The Balbirnie Stone Circle – A Fife Horror Story #1

‘SLAINTE MHATH!’

Jenny let out a squeal of terror in response to the roared greeting, losing her footing slightly on the gravel path, her arm jolting and very nearly sending her glass of champagne splashing across her immaculate wedding dress. Her two accompanying bridesmaids, Sharon and Elsa, added their own squeals in chorus with the bride’s.

The terror just as quickly turned into mirth however as they looked up to see the source of the outburst. A small scraggily-haired elderly man, maybe mid-to-late sixties, was standing, legs astride, facing an unfortunate tree. Bottle of champagne or wine – it was hard to tell in the fading light – clutched in his lofted hand, his appendage clutched in the other hand as he decorated the base of the tree with an intermittent yellow stream of piss. He turned his head slightly, smiling a toothless smile at the three women. A smile wedged somewhere between elation, lechery and severe drunkenness.

‘Aye, thanks’ giggled Jenny as she hoisted the hem of her dress up and fell against Sharon for support. ‘Enjoy.’

‘Who was that?’ laughed Elsa as the three continued along the path, the sounds of UB40’s Red Red Wine back-peddling behind them as they edged further away from Balbirnie House and the wedding reception.

‘Erm…I dunno…’ answered Jenny, ‘Great Uncle maybe…cousin possibly…he’s on my side I think anyway. Christ knows!’

‘He seems to be enjoying himself anyway’ said Sharon, between sips of her rapidly dwindling supply of champagne ‘although someone should maybe tell him that there’s toilets back there in the venue!’

‘Aye,’ agreed Elsa, ‘but so much for coming out to get some fresh air. It smells of that old fella’s pish now!’

‘You girls can just head back in’ suggested Jenny.

‘No no no’ Sharon shook her head, ‘we can’t leave the bride unattended on her wedding night can we Elsa?’

‘No…’ pondered the latter, ‘but shouldn’t it be the job of the groom to keep her company anyway!? Where is Lewis in fact?’

‘In there getting colossally pished.’ Jenny nodded towards the venue with an amused smile on her face. ‘Some use he’ll be tonight if he keeps at it right enough…but eh, no, seriously, you girls head back in. I could do with a minute or two alone, I’ve not had a chance to think all day. Photos, speeches, cake, photos, photos, dances, more photos. Non stop! Seriously in you go. I’ll be in in a few minutes.’

‘Sure?’ asked Sharon before quaffing the remains of her drink.

‘Aye, honestly.’

‘You’re the boss, honey’ came the reply before the two bridesmaids gave the bride the obligatory hug and peck-on-the-cheek parting ritual which comes with a certain level of alcohol consumption. They both turned and started to zigzag back along the path toward the 19th Century Greek Revival mansion house.

Jenny watched them crunch their way along the gravel into the distance, waiting for and then hearing another roared salutation of ‘SLAINTE MHATH’. She shook her head, smiling to herself before she drained the last drops of her champagne. She scoured her surroundings before laying the empty glass down by the side of the path, promising herself she would pick it up on the return journey, and then continued on her stroll away from the venue, breathing in the calmness of the air and the moment as she did so.

She continued along the tree-lined path, eventually arriving at the stone circle by the edge of the venue’s grounds. The partial circle comprised of eight varying sizes and conditions of standing stones thought to date back to several thousand years BC. To some it offered a glimpse into a previous, distant era. To Jenny however, it offered nothing more than the chance to sit down. She sighed a deep, satisfying sigh as she lowered herself onto one of the stones and peeled the glittery high heel shoes off the broken, screaming, burning entities that used to be her feet. Her chest heaved as she tried to contain the pain unleashed along the soles of her feet, all the while reassuring herself that she would never have to wear those particular shoes again. They’d served a purpose, they’d assaulted her feet and now she could shove them in the same box that the wedding dress was set to reside in, never to be seen again. At least until we’re skint, she thought. Or the next wedding. You never know she joked to herself. We’ll see how drunk my newly-crowned dearly beloved gets.

She placed the shoes on the stone next to her before reaching a hand into her dress. She pulled out a small packet of cigarettes and a lighter from within her bra. She carefully selected a cigarette from the pack and lit it, allowing the sweet tarry vapour to invade her lungs and quell the stresses of the ‘most important day of her life’. She gently pushed out a cloud of smoke into the air.

‘No-one needs to know’ she quietly said to herself, smiling and crossing one leg over the other with no lack of effort.

Her new husband was too drunk to notice, she decided, and even if he wasn’t she could wash the scent from her mouth with any number of free drinks handed to her on the way in. And besides, it was only one or two now and again. She stared up towards the stars, suddenly aware that the darkness had closed in around her. A full moon hung heavy in the sky to her left, the tree tops jaggedly skewering its hem. The slightest tint of red seemed to dot the face of the moon itself. Jenny rubbed her eyes, convinced the glass of bubbly was working its way into her brain cells and vision. Only the brief, sporadic bursts of cold nipping at her bare shoulders suggested this was an Autumn night. The night was picturesque, cool. And quiet. Very quiet, in fact. Any sound from the venue itself seemed to have evaporated into the darkness and distance between it and her. She shrugged, thinking no more of it, and took another deep, throat caressing, drag of her cigarette.

She flicked the finished stub onto the grass in front of her and stepped down from the stone, wiping the rear of her dress as a precautionary measure. It felt damp. ‘Oh for goodness…’ she started, stumbling forward a few steps into the middle of the circle before looking back at the stone in question, the culprit, ready to unleash pointless volleys of ‘don’t you know it’s my wedding day!?’ levels of abuse. But when she did turn she was speechless. Rendered so by the sight she saw. The stones were still there, yes. All eight of them. Including the cist burial stones beside her in the centre of the circle. But beside each of the standing stones stood hooded figures.

Their heads bowed. Each beside his or her own standing stone. The hooded figures lifted their heads gradually as the moon crept out from behind its partial tree top cover into the clear sky above them. Jenny gulped as she instinctively looked skyward. Patches of red seemed to be incrementally covering the moon. Almost as if a red veil was being drawn across its face. Until eventually every inch, every crater, every crevice was awash with a dull-yet-throbbing red glow. A red hue descended from it, alighting the path, the trees, the stone circle were she stood. She felt a cascading waterfall of horror drip through her body. As if icicles were being dragged up and down her bones. She wrenched her gaze away from the moon and back toward the hooded figures that surrounded her. They were staring. She wheeled round in a circle. Staring at her. Straight at her. All of them. Their eyes seemed shadowed, the darkness of the night and their hoods concealing them. But she knew. She knew they were staring at her. Through her.

‘Ok…’ offered Jenny with a half-hearted laugh, ‘you can stop now guys…whoever you there. It’s a funny prank and all that but…but…not really suitable for a wedding day is it….’

Silence greeted her attempt at pulling the situation back to a level of comfort. Absolute silence. No noise. Nor any movement, individually or collectively. The hooded figures simply stared. At her. Jenny felt an urge to run. Her shoes, still sitting on the stone, stared back at her and suggested otherwise. But no, she thought to herself hurriedly, it’ll be far harder to run in heels, I can send someone back to get them. She started to slowly hoist the hem of her dress up, preparing herself for a quick burst of speed.

‘Look, I don’t know who you all are but this is…’ she started, trying to create any kind of distraction from her preparations, ‘this is…this is not on. You’re creeping me out. I’m not…’

She let the words drop into the silence, whipped her head round and was on the very verge of breaking into a run. When she stopped. Halted in her tracks by a chanting. It came from the hooded figure standing in front of her. She tried to make out the words, any words, but none made sense to her ears. The chanting increased suddenly. Chorused. Echoed. The other figures joining the initial voice as they each started to raise their arms, their palms facing upwards, to chest level. Appealing, almost. Asking. Begging. For someone. For something. Jenny felt a tear drip onto her cheek, her body clenched in shivering terror, as she jerked her head from side to side. Met at each juncture by a chanting, incorruptible hooded figure. She felt a jolt through her body. And she ran.

Only to be knocked back almost instantly as she tried to breach the perimeter of the circle. Whether by stone, by hooded figure, by whatever else, she could not tell. Her mind allowed her no time to ponder as it boiled with pain. She fell to the ground, the back of her head colliding with the cist burial stone, as the shock sent her sprawling back towards the centre of the circle.

