The wind from the eastern reaches of the Forth crept up across the pebbled beach, clambered over the long grass and hissed violently at the entrance to the cave. The lone figure inside of the cave shuddered, the cold slicing into his flesh, and attempted to pull the ripped rags tighter to his body. The damp broadsheet newspaper page he’d earlier procured as cover clutched cold to his back, evidently enforcing more harm than good on the shivering man.
‘Just my luck…’ stammered the man as he tossed the paper aside, no longer equipped to perform as a cover or as fuel for the fire he intended to construct. The mini gusts of wind that managed to find their way into the cave carried the paper to the dark recesses of the opposite end of the dwelling. ‘Fuck off’ snapped the man as a final farewell.
He touched his glove-less fingers to his face, wincing at their icicle-like touch against his rasping cheek. He used the same hand to reach inside his cacophony of garments – jacket,fleece, scarf, vest and so on – and pulled out a can of supermarket own-brand super strength lager.
‘Here’s tae you!’ he smiled sardonically, raising the can to the yawning chasm of darkness surrounding him. ‘And tae all the touristy fellows that discover this reeking tramp pished and laid oot during their Wemyss Caves tour the mora mornin’ tae!’
The pale yellow liquid dribbled down his lips, soiling his unkempt beard in the process, as his eyes closed in what could have been a mixture of relief and ecstasy. He felt the drink burn in his chest, flaring up with all the consistency of bile. Any warmth was better than no warmth at all, he concluded. His eyes, stinging wet amid the punishment from the freezing temperature, began to glaze as he worked his way down the can. Before long, sleep took him.
He awoke sometime later, he knew not how long later, with a feeling of warmth caressing one side of his face. He eyes still shut, he wiped the drool from the corners of his mouth expecting the heat, the warmth, to disappear as he did so. It did not. Slowly he began to force his eyes open. His eyes struggled at first to adjust to an unexpected light flickering before him. The source of the heat. A fire. He pulled himself up to a sitting position, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand, and stared at said fire. His stare denoted incredulity. A touch of disbelief even. Both of which switched suddenly to confusion. Had he made this himself? Did the lager do it’s job so well that he couldn’t remember fashioning what, although admittedly was a rather small fire, was a very decent concoction of heat? With nothing, by the looks of it, but twigs and stones? Jesus, he thought, was it getting that bad? His memory, his brain, had taken a punishment over the years he knew yes, but blackouts? He continued to stare at the flames before him, distracted only by a hot surge of vomit working its way quickly up his throat before ceasing on his tongue. He spat out the culprit, the taste wrenching against his taste buds as he did so.
‘Fuck it!’ he decided. Who cared how it got there, the main point was he had heat. He stretched his arms out in a v-shape, straining the bones in his upper body, and slumped back against the wall of the cave, ready to embrace the homely comforts of the flame.
When he caught sight of them.
He jolted slightly, knowing not why. He squinted his eyes and peered through a darkness poorly lit only by the threadbare, flickering flame, towards the wall opposite him. As his eyesight finally settled on the wall of the cave the flame from the fire seemed, somehow, to alight the section of wall opposite him perfectly. Almost as if a spotlight had been manually turned on for his benefit alone. An oddity certainly given how fragile the flame had been only seconds before. He ignored this and concentrated on the wall once more. Carvings? Surely not.
‘Naw, that’s definitely carvings’ he muttered to himself as he raised himself to his feet and began to shuffle over to the area in question. It can’t be though, he argued back to himself, this is the Doo Cave after all. There’s never been carvings in here. Pigeons? Aye. Plenty of those buggers. But carvings no. All the others, aye, that’s what the caves were famous for; the pictish carvings scrawled into the walls dating back thousands of years. But not this one, not the Doo Cave. And he should know, he declared to himself, given that he used the thing frequently. In fact, he’d looked at the wall only a couple of hours or so before, as soon as darkness had descended, when he’d ambled into the cave. And there was certainly no bloody carvings on the wall then!
He stepped towards the wall, inadvertently kicking his discarded can aside in the process, the carvings gradually revealing themselves in the flickering glow. A fire. That much was clear. One of the carvings was clearly fire. Made sense, he supposed, given fire was such an important part of life back then for the Picts. Not like today eh, he scoffed to himself as he glanced back at his only source of heat and light. But there was definitely a carving of a fire. A rather small one. And…was it a tool next to it? A small misshapen thing, possibly cylindrical at one time, maybe not, lay next to the fire. It added nicely to his general fog of confusion. A sudden burst of darkness, a flicker of the flame perhaps, brought on by a sporadic gust of wind or something else, cloaked the wall in shadow. Only momentarily, only for the slightest of split seconds. It forced him to spin round instinctively, to check his surroundings. He saw something. At least, he thought he did. A crooked, blurred shadow, on the wall he had been sitting against only moments earlier. It seemed to recoil, to slink back into the greater mass of darkness as his head snapped around. He could feel the chill returning to his body as he stood frozen, statuesque in the centre of the cave. And then the wind howled, adjoining with the distant sound of crashing waves. It consoled him. The weather he thought, it was the weather, nothing else. A nearby tree possibly, rainfall, rubbish blowing across the beach. Anything. It was the weather. He uncoiled himself from his momentary lapse of fear and turned back towards the wall.
And froze once again.
Shivers, trembles, fears all accumulated within him, paralysing him in terror. A new carving had appeared on the wall. Next to the fire. A malevolent looking, hunched, somehow shadowed figure. Carved, almost chiseled even, into the cave wall. A blackness draped over it. Innocuous in any other setting perhaps. But it held him comatose with fear. A feeling amplified to extremes by a shadow suddenly plastering itself to the wall, dashing the carvings in a bleak canvas. It moved slowly along the wall, silently at first before synchronizing with the lightest sounds of footsteps crunching along the ground. The man tried to engage his brain, his limbs in a desperate attempt to turn and flee but the shadow, the moment, the fear had seized him in a vice-like grip. The winds outside shrieked their protests, scratching at the exterior of the caves, as the fragile flame gasped its last. The darkness took him.
A handful of days later an early morning tour group quickly trotted into the Doo Cave as the winds and sleet bouncing off the Forth cut at them like a thousand unrelenting claws. The tour guide prepared himself for his recital, ready to regail the assembled group of how pigeons were historically kept in this particular cave,when his gaze was arrested by a series of markings on the wall. He walked towards the markings, allowing himself a beneath-his-breath curse at the reprobates and hooligans who had left their empty beer can and the remains of a fire in the centre of the cave causing him to stumble slightly.
‘Hold on a minute…’ he said, shakily to himself. A tangled web of nerves and excitement slipping from his throat. He took out his glasses from his pocket and slipped them on, ‘now these are new! And yet…they’re pictish, look at the style, the age of the stone, the age of the carvings!? How have we never noticed this before…!?’
The tour group quickly hurried towards their guide, huddling round him, and looked at the carvings so effortlessly holding every fibre of his attention. A small fire. An small, bent cylindrical object, possibly a tool, alongside it. And a man. The carving of a man. A bearded man, seemingly covered in several layers of clothing. Alongside the fire. Alongside the object.
A bearded man.
Carved into the stone.
Etched into the wall.
For now. And forever more.