here? Well it won’t work so just piss off and drop it!’

‘Na I’m serious, man. Some dude went missing her a few years ago. Well, he was last seen here anyway. In the area. Near the ruined castle just through those trees. There was a big search party, it was in the papers, the local news, the lot. Never found.’

Louise starts to feel her chest tighten, suddenly aware of an unstoppable wave of sobriety flooding through her.

‘You never know’ continues Andy, ‘he could be having a Call Of The Wild, Jack London kind of experience going on. Living in the woods there, eating what he can find, using nature as his kitchen, his toilet. That’d explain the shite stains scattered everywhere anyway.’

He laughs once more, a tad of disappointment edging into his smile as the others fail to join him.

‘Well, that last part is nonsense obviously, but the first part is true. Isn’t it Ian?’

‘Eh?’ again Ian takes a moment to return from whatever alternative realm his mind was momentarily lodged in, ‘eh aye…look, it’s nothing, let’s just forget about it.’

He picks out a can from the carrier bag, shaking it briefly. It responds with a hollow, tinny sound. He casts it aside, delving back into the bag for a more fruitful outcome.

‘Ghost stories. Seriously.’ Louise shakes her head, pulling herself up off the swing.

‘Aye,’ a croaky voice escapes from Michelle, her eyes remaining shut, ‘we’re a bit too old for ghost stories are we not. Bit childish, no? Anyway, I’m freezing, or at least I should be given it’s October. And I need my bed so let’s get going. We’ve been here ages.’

‘Oh aye,’ smirks Andy, nudging his girlfriend conspiratorially, ‘I could be doing with my bed aswell. An ‘early night’ sounds good…hehe’

‘No chance’ Michelle answers flatly as she unravels herself from him, ending up in a standing position. A flicker of a ‘worth a shot’ expression darts across Andy’s face.

‘Yeah, we’ve finished all the bevvy anyway so we may aswell get going’ agrees Ian, throwing the carrier bag beneath the swings. He stands up and reaches out to take Louise’s arm but he’s met with rigidity, her back turned.

‘Did you hear that…?’ she whispers.

‘Eh? Hear what?’ answers Ian, moving himself into a position to see her face. She seemed to be trembling, colour dripping away from her. ‘Here, Louise, what is it?’

‘Did you not hear it? That creaking sound?’

‘Oh fuck sake,’ laughs Andy, overhearing ‘now she’s trying to turn the tables on us. Nice try hen, but we’re leaving.’

‘I’m not joking!’ she snaps in retort. ‘There was a big creaking sound, like something starting up. Something mechanic.’

‘Don’t be daft Louise, it doesn’t suit you. It’ll just be these swings, look at them. They’re fucking caked in rust, it’s a wonder how they managed to support us. And they’ve been creaking since we got here.’

‘It’s just the swings’ agrees Ian, still visibly struggling to shake the uneasiness garnered a few minutes previously.

‘Aye, come on Lou’ chimes Michelle.

Louise hesitates for a moment, doubting her senses, doubting her hearing. She looks at Ian, allowing him to put his arm around her, searching his expression for any kind of reassurance. None to be found, she thinks. And she can’t help but feel he’s searching hers for exactly the same as she notices the uncertainty draped across his gaze. The four move away from the swings, setting off for the wilds of the forest once more. When suddenly a deafening, screeching, sparking, clunking, mechanical whirring sound rips into the silence of the night air. They all, as one, freeze in terror.

The four of them turn slowly, staring at each other, glancing from one to the other to the next and back again. Gripped in fear. Paralysed in expectation. Of what they can’t tell. A ride collapsing? Someone hunting them? Something taunting them?

A loud metallically twisted click judders, resounds, against their skulls. A slow, meandering, echoing click. And then another. And another. Slow. Methodical. As if something was ascending slowly, painfully. And then a jolt, a rush of steel, a mass of object accompanies the clicks. Ian starts to turn slowly. Louise, gripping his hand forcefully, replicates and starts to pivot. Andy and Michelle, their drug and sleep-induced comas respectively vanished, also begin to turn. All four unsure, anxious, riddled with trepidation. They all turn. Their eyes widen.

Ahead of them, above them, the empty rollercoaster car climbs. One industrial sized mechanical clunk at a time. Ascending. Climbing. Reaching. Creeping in the darkness, slowly up to the peak of the ride, a plunging descent lurking on the other side. The four stare awestruck, unable to comprehend, to react. The car reaches the top of the ascent and halts. Pausing, seemingly, for dramatic effect. The others stare at each other once again. Wordless. Pleading. A click. The car nudges forward slightly. Inches. Centimetres. Millimetres even. They hold their breath. Again, without reason, without logic. Mere watchers. Onlookers. Another click. And the car plummets.