As she awoke she felt herself almost floating into a sludgy stream of half-consciousness. Fragments of light, images, sounds clambering for recognition in her mind above the over-arching searing pain of the wound on the back of her skull. Through her confusion she heard a handful of muttered words. The voices deep. Booming. ‘Virginal’, ‘pure’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘offering’. None of the words managed to cloak themselves in sense within her mind before she slipped back into the realms of unconsciousness. For a matter of seconds, minutes, hours; she knew not which.

As her eyes flickered open once again the dark of the night returned to her vision. Quickly followed by that familiar, threatening red glint. And then the hoods. They stood above her. Peering down at her. Surrounding her. She tried to scramble up. And couldn’t. Her arms, her legs refusing to move. She stared down in horror and noticed they were bound. Her arms. Her legs. She couldn’t move. She thrashed, strained, kicked. All to no avail. One of the hoods started to close in on her. Her throat locked, her breathing lacking an outlet, as she trembled in anticipation. And then she heard a rip. She pressed her chin against her chest and looked down to see her once-pristine wedding dress being torn in two, ripped from her body, by some kind of primitive, hooked blade. She stared up to the sky. Bound and helpless. A handful of wispy clouds parted, allowing the red moon to creep into her view.

Jenny closed her eyes one final time as she felt the cold steel scythe into her flesh.

Her soul-searing screams were heard only by the drunken relative she had passed by earlier as her and two bridesmaids had staggered down the path. By the time said drunken relative arrived at the stone circle he was met only by the stones. He peered around briefly, catching sight of the pale yellow moon hovering in the sky above, before shrugging and chaotically ambling back up the path towards his next drink. He broke into a shambling gallop as large drops of rain began to fall.

As the moon crept back behind the trees and a renewed smattering of clouds the last of its shine flashed ever so briefly onto the burial cist stone in the centre of the circle. Any passer by, be it a drunken relative or any other, would have seen the faintest drop of fading blood etched onto the side of the stone illuminated in the moonlight. By the time the search party arrived in the early hours of the next morning however, combing the area for any sign of the missing bride, the drop of blood had been washed away by the previous evening’s rainfall.

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Ceres (For Jean)

…psst…what’s he up to in there?…things…telescopes…not a clue…who knows…maybe he’s…shhh…pssst…maybe he’s lost it…lonely…grief…and all that…always was an oddball…shhh…not being mean but something was never quite …right…about him…psst…hard for him…lost her…yes but they weren’t even married…shhh…not even together…odd…strange things…what’s going on?…just what is he up to?…shhh…

 

Ceres Log – Stardate 2014.06.21:

And so it begins…

My mission. Purpose. The work that will consume my time, my all, for the foreseeable future. Ceres; my home town. Village. Hamlet. However you wish to describe it. A small oasis of beauty in the eastern reaches of Fife, Scotland. Let’s just call it the place where I live. The place where I have lived throughout my life. From the very first minute to now, sixty nine years later. It’s also the place where Jean lived all her life. My friend Jean. My best friend Jean. And, at times, my ONLY friend, Jean. I say ‘lived’ because, well, sadly Jean passed away recently. 68. No age for a woman with her spirit, her vitality, her personality. But she was afflicted with a disease that just would not sod off. Not for good anyway. It kept returning, again and again. Wave after wave. And no matter how resiliently Jean battled against it, eventually the bastard took her down. Took Jean down. My best friend. Took her away from me.

Friends. That’s what we were. That’s all we ever were. And that was ok. More than ok, in fact. It worked. For both of us. For both of us awkward, slightly anxious, more-than-slightly uncomfortable-in-our-own-skin human beings. There were times when, yes, a kiss seemed not too far away. The unspoken. The elephant in the room. But it never happened. And again, I’ll reiterate, that’s ok. Because I loved Jean. And she loved me. Love can exist without romance. But it can’t exist without friendship, without partnership. And that’s what we were; a partnership. Donald and Jean. Jean and Donald. That’s how everyone referred to us. One with the other. It was never any other way. Throughout school, university, adulthood. We were always there for each other. With each other. Supporting one another though triumphs, through grief, through life. And then she left me. Alone. Lost. Wondering what life could possibly have left to offer a lonely, socially-awkward 69 year old retired astrophysicist without his best friend to turn to for comfort and companionship.

And so this is why I’m here. Now. Why I’m writing this log. Why I’m starting this whole thing. Why I have all this equipment, all these tools, my telescope, laid out before me. I’m doing it for Jean. For her memory. For the memories of all those moments we shared together. The laughs, the tears, the newspapers read in comfortable, warm silence. I will see this through for her. For the love she gave me and I her. You see, Jean always dreamed of leaving Ceres. Temporarily anyway. She dreamed of travelling, far and wide and often. But her anxieties, and then latterly her health, wouldn’t allow it. Whereas I occasionally had to travel abroad for work, she never did. Writing romance novels for a living generally doesn’t demand much foreign travel, unless you desire it for research purposes of course. And Jean didn’t. And so, this is for Jean. My friend Jean. This is to help her fulfil her dreams. This is to allow her to see what she never thought she could see. This is for her. This is all for her.

 

…psst…he’s barely ever out of that house since…well…y’know…since what happened…shhh…he’s grieving…must be devastated…but…shhh…what is he up to?…not a clue…banging…crashing…mechanical whirring…bleeping…all day…all night…psst…he was a astrology physicist…shhh…astronomy…what?…pssst…what?…astronomy you idiot…astrology is horoscopes and that…shhh…never opens the curtains…always working…its almost like Wallace and Gromit…hahaha…what’s a Gromit?…never mind…look…just look……just what is he up to…?!…shhh…

 

Ceres Log – Stardate 2015.09.14:

Ceres is a town in east Fife, yes.

This we know. This I have already stated.

But Ceres is also a dwarf planet, settled in the asteroid belt somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It lies approximately 257 million miles away from Earth. It has a total diameter of roughly 587 miles. A day on Ceres lasts almost nine earth hours, and it takes 4.6 earth years to revolve around the sun. It was discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi all the way back in 1801. And then it was discovered by Jean in the early 1990s. Well, like all these numbers and calculations, I say that approximately. And when I say discovered by Jean, I mean she spotted it through my telescope. And we were looking for it. So ‘seen by’ may be more accurate but let’s stick with ‘discovered by’ shall we, it sounds far more scientific and I’m sure Jean would have approved.

This fascinated Jean. She, who had barely ever left this town and who had loved it for its reclusiveness and its quietude, could scarcely believe that her home shared a name with one the solar systems largest objects. A dwarf planet no less. Talk about town twinning. The fact that the dwarf planet Ceres was named after a Roman God and not in fact the town itself mattered little to her. It filled her with a sense of wonder. A sense of insignificance but in a good, grounding kind of way. A whittling down of all problems, tedious or otherwise, into an irrelevance when the vastness of our existence was taken into account. She knew, as we all do of course, that James Wilson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, had come from Ceres, the town, and that had in turn garnered some outsider knowledge of the place, but this…this to her was extraordinary.

From then Jean became almost as fascinated in space, in astrophysics, as I was and am. She would constantly ask me to locate Ceres on my telescope, even accompanying me once to the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh – a trip which took a hell of a lot for Jean – to try to locate the dwarf planet. And that blossomed into a desire to know more, to learn the constellations, to be able to locate them, to understand more about the planets in our solar system, the visible stars located in other galaxies. It even renewed my love in the subject, truth be told. I have always, and will always, love astrophysics, space. That is undeniable. But when you work with the subject every single day, when it consumes your life, you tend to forget the unhinged wonder, naivety even, that greets your initial flirtation with space and all its wonder. She even started watching Star Trek with me. Of all the things. I would often catch Jean staring up at the skies, especially on a cool cloudless autumn or winter night, just staring. Gasping as she took in the starry, wondrous, firmament above us. On more occasions than I can recall she would head out to the back garden to put something in the bin and that would be the last I would hear of her for a good half an hour or so. Frequently I would wander out and catch her gazing towards the stars. Usually shivering away yet caring not. Her dreams of travelling the world had blossomed into a dream – a silly, unrealistic dream she knew of course – of seeing space, of exploring the Ceres 250-odd million miles away from her living room. She felt its grandeur; she felt the enormity of it all. And it comforted her.

