Red Sky At Night

Written today (June 21st) as part of National Writing Day

 

The sky is aflame.

Ablaze. A fiery hue decorates the night sky above Fife. Red, yellow, orange. Fire. Flame. A furnace at the foot of the heavens. Incinerating the clouds. It awakens me. Stirs me from my half-hearted slumber. As it has done every night this week so far. Five nights now. Mossmorran. The Exxon ethylene plant. Skulking on the outskirts of Cowdenbeath. It’s warning flame burning into the darkness. A beacon calling out across the countryside. The towns. The coast. Engulfing, smothering, suffocating all. The eye of Sauron. Curtains wither, unable to resist the light. It invades the privacy, the seclusion of the bedroom. And yet it inspires. Infuses me with an energy. A vibrancy. Alights the embers of my being. My inspiration. It draws me in, welcomes me, lures me. Like a moth to a…well, you know. It burns through my writer’s block and screams, yells, demands in my ear ‘WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!’

I open the curtains wide, tempted even to tear them from the rail, desperate as I am to submit to the light, to the flame. Invade, bathe, swarm. The room fills with light. I turn and look at my wife asleep on the bed. She barely stirs. Oblivious to the ferocity, the majesty of the flame. Oblivious to the inspiration. I sit down at my writing desk placed directly in front of the window. I gaze at the flame. Its power relentless, its energy undying. Staring. Staring. Worshipping. My mind sparks, burns, replaying a relentless reel time and again. A movie clip. Black and white. Colin Clive, in that famous scene from Frankenstein. He bellows, screeches. It’s ALIVE. IT’S ALIVE!!! My skull pulsing with the words, the images, the demands. The message. Clear. Sent from the flame. It IS alive. I AM alive. I grab a pen and splay out a raft of blank paper before me. And I scrawl. Word after word. Letter upon letter. A continual flood streaming from my fingertips, dripping from my mind. Page upon page, claimed and vanquished. The prey to my predatory inspirations.

Ablaze. My mind, the flame. The fire, my words. My bones shimmering in a frenzy, my blood scything through my flesh with purpose. Frenetic. And I scrawl, write, scrawl. Again and again. Barely moving the pen, allowing the flame to spew through me onto the page. Spilling forth directions, incantations, ingenuity. My limbs, the page, the flame becoming one. One through inspiration, one through the fire. A single entity, a single expression. A single desire. I write. Write. Write. And let the flame, the night, take me.

I awaken.

The morning light streams in through the window, the curtains cast wide. A pool of sweat darkens the pillow. My forehead clammy, evidence of the latter. I scramble up to a sitting position, staring out the adjacent window towards Mossmorran. The flame gone. Absent. Slight tufts of smoke now emanate lazily from the chimney, the tower. I glance down. Fully clothed. Jacket, shoes and all. Bedraggled. Creased. Soaked. In sweat. In grime. In blood. Blood? My knuckles pulse, etched in dried blood. I turn my hands. My palms, red. Awash. I lift up the duvet. Islands of blood dot the bedsheet. I scramble for explanation, for logic. My wife stirs beside me. I quickly pull myself under the covers, concealing myself, the sheet, the mystery. She yawns.

‘Morning’ she croaks, caressing my face. I smile weakly. ‘You look awful, you look like you’ve hardly slept again!? Are you feeling ok?’

‘Thanks. It’s that bloody light at Mossmorran. Keeping me up. I can barely sleep.’

‘Mossmorran?!’

‘The flame at Mossmorran, yes. Every night this week.’

‘Every night this week!? What are you talking about? There’s been no flame? I’d know about it if there was because it usually bloody well keeps me up! You know that. Plus there’d be comments on the local twitter group about it. Folk are always complaining about it. Here, let me have a quick look…’ she swivels and pulls the charger cable out of her phone and draws the latter to her chest.

My wife flicks and scrolls through her Twitter feed as I warily look on. A realisation creeping into my mind from somewhere. What the realisation is I don’t know. And yet something prods at me. Simmers. My body trembles.