Speeding, rattling, careering down the track. Unrestrained, bulleting towards the ground. As it does so the theme park bursts into light around them. Colour, sound, images. Vibrancy. Surrounding them. The swings rattling, creaking, spinning round at high velocity. The water ride splashing through the water, making its own climb before plummeting into the filthy rainwater below. Fluorescent lights bounding up and down the helter skelter, the arcades, the entrance signs. Bells ding-ding-dinging, announcing winners, trumpets wah-wah-wahing, commiserating losers. Late 90s, early noughties pop and dance music stuttering out of the leaf-strewn speakers, serenading the rides as they continue to rattle along their tracks. Voices; shouting, calling, hawking. Roll ups and step-right-ups bellowed out across the park from stall owners, ticket-sellers, carnies practised in their craft. Some dressed in modern-ish clothing, others bedecked in outfits clearly more suited to the Victorian era. And, in amongst it all, the gangly frame carousing the park, weaving in and out. His top hat towering above him. Stalked, every step of the way, by that shadow. A shiver shoots down Ian’s spine, his hold on Louise’s hand tightening to a crush. She fails to notice, gripped in horror by the visions before her. The gangly figure with the top hat stops suddenly beneath the arch of one of the larger rollercoaster drops. And turns. Looking directly towards the four of them. A smile, more satisfied than sinister, flutters across his mouth. He begins to walk towards them. The four frantically turn and look at each other once again. Their faces twisted in a variety of fearful poses and trembles. As one they all look back towards the advancing figure one last time.

And then they run.

 

***

 

‘Right you can all settle down now, that’s us done.’

The gangly gentleman clicks his fingers above his head, almost theatrically, and completely extinguishes the lights, the sounds, the movements, the rides. It basks the theme park in a darkness and silence once more. He removes the top hat from his head, gently dusting the top of it with care, a touch of pride perhaps, and no lack of vanity.

‘Is that us finished already then?’ an older man shuffles out from a ticket booth next to the rollercoaster. Immaculately dressed head to toe in tweed, exuberant sideburns straddling his cheeks, a cultivated twang flavours his accent.

‘It is indeed.’

‘And so…erm…come on good man, spill the beans…did you meet them?’

‘No.’

‘Oh!’

‘No, I saw them but they fled.’

‘Oh for goodness sake!’

‘They all flee at first. Every bloody one of them.’

‘Well, fine. But you saw them yes? What have we got?’

‘They’re fairly young I would say. Late teens to mid-twenties or so perhaps.’

‘Yes?’

‘Two males, two females.’

‘Okay. Good. Good.’

‘I crept around a bit beforehand. Listened in. The usual. One of the males is clearly a bit of waster, that’s indisputable. The other seems like the adventurous, outgoing, leader type. As for the females; both fine looking girls I must say. One’s fairly ditzy, bit of an airhead. The other, the smarter of the two, seems fairly level headed. Some temper on her though. I’m sure they’ll all have their uses. Even if they are all massive stoners. I tell you though, they couldn’t be more like the bloody Scooby gang if they tried. Not even the laziest, most cliché-loving subpar writer would create a gang of four as bloody obvious as that!’ He laughs mockingly.

‘A…gang of…Scoobs? Sorry, what?’

‘Ah. Well before your time wasn’t it? Never mind. Never mind.’

‘Quite. So what now? What’s the plan?’

‘Plan? Nothing really. They’ll come back. They always do.’

The older man nods distractedly as he glances from side to side in a haze of confusion.

‘Ah’ he exclaims, clearly landing successfully on a memory that threatened to slip from his mind’s grasp. He marches off to the side, walking straight through a stall, and disappears into the enclosed darkness for a brief moment. He emerges, walking back through the stall once again, as he clutches a deer stalker hat. He puts it on. ‘Can’t be forgetting this eh. Can’t return to the castle without now, can I’

‘Ruin of a castle you mean…’ mumbles the gangly man under his breath.

‘Hmm?’

‘Nothing, nothing.’

‘Yes, anyway. Better be off. All the others appear to be leaving so I might aswell make my retreat’ he nods to the dozens of figures, adorned in a range of outfits stretching back at least two or three centuries, scuffling and trudging their way away from the theme park. All walking past, over and through the rides and attractions strewn across the derelict landscape.

‘Yes.’

‘Okay. You’re sure they’ll return though, yes?’

‘Of course they will. They always come back. You know this. They can run, flee, scatter, attempt an escape. But sooner or later everyone around this area returns, they always come back.’

‘Once they realise, yes?’

‘Indeed. Give them a while. They’ll eventually find their way out of the woods. Then they’ll find the car about half a mile down the road. And if they don’t realise it when they see the state of the wreckage then they’ll soon figure it out when they see their lifeless bodies inside. Bloody stupid drink drivers. That or they’ll start realising they can walk through things. After all, it takes a while to kick in. As you obviously know. Either way they’ll soon realise they’re dead.’

‘Yes. Quite. Well, I’ll be off then.’ The older man tips his hat towards the gangly man respectfully.

‘Righto.’

The older man departs, leaving the latter on his own. He strolls slowly across to the swings, taking in the sight of the discarded cans, roll-ups and plastic bags scattered across the tarmac, sporadic patches of weeds littered around them.

‘Lucky bastards’ he mutters, ‘stoned, pished, dead in seconds. Somewhat different to my agonisingly slow, freezing, starvation-filled death isn’t it. Ah well, not their fault is it. They’ll come back. They always do. They always will. In fact…something tells me they’ll come to their wee realisation any minute now…’

A low, grumbling shudder echoes over head, sending large drops of rain battering to the ground. The drops rapidly develop into a steady downpour, sheets of rain careering down on the scene, slapping off the rustic steel of the rides. He looks up toward the pale moon as it edges out from behind a cloud. He smiles slightly. A faint scream slithers into the night air from a distance. His smile widens.

‘And there it is…’

He calmly places the top hat back on his head and strides purposefully towards the woods.