And that’s why I’m still toiling away on this. I will finish it. I have to and I will. Despite what the doctor tells me about taking it easy and resting more often. About taking my medication. Time spent on other thing, on anything else, is time lost. Time wasted. I can’t let Jean down. And I won’t let Jean down.

 

…psst…he’s still at it…surely not…as I live and breathe he’s still going…shhh…despite the…shhh!…despite the doctors telling him…despite his…y’know, his…his…shhh…the ambulance was there again last week…determined to get it finished…psst…they say he doesn’t have long…shhh…determined to finish it…what is it?!…psst…a space rocket or something…that’s what a nurse I know said a doctor told a nurse she knows…hahaha…is it?…don’t know…poor old man…isn’t well…mind must have went…shhhh!…it’s a shame…shouldn’t be on his own in the house like that…shhh…

 

Ceres Log – Stardate 2017.08.17:

Not long now.

In every way.

I will finish this. I’m almost finished. I can’t stop now. Not with my health gone. If I don’t finish now then it has all been for nothing. I would be a failure. I would have let Jean down. No. Jean and myself. I would let both of us down. I don’t care how much rest I need. I don’t care how long they say I’ve got left. I will not sleep. I will not eat. Until this is done. Just a couple of things now. Phone keeps ringing. Door keeps knocking. Journalists. Doctors. Neighbours. Nosey, the lot of them. Worried about me. Wanting my story. Wanting anything. Can’t understand why I am doing this. Why I’m refusing help. Well I just need to adjust a few calculations – always calculations, it always was calculations – and I’ll be ready. It will be ready. We’ll all be ready.

There’s a series of very bright white spots on Ceres. You can see that in pictures. Through the telescope. Salty ice it is believed. The brightest cluster sits in Occator, a crater some fifty miles wide. That’s the target. That’s the destination.

That’s the end point.

 

…pssst…they say he only has days left…poor man…very ill for a long time…not right…mentally…shhh…curtains never open…losing her hit him hard…shhh…still…crazy though…I mean…trying to launch something into space…hahaha…shhh!…leave him alone…of course it’s crazy…it’d never work…forget it though…poor guy…not long left now…psst…

 

Ceres Log – Stardate 2017.09.02:

Done.

No turning back now.

We have lift off.

For my friend.

For Jean.

 

…psst…that was where he lived…there?…apparently the crater in his garden is huge…shhh…when did it happen?…a couple of years back…psst…look you can still see some of the trees next to the house…look at them…dead…shhh…still can’t believe it…no-one thought he could do it…no-one?…no-one…but he did…remember seeing it on the news…from Ceres to Ceres…still can’t believe it…shhh…no-one can…even had NASA here…in Ceres…believe that?…what a guy…died the next day…after it landed on Ceres?…no, the day after he launched it…had no idea if it would get there or not…been sick for a long time…shhh…had notes and diaries left lying around…all for his friend…who?…his friend Jean…all just to send her urn…just to spread her ashes…on the surface of Ceres…just crashed it…intentionally crashed the thing into one of the craters…spent his entire life savings…all of it…all for his friend…for Jean…shhh…

I Dream Of Mermaids

Last night I dreamt of mermaids.

Again. Like I do most nights. Or some nights, at least. Frequently. Let’s just say frequently.

I dreamt I was sitting here, right where I am now, by my bedroom window. Staring out at the sea. The sea that appears so choppy, so gloomy. So grey. The near-sand-less, pebble beach that lines the coast adding to the moribund demeanour of the town. A once-renowned seaside town, or resort, that has long since seen its glory days pass by. Signs swing from side to side in the breeze to a squeaking soundtrack of rusty hinges. Eyes stare down at the rain-spattered pavements as the backdrop of boarded-up shops and graffiti-strewn walls drift by. The pier, once so fabled and so full of life, of colour, stands broken at the edge of the water. Rotting wooden posts thrust out of the water like fingers, reaching out for any kind of salvation as they gradually sink beneath the waves.

But when I dream I see so much more. The sea itself becomes a backdrop. The waves become the bit-part player. The rocks that occasionally make an appearance during lower tides become a stage. The stage. The stage for the mermaids as they glide so gracefully out of the water, resting on the rocks with poise and finesse. Two, three, five, nine; more and more cut through the water, revealing themselves amid the ethereal glow of the dreamlike surroundings.

I stare at them, from this seat, by the window. I am transfixed. Their beauty surrounds me, invades me, illuminates me. Their hair strands of perfection, flowing down past their bare shoulders, coquettishly concealing their supple breasts. Their eyes, beams of kaleidoscopic perfection, burrow into my trembling soul. Feasting. Devouring. Their smiles, warm and disarming, siren calls with power enough to ensnare any man, women or child who dare look upon it. And their tails, flicking gently, calmly. Almost demurely. Their scaly lower halves shimmer in the evening’s twilight, mesmerising my eyes as the grey becomes imbued with the slightest, most transient dashes of reds, greens, purples. I stare at them. I wish I were them. Amongst them.

And then they beckon me. All as one gently curling their hands into ‘come hither’ gestures, calling out to me, inviting me into their world. I look down and I am transformed. My legs replaced by a shimmering, smooth, scaly, majestic, stunning tail. And when I look up once more I am with them. Gracefully laying on my own rock. Within the ocean. Within the group. Surrounded by my fellow mermaids. My tail flicks confidently, breezily, bringing the slightest of tears to my eyes. The others whisper to me, sing to me, call to me. Praising my beauty, my poise, my everything. I am at one with myself. At peace.

And we slink beneath the waves. As one. All slipping from our rocks, from our stages. We curve and pirouette through the water, laughing and singing, allowing the waves to gently carry us towards the deepest, darkest realms of the ocean. Before we slip into the depths I look down, transfixed with my own beauty. By the smooth grey scales that delicately and intricately protrude from my torso.

And then they fade.

Transforming into the cold, grey, metallic sterility of my wheelchair. The grey of the steel, the wheels, the footrests infusing me with that familiar feeling of resentment. At the chair. At my legs. At my useless, lifeless legs. And sleep takes me, chewing me up and spitting me back out into the dreary morning’s banality. The struggle. The arm-aching struggle with this contraption that I despise so.

And so I stare out at the sea once more. Grey. Sitting by my bedroom window. In my chair. Willing, wishing, hoping for it to change. For mermaids to decorate every rock, every wave, every inch of the horizon. And yet, it never does. Only as I sleep. Only when I dream. Each time the same dream. Each time the same pull from my mind, the same existential plain of fantasy carved into my imagination.

Each day I watch the dreariness, the bitterness. Letting the minutes tick by.

Ushering me to the realm of sleep once more.

So I can dream yet again.

Once again.

So I can dream of mermaids.

 

The Flannan Isle Lighthouse Mystery

I, Will Gibson, write this note, by candlelight, as the storm thunders relentlessly against the island, rattling the lighthouse window only a matter of yards from my person.

We have now been three days on the Outer Hebridean island of Eilean Mor, the most prominent of the famed ‘Seven Hunters’ or the Flannan Isles if you will. Until this night both events and the weather had passed without incident. The documentary myself and my fellow crew members have been making to commemorate the centenary of the Flannan Isle Lighthouse Mystery – when all lighthouse keepers vanished without a trace, and without explanation, from this very lighthouse, this very island, on Boxing Day in the year 1900 – had been progressing well. Sufficient footage was sought and subsequently obtained. In fact we had intended to leave the island earlier today only to be delayed by our unanimous excitement at the prospect of filming in the impending – and now very much present – storm. Such footage, after two consecutive days of placid conditions, would have been a sublime addition to our film canon, allowing us to intersperse said clips with the various theories and conjecture which base themselves around the similar stormy conditions that bombarded the island on that most infamous of nights 100 years ago.

That decision, the one to remain on the island, would now appear to have sealed our collective fates. I write this as the only member of the six person crew not to have ventured out into the darkness of the night, the maelstrom of the storm. Each having left the lighthouse and each having failed to return. From the aforementioned window I can see the waves, colossal and soaring, rebounding against the islands coast, taunting all who venture near them with their awesome ferocity. The darkness itself, now free from the restricting bounds that was the lighthouse’s electrical supply, seems to claw at the window pane, pressing itself up against the glass, staring in at me with mocking malevolence.

Robert, our principle cameraman, was first to venture out into the storm. Determined to capture the perfect shot, one that would relay just how hopelessly cataclysmic the conditions appear whilst marooned on this island, he left the relative safety of the lighthouse intending to film only a matter of feet from the front door despite the continuous sheets of rain thudding against the earth. His zoom, his lighting, his formatting would do the necessary job he explained, all those features and functions would save him the need to approach the by-now perilous coastline. This was his intention. And this was how proceeded. Until that is he became convinced that he had seen a figure, likely a man he surmised, through his lens standing on what appeared to be the island’s cliff-edge.

He called out, nearly shouting himself hoarse, as he tried to catch the attention of the figure. He waved, whistled, hollered. All to no avail. Still the figure stood. Perched ominously on the island’s edge. The wild waves below promising nothing but a violent watery grave should he plunge from the edge. Robert grabbed his filming equipment, retreating inside and relayed this turn of events to us in a hurried, gasping manner. He was adamant that he should venture down to this figure, this apparent man, and usher him back up the hill to the safety of the lighthouse. At the very least for dry surroundings. Only then could this man expain to us how and why he came to find himself on this island in the current conditions. We objected of course, doubting the veracity of his sight, the logic of the situation, but Robert was steadfast. He asked for no-one to accompany him but he could not leave this soul unattended on a night such as this, with death lapping its unrelenting waves against the island. And so he left, despite our protestations, and disappeared into the darkness of the night. This was roughly five hours ago. I have not seen Robert since.

As time ticked by, the lack of reappearance by Robert or indeed the supposed figure seen by the latter at the island’s edge forced the nerves, the panic in our minds, to hasten. The conditions were, ARE, atrocious yes but surely he should not have taken this long to venture down and back. Worst case scenarios littered out individual thoughts and then manifested themselves in panicked, stuttered voices. Had he fallen, plunged into the sea? Had he tripped on the way down, subsequently lying freezing and injured in the sodden ground? Had he in fact met the figure and had said figure assaulted Robert for whatever cause or reason? Theories skipped around our huddled, shivering circle. Enough to send Louisa, our director, out into the darkness with Robert’s camera. We followed her, huddling by the door, as she stared through the lens trying to decipher any clues through the conditions as to where our cameraman could be. She peered, back arched, through the camera for what must have been two or three minutes before suddenly bursting into excitement. She could see him, she shouted back to us, she could see him. No, it wasn’t Robert, but the man, the figure who Robert had spoken of. He was signalling, both arms criss-crossing the other, waving up at the lighthouse. He was trying to get our attention. Our hearts ran cold. Robert. What had happened to him? To our friend. Louisa wasn’t waiting to find out. She dropped the camera, letting it sink into the marshy ground, and took off at pace down toward the island’s edge. I have not seen her since.

When Louisa failed to reappear the same sequence of events played out, this time sending Mark down to the island’s edge, again summoned by this figure this apparition. And when Mark failed to reappear, Andrea went. And then Annabel followed the same path when Andrea similarly failed to show. As you would have guessed by now, I have seen neither Mark, Andrea or Annabel since. I, being the technical guru of the team, was deemed the most likely to be able to re-establish communication channels with the mainland in order to send for urgent assistance – this, you will have no doubt gathered, I have been unable to achieve. And thus I was chosen to remain behind. Hence why I now sit alone, penning this note. This epitaph perhaps. I have seen the figure myself. I like all the others, looked through the camera lens. I too have seen him signal for help, for attention, for focus. And yet I saw no sign of any of my five fellow crew members. My friends.

It has now been two hours since Annabel left the lighthouse. I cannot wait around any longer. Whatever lies in wait for me, be it death by the hands of this stranger, be it safety, be it whatever else, I cannot sit idly by any longer in the knowledge that my friends are in peril.

And so I arrive at the conclusion of this note. In the event that I do not return, either to this lighthouse or to life on the mainland, I want this sequence of events to be known of, to be recorded so that any proper or appropriate course of action can be taken. Our documentary was self-financed, self-prompted. An independent production intended to propel us into the upper echelons of documentary film-makers in this country. For this reason no-one but the six of us, and the crew that brought us to the island, know of our presence here. And so with that in mind, this note is, if nothing else, a warning to the world. Hear our tale. Heed our call. Send for help. Please…

 

Hmm…nice note, fairly accurate I suppose but that’s not going to stop me crumpling it up and…there we go, aye the wind’s taken that…launching it into the waves. Quite a shame actually, the boy had such a lovely prose style. I really wish he hadn’t kept referring to me as ‘the figure’ or ‘the man’ though. ‘The apparition’ was closer to the truth aye but if these folk had done their research they’d have known that they could have called me by my Christian name, Donald, or if they’d like, ‘The Occasional’.

You see, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve no doubt already had me pegged as a vile,creepy, sinister ghoul. Luring six young men and women to their death and all that. But nothing could be further from the truth. Yes I did lure them to their death, aye, seeing them plunge off the island and into those hellish waves below. Fairly easy when you’re an ‘apparition’ actually and you have the power to appear and disappear at a moment’s notice. They grab out for you, you vanish, and…splash. Another one gone.

But you see, I was one of the three back in 1900. One of the three that seemingly vanished off the face of the the earth, hide nor hair seen of any of us since. I was ‘The Occasional’ they spoke about in the report alongside the regulars Marshall and Ducat. I was only a stand-in, stepping in after another keeper was laid low with flu. How’s that for luck eh? But of course we never just ‘vanished’ did we.

The exact same thing that happened to these fine young men and women tonight happened to us lot one hundred years ago. Same storm, same conditions, exact same method of death. Identical. Only with us it was some dour looking sailor ghoul who died a century previous to that, that lured us to the waves. And in another one hundred years time it’ll be the responsibility of one of these folk – probably the young fellow who penned that note actually, he seems a suitably morbid kind of chap – to lure another poor set of unsuspecting buggers to their deaths. Sacrificial you see. To appease the sea, or the storm or…or I don’t really know to tell you the truth. When you’re dealing with forces of this magnitude you don’t tend to ask too many questions. You just do as you’re told.

Anyway, that’s my watch finally over at least.

About time for some rest I think.

Wouldn’t you say so?

The Last Rites

Roland Clements, 48 years of age, from Little Rock, Arkansas; you were convicted of four counts of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death by lethal injection by the court of the state of Arkansas. At precisely 11:58pm on this night, September 15th 2017, we will begin the lethal injection process, ceasing only when you have been pronounced dead by the attending physician. May God have mercy on your soul.

You know. Much be said about last meals. Death Row inmates and their last meals that is. They get to pick anything, they say. Whatever their heart desires. Their favourite food. Their favourite meal from when they was just a boy. It’s the last bit of true happiness a Death Row inmate will experience. Now some of that may be true, yes. And, well, I did get to pick my last meal; chicken fried steak with gravy, fried okra, freshly made biscuits. But there ain’t nothing in the rule book that say it has to be nice. Holy mother above, no there ain’t. And lemme tell you, the only thing worse than being strapped to this gurney right now, literally awaiting my death, is being strapped to this gurney right now which a belly doing all kinds of somersaults and complaining. Hell, I don’t know what the hell the chef put in that gravy but my body certainly don’t agree with it whatever it was. Course, this ain’t nothing new. Ever since I set foot in Supermax, or Varner’s Unit, I ain’t exactly had the kindest of receptions. Being a black man would see to that. And being a black man who has killed a family of four in cold blood, kind of adds to that kind of reception. And oh, just to be clear, the family, all four of them, were white. No-sir, it’s not been the most enjoyable stay for me these last seven years in this fine Arkansas establishment. Kinda made me hanker now and again to take the long walk from Death Row all the way up here to the Cummins Unit. Yessir, the triple cocktail up here at Cummins certainly do look appealing when you’re suffering yet another beating with your hands tied behind your back.

Once the prisoner is securely fastened into the gurney, their arm is swabbed with alcohol before two IVs, complete with saline drip, are connected to the prisoner’s arms. One of these is used primarily as a back-up safety measure incase the main IV drip fails to work. Once this preparatory work has been completed the curtain is opened to allow the witnesses to view the inside of the chamber. At this point the inmate is allowed to make a final statement. Once finished, we begin administering the first of the three drugs through the IV. The first drug administered is Sodium Thiopental – a fast acting barbiturate general anesthetic. This, if all goes to plan, should render the subject unconscious within 30 seconds.

Talking of the walk from my cell to this place. Jesus. Is there anything more morbid in this world? Walking to your certain death. With your hands, your feet in chains. I imagine it must be like some of them soldiers in the World War I, or those in the Civil War – or as they knows it round these parts, the ‘war of northern aggression’. You always used to read or hear about soldiers in them wars just walking slowly or charging to their deaths. Running into gunfire. I imagine that must be like the walk from the cell to this chair. Only, I didn’t feel any kind of heroic, I can tell you that much. Certainly not with this prison jumpsuit hanging off me. And especially not with last night’s meal playing havoc with my insides. No it ain’t good. I counted the steps at first. One, two, three, four…and so on. But I just as soon stopped. What does it matter how far you have to travel when the journey you’re making is your final one anyway? It don’t. And that’s the truth. All that matters is the journey you’ve taken throughout your life. That’s what the prison chaplain told me before I started the walk anyway. And I believes it. You know, I ain’t really been religious these past some of years, not since my boy died all those years back at least, but I have to say the chaplain seemed like a good kinda guy. He don’t discriminate you see. Black, White, Asian, Mexican; it don’t matter to him. And hell, we get more than our fair share of the opposite of that in this state than we need. We are all God’s children he said. We are all imperfect and make mistakes that we all regret. Every single day. Only, as decent as he was to me, or maybe it’s because of how decent he was to me, I could not tell him a lie. When he asked if I seek forgiveness for my actions I could not lie. And so I said no. I do not. And I never done. I knows what I was doing when I committed those murders and I would do it all over again. Not for one little second would I change what I did to that family.

Once the inmate is rendered unconscious by the injection of Sodium Thiopental, guards will then administer the second drug of the three drug protocol method. This time Pancuronium Bromide is administered into the inmate’s veins. This drug is an aminosteroid muscle relaxant which, with the right dose, will seize the victim in a state of paralysis. This drug has absolutely no effect on the consciousness of the inmate itself which is why it is paramount that a state of unconsciousness has been reached prior to the injection of said drug.

That’s right, not one bit of remorse for what I did. You see, I’ve always been under the impression that you reap what you sew. And right now baby, well I’m all kinds of reaping for the actions I took. Well, about to anyway. And that’s fine. I never challenged it. I never expected nothing less. Let me explain. This poor innocent family? Well let’s just say they weren’t so innocent after all. Certainly not to me. Or my family. Certainly not to my son Roland Jnr who took his own god damn life all those years ago because of them. No. Not one bit. My beautiful boy. My only boy. My beautiful, beautiful boy. The two young uns in that family see, the brothers, they teased Roland Jnr. Mercilessly. For years. At school, on the way home from school. For the crime of being black. And gay. Now the first of those two ain’t exactly favourable in this state but the second one? That’s a big no. And both at the same time? Well, that made him a target for these folks. He never said. He never said nothing. Not until it was too late.

I’ll admit, I had some trouble adjusting to my boy saying he was gay, I’ll admit that and I am sorry for that. I loved my boy and that is all that matters. So at first I ignored the signs. He was going through hell. In a mainly white school. And then when it started to come out a bit at a time I went over there. To the boys house. Figured I would talk sense into their father, man to man. Reasonable, serious, you know. But when I went there? Man, this guy, he looks at me like I’m some kind of dirt on his shoe. Looking down his nose at me. Mocking me. Telling me I should teach my son to stand up for himself, teach him to toughen up. That’s what he did and why his two boys were both playing in varsity for the school football team. It wasn’t his fault I had raised a Sissy, he said. Well I tell you, maybe if I had dealt with things then and there, things might have been different. But I reigned it in, all the anger I was feeling. And I walked away. I thought, the Principal of he school will deal with this, we’re decent hardworking citizens, we’ll do this the right way. But of course when it came down to two high school varsity football champions, who happen to be white and whose Dad happens to donate money to the school board, and a troubled black kid who struggles to make friends, well there was only going to be one winner. We all let Roland Jnr down. He had long since lost any hope. Any way out of the torment. A few days later his Momma found him hanging in his bedroom one morning before school. My beautiful, sweet boy. My sweet, sweet boy.

The school told us how shocked they were, how they were there for us should we want for anything. They even held a special assembly for Roland Jnr. To show us how loved he was. It was all bullshit. The kids looked embarrassed, some looked bored. But you know what did it for me. Those kids, the two that had been bullying him, teasing him. They were laughing. Along with their father. During a eulogy to Roland Jnr. Laughing. With that same look. That one I saw when I went to this man’s door to talk. Laughing. I knew then what I had to do. I knew what I would do. The next day I parked down the street from their house. Waiting. Waiting. Until eventually the three of them and the wife/Mom got into the car and took off. I followed them. For miles. For what must have been hours. Until they finally stopped at Cedar Falls, in Petit Jean State Park. They must have gone for the day. To enjoy family time. I followed them into the park, caring not for any passers-by or civilians close by, I grabbed the biggest rock I could find and I marched straight up to that son of a bitch and cracked his skull open with it. The boys and the Mom were too paralysed to even move as the Dad lay there in a pool of his own blood. And so I quickly did the same with the boys. And then their Mom. Opening their skulls. I enjoyed it. It was vengeance. Retribution. They took my boy away from me and now they had what was coming to them. Like I say, I deserve to be here. If I had to do it all over again, I would.

The third and final drug administered is Potassium Chloride. This is the most vital of the three drugs in that it delivers the fatal blow to the inmate in question. It increases the blood concentration of potassium sufficiently to stop the heart beating in a normal fashion via an abnormal heart beat. This causes death by cardiac arrest. A physician on the scene will follow the heart monitor attached to the inmate so that the occasion and time of death is known. Death by lethal injection usually takes an average of seven minutes for the process to complete. On isolated occasions it can take longer due to a number of variable factors – a 2007 case took up to two hours to conclude.

And so that’s why I have peace as I sit here strapped to the gurney. I knows what I did was right. I ain’t ever had an urge to kill before in my life or since so I know that, if there be a God, he must have directed me to this task. I felt it within me. A need to right the wrong. And that is why when they asked me for my final statement all I said was ‘I’m sorry that the world is the way that it is’. There be too much pain, too much suffering in this life, in this world. Too much wrong. But one thing I always held to be true is that when you or your family have been done wrong you make sure and set things right.

And I….I…I feel it.

It’s in me…it’s…

Burning my veins…it’s…

Pulsing…within me…stabbing me…

Burning my…my soul…my…

Suffocating…

Burning…

Killing.

Of A Lad That Is Gone

stonebridge

Donald MacKinnon was dying.

The last of his bloodline, one of the last remaining members of his clan, he felt the surging thrust of death pulse into his veins as he staggered from the blood-soaked field of Drumossie Moor. The dying embers of the day’s battle, or more aptly the day’s slaughter, rang in his ears as he lurched towards the woods, blood dripping all the while from the gaping bayonet wound carved grotesquely into his flesh just above the waist.

His failing eyes, bloodshot and heavy, fixed on the collection of trees spread out before him. Soaring high above him, above the moor. To Donald they offered sanctuary. Respite. A place to reconcile. To reconcile his thoughts. His wishes. His dreams. The dreams of all the Jacobites, lifeless and extinguished, trodden beneath the boots of Cumberland’s army on that dreary and most fateful of days in April, 1746. He stumbled, one leg giving way beneath him, and fell to his knee. The bunnet he had unsuccessfully been deploying against his wound in an effort to stem the bleeding fell to the sodden ground beside him. Drenched in blood. Soaked in defeat. Pain raced through him. His body screamed at him, begged of him, to surrender to the agony. To lie down, there on the lost battlefield, there were his dreams had withered to the soil, and let death take him. To die a hero. Valiantly. With his Jacobite brothers. With his kith and kin. He allowed his other leg to give way beneath him, kneeling now by the edge of Culloden Woods. He looked up to the heavens, his eyes peering through disparate strands of filthy, unwashed hair. A flock of crows suddenly burst into the air from their perches in the upper reaches of the trees, their sudden evacuation prompted by a blast of gunfire emanating from the battlefield. They launched into the air as a collective, climbing, climbing, searing into the skies. Donald MacKinnon, clutching hold of his broadsword, heaved a tired, agonising sigh. And allowed his eyes to close.

When his eyes opened again, he found himself sprawled, face-down in the unkempt woods, amidst the towering trees, so recently and apparently outwith the bounds of his grasp. The general dreariness of the day has dissipated somewhat, the air seeming less gloomy, lighter even. He raised his head, spitting out the dead grass and dirt that accumulated on his lips. And then he remembered. His place. His condition. The battle. A thousand painful memories colliding into one another. He scrambled to his feet, turned and looked back beyond the trees to the scene of defeat. Flags, hunched and heavy upon their drooping flagpoles, still fluttered gently, silently, in the cooling breeze but it seemed, at least from his vantage point, that both armies had vacated the field. The dead would certainly still be lying there, he thought to himself solemnly, but the living looked to have departed. For the time being at least.

Donald winced as pain, less ferocious than before his spell of unconsciousness yet imbued with its own ferocity nonetheless, flared up from his wound once again. He clasped at it instinctively with both hands. The blood seemed to have clotted. But it was still a horrendous, gaping wound all the same. And one he needed to dress as soon as he could. He peered around him, his eyes weaving and darting between the pine, the spruce, the fir trees, searching for anything that could help temper the wound. And then he heard a noise. It shot through him. He froze. His blood ran cold. It could have been a branch falling. A twig snapping perhaps. A dead leaf fluttering to the ground. The work of a bird. The work of the breeze. Nature in any of its forms. Anything. No. A redcoat, he thought. It’s a redcoat. Those bastards are relentless. Cumberland wouldn’t allow for anything else. He’ll have them hunting us down. He won’t rest until each and everyone of us are laid out in a shallow grave. With this thought poisoning his mind, and with as much energy and strength as his wounded bones could muster, Donald MacKinnon ran.

He ran, lurched, staggered deeper and deeper into the woods. The trees closed in around him, their branches curling like comforting hands, enclosing him within the woods. Convinced he’d put enough distance and time between him and any potential pursuer, Donald halted, gasping for air as he leaned against the harsh, ridged bark of a colossal oak tree. He scanned his surroundings as he felt each breath thud against his rib cage. Each one burned as they exited his throat, crystalising as steam in the, once again, dank and humid air. Clear. Safe. For now at least, he thought. He pushed himself back against the base of the oak tree, preparing to shimmy down to a sitting position, when a slight flickering amidst the branches in the distance arrested his gaze. He unsheathed his broadsword, thrusting it before him in an offensive stance, and crept forward delicately. One hand always held against his wound. The soil and bracken crunched lightly beneath his feet as he advanced. Further. Further. Quietly. Timidly. Until the object of his attention edged fully into sight. Clothing. Hung from a branch and flapping in the breeze. His eyes leapt from branch to branch as he spotted another piece of clothing. And another. And another. Many items of clothing. Tens. Dozens. All hanging from an assortment of branches, of various heights and lengths, all frittering in the breeze. Donald quickly came to a realisation as his gaze was eventually drawn to the cylindrical stone structure hidden among the foliage below the branches. A clootie well. More accurately, it was St Mary’s Well. Of course. A place of pilgrimage to some, the cloth, the rags were tied to the branches as part of a ritual. One of healing, of spiritual affirmation.

Ah well, thought Donald as he continued to creep forward, they won’t miss one rag will they, surely not, as he stared down at his pulsing wound. As he reached up to one of the lower hanging rags, feeling a burning shard of pain rake against his innards as he stretched, a shadow crept into the corner of his vision. He corrected his stance, and held his weapon forward, staring toward St Mary’s Well. He saw a woman. An old, crooked woman, huddled above a bundle of clothing.
‘Excuse me, miss…’ uttered Donald tentatively.
No reply was forthcoming. The woman remained hunched over the bundle.
‘I said excuse me, miss? I’m sorry tae trouble ye…’ louder this time.
Still no acknowledgment.
‘EXCUSE ME!’ shouted Donald, as loud as his awareness of his condition and current predicament would allow.
The woman turned her head. One eye peered towards the injured Jacobite. The other eye, and the other half of her face in fact, obscured by long scraggly locks of greasy black hair, trickling down her face and settling on the lower portions of her back.
‘Ah, thank you miss,’ he gasped, happy with the eventual acknowledgement, ‘I wonder if ye could be o some assistance. I’m in a fair amount ae distress here an…’
The woman turned her head back towards the bundle of clothing. Donald felt his face flush with anger. Anger at this strange woman’s apparent ignorance. A British sympathiser possibly, he thought. In league with the Hanoverians. It’d be wise to move on. The pain from his wound urged otherwise.
‘Could I at least trouble ye for one o yer rags, miss? As ye can see I’m injured an I’ve lost a good amount ae blood an I’m in need o a…’
Again the woman turned, again one eye peered at him. Only this time her gaze seemed to throb with anger, with malevolence, piercing his already-fragile skin. An uneasiness slithered through him. He sheathed his broadsword and held his hands up in apology. An unspoken agreement passing between the two that they both should part and that he would be on his way. As she turned back toward her bundle of clothes, Donald began to shuffle forward. He cast one final rapid glance towards the silent washer woman, nonchalantly snatched a rag from the branch above him, tearing it in the process, and ran. Faster than previously. Spurred on by a hideous, blood-curdling screech that he took to be from the woman he had only just relieved of said rag. The sound, the scream, chilled his blood.

As he staggered through the trees he clumsily tied the rag around his waist as a makeshift tourniquet, stumbling to his knees on more than one occasion, finding the action nigh on impossible whilst running at speed. Hurtling through the woods once again, he felt his energy suddenly sap. Every inch of his body ached. Every blood cell burned as exhaustion took hold. Donald stumbled through a clearing in the trees and was startled by the sudden appearance of a bridge ahead of him. The combination of the sudden appearance of the bridge and his rapidly failing faculties sent Donald tumbling towards the ground only a matter of feet from the bridge. The full weight of his body, bones, broadsword, kilt and all, slammed against the ground. He let out a scream as his wound ripped against the crudely applied tourniquet. He thrust himself up onto his palms shakily, blowing the hair out of his face as he took in the scene around him. It was one of serene beauty. To his left, across the bridge, on the opposite bank, streamed a small but vibrant waterfall, gorgeously cascading down the green and vivacious hill-edge. Water, he thought. Water! The bringer of life. Of salvation. To ease my thirst. Yes. This will stay my suffering. His thoughts and eyes turned to the small arched stone bridge only a handful of feet in front of him. And then he saw him. The soldier. The redcoat. Standing on the bridge before him.

Donald took in the figure standing before him. A redcoat. A Brit. Like any other. And yet, this one seemed somewhat on the short side. Very short. Too short, in fact, would have been his guess. Too short for Cumberland’s rabble at least. Certainly in all his 39 years on the Lord’s earth, in all his time spent dedicated to the cause, dedicated to the rightful restoration of the Stuart dynasty on the throne of Scotland, Donald had never seen one as short. The soldier sneered down at the Jacobite. Arrogance framing a face that also seemed to contain a hint of utter disdain and belittlement. This soldier thought this rebel beneath him. An insect to be squatted aside. A piece of shit to be scraped off a boot and tossed into a ditch. Donald glanced from side to side, scouting for reinforcements, for any accompanying enemy soldiers. He could see none. The only sound peppering the clearing was the gentle drips of the waterfall on the opposite bank of the stream. With every reserve of strength, with every sinew of courage and effort left in his wholly-drained body, Donald MacKinnon pushed himself to his feet and unsheathed his broadsword one more time. Shaking, wavering, he held it out before him in his practiced offensive stance and awaited the redcoat’s onslaught.

But it never came.
‘C’mon!!’ growled Donald, ‘get oan wi it! Be done wi it ya bastard ye!’
But still the redcoat would not step forward. He simply stared at his counterpart, sneering, gazing at every inch of his broken and weary foe.
‘C’mon ye bastard! C’mon!’ barked Donald once again to no avail.
Eventually the soldier, sighed calmly, and began to raise his right hand. At this Donald flinched, thrusting his sword forward, but he quickly realised his opponent’s hand was not armed. He froze as he saw the redcoat’s hand slowly rise before halting by his shoulder. The hand was coated in blood. Duncan reeled, confused, anxious. Unsure of the meaning, the symbolism, the point. Baffled, frustrated, angered even by the sequence of events. So angered that he lurched forward and made a scything swing at the redcoat. One that would have surely struck the soldier down, torn him in two, left him dying there on the bridge. Had the soldier not vanished before his very eyes, of course. Donald stumbled towards the ground thanks to the fresh air swipe. He quickly rolled onto his back and kept swiping his sword, swinging the blade from side to side in anticipation of the redcoat’s post-feint move. But the soldier never appeared. He was gone. Simply gone. Heavy, thudding breaths once again shuddering against his chest, Donald pulled himself up to his feet. His head, his gaze, darted from side to side. Unconvinced by the state of affairs presented before him. This frame of mind he continued to hold for another ten minutes or so before he relented. Whether satisfied with the now-relative safety of his surroundings or resigned to the ambushed fate awaiting him, he sheathed his sword once more and continued over the narrow bridge, limping down towards the waterfall.

The dripping of the falling water grew louder with each step as he approached the edge of the bank, gradually evolving into a thundering echo. Donald unfastened his scabbard and threw it to the ground by his side, broadsword and all. He stepped closer to the waterfall, cupping his hands in anticipation, set to fill his mouth, his lungs, with life. With the cool, crisp liquid taste of respite. To quench his fiery exhaustion. He felt the first faint drops of spray dance lightly across his hard, calloused skin and then he heard a voice from behind say his name. A male voice. An old, familiar male voice. He turned.
‘…Father?’
His father, Angus MacKinnon, stood before him. Long healthy grey hair hung down either side of his face, framing the equally as grey beard jutting out from his chin. Fitted in full MacKinnon clan regalia, he stood proud, noble. His eyes shimmered in the reflection of the waterfall as he stared towards the broken, brittle figure of his son before him.
‘Donald, my boy. Some state yer in are ye no?.’
‘Father…what…how…I dinna understand…?’
‘Hush son, hush. All shall reveal itsel’ in good time.’ came the placid reply.
‘But the redcoat, there’s a sodjer here somewhere…’
‘No Donald, that wisnae a sodjer. That wis a Ly Erg. A faerie. A forewarning. For yersel. It wis…’
‘Father…yer making no sense…’
‘Look son, like I says, all will become clear. Now here…who dressed this wound,’ he gestured toward the shabbily tied tourniquet around Donald’s waist, ‘that’ll dae mare harm than good!’
‘It wis masel Father, I goat the rag fae a, well borrowed it, fae some auld bitter wife back in the wids there but…’
‘Ah…the washer woman, aye. She can be fairly, shall we say, ‘short’ wi newcomers. Dinnae mind her though…’
‘Wit…wit dae ye mean Father? Look this is…this is aw…I don’t know wit this is truth be told. All I know is you died Father. Yer deid. You died in 1715 fighting at Sheriffmuir, when I wis but a laddie…’
‘…aye Donald. That I did.’
‘Well…well then how the hell are ye here?! Noo!?’
‘Come on Donald, son. I’ll tell ye the truth o it.’ Angus stepped forward and took Donald’s hand, leading his bemused son past the bridge and toward a dark, shadowed area of the woods, ‘come on m’boy, yer Mother’s dying to see ye again after aw these years…’

As the rain started to fall of Drumossie Moor, forever thereafter immortalised as Culloden Moor, on the evening of the 16th of April, 1746, the darkness crept out from behind the mountains, casting a shadow over the lifeless bodies that lay scattered across the battleground. The dead numbering in their thousands. Several hundred yards away from the field of battle, on the edge of Culloden Woods, the body of Donald MacKinnon lay face down in the soil, a pool of blood seeping from the mortal wound above his waist. His right hand clutched onto the hilt of his broadsword. A serenity etched upon his face.

The Annual Book Burning

Darkness gripped the scene. A sinister, threatening, hate-filled darkness. The air, humid and uncomfortable, had an acrid tinge to it. A stinging aroma teetering somewhere at the edge of one’s senses. One that catches at the rearmost recesses of one’s throat. Through the darkness a stilted, flashing light appeared, edging closer to the scene.

‘Goddamn Asian phone! Work you piece of shi…’
‘What’s wrong Donny…erm..Imperial Wizard, sir?’
‘This piece of cheap third-world labour trash! That’s what’s wrong Thurston! Trying to get this goddamn torch app to work and it keeps goddamn failing! God damn!’
‘Maybe…uh…maybe uh, use the flashlight option Don…uh…Imperial Wizard? Just swipe up on your phone and press…’
‘Swipe up? Huh? Like this?’
‘No, the…uh…the phone…uh…you have to do it at the bottom of the…of the phone D…uh’
‘That’s what I’m goddamn well doing! Argh, I can’t see in this goddamn sheet!! Oh come on you piece of trash you fu…’
‘How about just use mine Imperial Donn…Wizard…uh..sir, master. Here.’

The light cascaded from the latter’s phone and spread out across the immediate vicinity, bathing a number of cloaked and hooded figures in the palest of lights. The figures, around ten or so, stood in a circle. At the centre of which lay a pile of wood. Glistening in the weak phone light. Kindling, two-by-fours, pallets. A myriad of wood and all wood-related extracts. A bonfire. A makeshift one, no less, but a bonfire all the same.

‘Ok my brothers…er, fellow members. We are here. Here we are. Are we not. Yes I very well believe we are. We are here, one and all, for our glorious annual book burning event! One of the greatest events in all our calenders. Yessir. The time of year that allows us to purge another collection of vile, evil, hate-filled materials. Materials spawned from the poisonous hands of his satanic majesty…erm…Satan. The grandmaster, no, the master…just master…of all evil. Yes, tonight we do God’s work here my friends. Tonight we take another shot at the left-wing, anti-Christian, pro-sodomy, Islamification, socialistic…fication…ism of…’
‘Socialisticficationism?’
‘What?’
‘Socialiasticfi…no, nothing…I just…no, nothing Grand…erm…Imperial…mas…’
‘That’s right nothing…now, where was I…’
‘Erm, socialisticfica…’
‘Goddamn Cleatus I goddamn well know where I was…yes, the socialisticfic…ation….istic…social…ing…of…ah goddamn! Forget it. This, tonight, is our expression of our right to free speech. A right that has been passed down to us by our Founding Fathers. And our God-given right to be ‘Mericans! Am I right!’
‘Yes Imperial Wizard’
‘Yes Imperial Wizard’
‘Yes Donny…uh…Imperial…’
‘Yes Imperial Wizard’
‘That’s right! Now, friends, let us un-hood…de-hood?…should it be de-hood?…let us take our hoods off, let’s just say that shall we. Let us see what we’re working with. M’kay?’

All figures in the circle slowly took their hoods off, some with more ease than others (the ‘others’ generally requiring their own two hands and a pair of hands from a nearby ‘friend’ to help them with such an arduous task), as the pale phone light slowly revealed their features. All male, of course. Some young, most older. A variation of facial hair, hairstyles, glasses, tattoos and many other distinguishing marks adorned their appearances. A couple of the older men had proud, stoic, unflinching postures and expressions. A couple of the younger members looked to be caught in the midst of a who-can-keep-their-mouth-open-for-the-longest-time-and-catch-the-most-flies competition.

‘Ok now,’ announced the Imperial Wizard (although you can call him ‘Don…uh…Imperial Wizard, sir’), ‘let us begin. Officer Randall…sorry, erm…sorry…Dewy. Dewy. What have you brought this night?’
‘Well…’ announced the latter, holding up a collection of books, ‘I don’t wanna embarrass y’all but I think I’ve got the mother-load here. All six Harry Potter books. Howzat!’
‘Ah, well done Office…erm…Dewy. A mighty fine start to…’
‘There were seven Harry Potter books…’ a meek voice crept out from one of the younger men. The others all turned, in a whiplash-threatening manner, to look at him in unison. Anger, derision on their faces.
‘My apologies Thurston, I think my ears must have been deceiving me there. I thought I heard you mumble something. Am I right?’
‘I said there were seven Harry…’ he halted, the hardening gazes directed at him suggesting this was probably the best course of action to take. ‘Uh…nothing Imperial Sir…Master’
‘And how would you know such a thing to be true Thurston? Hmm? About these heathen scriptures? Hmm?
‘I just…I dunno…I maybe think I heard someone…’
‘Makes sense though.’
The members all turned to look at a stout, bespectacled member of their group. His face had that look etched upon it, the one that seems to suggest a constant expression of condescension. Either that or an eternal sufferance of acute constipation.
‘Sorry Pastor Wil…erm…sorry, Mr Williams?’
‘I said it makes sense. Well, think about. There were seven deadly sins weren’t there? It makes sense that a heathen and all who worship their words would settle on the number seven. I wouldn’t be surprised if their were 666 pages in each volume’ he let out a slight self-congratulatory burst of laughter.
‘Yes, you’re no doubt right. Ok, now if…’
‘Actually the first one is quite short. Only 200 something pages and…’ Thurston once again stopped mid-sentence, slowly realising his error.
‘Thurston…for god sake shut the hell up!’ muttered another younger member of the group standing next to the aforementioned Thurston.

Again the eyes of the group focused on the unfortunate interloper.
‘I mean, anyway,’ interjected one of the more generously bearded of the group, ‘wizards and stuff. Whoever heard of such shit!’
His spluttered chuckles petered out into a gormless ‘oh damn’ look as the already angered tension seemed to tighten yet further. One and all turned to the Imperial Wizard looking for direction.
‘Goddammit!’ blurted the latter. ‘Can we focus on the task at hand! Jesus chri…erm…for god’s sak…erm…shit, let’s just get a goddamn move on. Gram?’
‘Yes Senator? Uh…I mean uh…yes, Imperial Master…Wizard…?’
‘Your books Gram! Your goddamn books! What have you got?’
‘Oh yes…uh…well I managed to uh, to uh, to steal a copy of the uh, Odassity…erm…Audacity Of Hope from the uh library and erm…’
‘Ah now that’s what we’re looking for! Yes! Good work Gram!! What can be better than seeing that ‘Merican hating, Muslim-loving socialist’s words burn on the fire. Yeah! What else boy?’
‘Uh…well that’s um…that’s about it.’
‘Ok. Good enough. Cleatus?’
‘Um well, my folks don’t read so much so all I could get was the uh…Da Vinci Code…’
‘Good.’
‘The uh…um Fifty Shades of Grey…’
‘Even better. Depraved sexual filth.’
‘Yeah, it’s not even that sexual to be honest…’
‘Thurston!! Goddammit!’
’Sorry…’
‘Go on Cleatus.’
‘Yeah and um…something called…it’s a weird cover…uh…the Kama Sutra? I think it has something to do with um…something…well it’s Muslim I think…’
‘Just throw it on Cleatus.’
‘But uh what is it Imper…’
‘Just. Throw it.’
‘Uh, sure.’
All three books toppled towards the top of the of the pile.
‘Randy? What have you got?’
‘Well sir…master…I’m like Cleatus here in that my house don’t have much books or reading, um, material as such. So all I’ve managed to find is um, this recipe book, um, 101 Interesting Ways To Cook Curry…’
‘That’ll…that’ll do I suppose. Yeah, that works. Probably. Yeah, no, that‘ll work.’
‘Ok, uh, and well um…this Charlie Brown annual sir.’
‘Charlie Brown?’
‘Uh, yessir.’
‘Why Charlie Brown, Randy?’
‘Well uh, the um old television my Mama used to have wasn’t so good sir and the um, the uh colour on it was a bit off shall we say. And he kinda looked…y’know…a bit um…brown…’
‘Well…’
‘And y’know, there’s his name and all…’
‘Just put it on Randy.’
‘I do love Charlie Brown though I must admit so it’s a shame to…’
‘Throw it. Randy!’
‘Sure.’

‘Right’ announced the Imperial Wizard, obvious exasperation shining through in his voice, ‘what else? Who’s next? Nathan?’
The History Of The American Civil War. Sir.’ declared Nathan, pride draped across his face.
‘Excellent. Yes! Is that it?’
‘Yessir.’
‘ Well thank you Nathan. Sam?’
‘Well uh…’
‘What have you got Sam?’
‘Well uh…I don’t read so much either sir. Neither did my Mama. On account of not being able to read and all.’
‘Fair enough.’
‘So uh…all I’ve got are these magazines…sir…’
‘What uh…what kind of magazines?’
‘Um…ones with um…ladies in them…sir…’
‘…ok…’
‘And um…some of the…some the um…some of the ladies are uh…non…non-whites sir…’
‘Right well…’
‘I haven’t looked at them though sir…those pages are just a bit hard to open because um…because I um…glued them together…yessir…glued them together so I wouldn’t see them…to um destroy the uh threat of…um…temptation…sir…um…’
‘Right well I’ll just erm…I’ll hold onto those Sam because well…magazines are very flammable you know and it’s…’
‘Isn’t that the point sir wizard sir?’
‘Thurston I swear to God…!’
‘Yes that is the point but no these’ll be…too flammable yes…we don’t want to burn the whole erm, the whole field down now do we.’
‘Um…no sir, I guess…’ Sam passed the magazines over, a sinking feeling thudding in his heart as he saw them disappear beneath the Imperial Wizard’s robe.
‘Who else? Johnny?’
‘Uh I got nothing sir…’
‘Nothing.’
‘Nope. I was gonna print off the legislation for Obamacare but I don’t uh…don’t have…uh…a…uh…’
‘A printer Johnny? Is that the word you’re looking for?’
‘No, a computer sir. I don’t have a computer.’
‘Ok.’ a sigh peppered his voice once again, ‘Bobby. Last one. What d’you have Bobby?’
‘The Bible sir.’
A sharp collective intake of breath hissed through the air.
‘Say that again Bobby…I dare ya too…’
‘The uh…the Bible…sir…’
A second even sharper collective intake of breath hissed through the air.
‘The Bible? What in God’s name…what in the HELL do you have that for?’
‘Well sir that’s the em…the only book we have in the trailer. And you said to grab any book we could get our hands on…’
‘Oh for god’s…NOT the goddamn bible! Are you soft in the goddamn head!?’
‘Um well actually sir when I was young the Doctor did say…’
‘Just put it away Bobby, put it away goddammit!’
‘Uh yessir.’
‘This is what I have to goddamn work with. Holy moly. Give me strength.’ muttered the Imperial Wizard, a mite louder than he perhaps should have. Swiftly followed by a booming, ‘HOODS ON! We shall now begin!’

‘GODDAMIT!’
A few members of the group huddled around a non-responsive cigarette lighter, each taking it in turns to try to muster a flame from the seemingly redundant object.
‘Does no-one have a match? No-one!?’
‘We could try shooting it sir?’
‘What!?’
‘Shoot it maybe sir.’
’Always with the goddamn shooting…hush now Cleatus!’
‘Uh yessir.’
‘A match goddammit, anyone?! Anyone!? Ahh…’
The lighter finally lit, the smallest, and most fragile of flames quivered out from atop the plastic implement.
‘We got it! We got it!’
‘Ok now careful. Careful now. CAREFUL!’
The huddled members shuffled towards the pile of wood and books, hunched around the lighter, protecting the fledgling flame, ensuring its continued existence.
‘Right now Thurston…’
‘Yes Imperial Master Wizard, sir, Imperial…’
‘You made to douse the pile with petrol yes?’
‘I sure did! Took the petrol straight from my Daddy‘s pickup truck.’
‘Right.’
‘Soaked the whole thing’
‘Not too much though Thurston yes? Like I said?’
‘Uh…’
‘Like I said, yes? Several goddamn times? Not too much? Because it’s very flammable stuff? Yeah?’
‘Uh…’
‘Very very flammable?’
‘Uh…’
‘Quick it’s going out!’ shouted one of the huddled members of the group. ‘Throw it! THROW IT!’
‘Oh shit…’ mumbled Thurston as he turned away and dived to the ground for cover.

The others looked on at him with looks of confusion. More so than their usual amount. Looks that, admittedly, only lasted for a good second or so before they turned to abject horror. The fire was lit. More than lit. It was blazing. Furiously blazing. The books did burn, yes. Quickly, violently, their pages turned to ash within seconds. Paper is of course very flammable. But then so are robes. And hoods. And magazines beneath robes.

Through the pitch darkness of the Southern night a passer-by could have been forgiven for thinking that a handful of giant fireflies were dashing furiously around an otherwise isolated field. Isolated except for a very impressive, sky-reaching bonfire. It’s ash, speckles of white dotting the darkness, falling to the ground gently amid the unhinged, blood-curdling screams of terror.

And the screams of ‘Goddamit’, of course.

And ‘Thurston!’

Always ‘Thurston!’