‘No’ she says, ‘nothing about it. See? You must have dreamt it. There’s always comments about it if that flame is burning. And the whole bloody sky lights up so I doubt anyone would miss it.’

‘I’m telling you, the flame was burning last night! It’s been burning now for the last five…’

‘Aw jesus…’ she interrupts, ‘that’s another one.’

‘Another what?’

‘Another person reported as missing. An old man. Last seen leaving the pub last night. His wife has just posted on the police page. Always comes home. She’s adamant something must have happened. Bloody hell. That’s the fifth this week! It’s every night! All local. If that’s not scary I don’t know what is!? Horrible. Just horrible’ she says as she steps out of bed.

My mind drifts from my wife’s words, her fears. Under the covers I reach out a hand, feeling a damp patch of blood lingering between my knees. Memories attempt to form in my mind, speeding by, begging to be snared. Colin Clive’s maniacal exhilaration flits in and out. Fragments. Scenes. Shards.

‘Have you been writing again?’ I hear my wife mumble distantly as she approaches the writing desk, stepping in front of the image of the ethylene plant stretching across the window.

I turn, intending to discreetly pull myself out of bed, and feel an object jag into my side. My pocket. My jacket pocket. I creep my hand nervously to my pocket and jerk as it connects with a blade. Pain shoots up my finger. Stabbing. A warmth floods from my hand, still concealed beneath the covers. Blood. Panic, pain, fear explodes within me, dragging me from the bed. I stop. Muddy footprints adorn the bedroom carpet. Leading to the bed. To a conclusion. To me. A shudder echoes through my frame as I look up. My wife stares at me. A clutch of paper thrust from her hand.

‘What…is…this?’ she whispers, fear coursing through her voice.

The paper stares back at me. Pages upon pages. Letters, words, repetition screaming back at me. FIRE FLAME FIRE. FIRE FLAME FIRE. Again and again. Front and back. Decorating every inch of the paper. FIRE FLAME FIRE. FIRE FLAME FIRE.

I pull myself from the bed to a standing position. My wife recoils, her eyes widen, horror clasping hold of her as she looks at me. The paper drops from her hands as she sees the blood drenched across my hands, my clothes. Words catch in her throat. Fear, definitive and absolute, exudes from every pore of her flesh. Her eyes on me. Judging, questioning, cowering.

‘The…the flame…’ I mutter. ‘It’s the flame…’

The Bass Rock In A Storm

IMG_0347Andrew turned and glanced towards the Bass Rock, his drenched waterproof clinging to his freezing frame, negating any warmth once generated by the extra layer. The gargantuan volcanic plug marooned at sea, stared back at the coast of North Berwick with something approaching stubbornness. Stoic. Impassive. Waves battered its side, rain hammered onto its summit and yet, still, it projected strength.
‘Right then, that should be us about ready I’d say!’
He smiled, his long-overdue-for-a-cut mop of grey hair lashed violently from side to side under the ferocity of the coastal gale. He looked up at the man standing before him. His companion. His customer. The crooked imposing majesty of Tantallon Castle ruin peered down at the two of them from atop the hillside. The 14th century ruin standing steadfast in the storm. ‘So, good sir,’ continued Andrew as he placed one foot on the side of a wooden boat that quite frankly had very clearly seen its best days long ago, ‘I’d like to welcome you to the inaugural Bass Rock Catriona Experience trip. So if you’d kindly step aboard the good ship Catriona we can be on our way to…’
‘You can’t be serious!?’ the man’s face, the portion not covered by his tightly zipped jacket hood, was crumpled in incredulity.
‘Deadly, sir. What’s the problem?’
‘This weather for goodness sake! It’s hellish! I’ve seen seabird trips to the Rock cancelled for far less than this! I mean look at the waves lapping against the Rock itself, they’re damn near scaling the full height of the thing!’
‘Ach it’s just a bit of Scottish hospitality, nothing worse. It’ll die down soon enough.’
‘You’re bloody mad! We’ll bloody well drown out there!’
‘It’s only a short trip. Look. We’ll be there in no time. Plus, this is when you can see the Bass Rock at its finest. In a storm. There’s something…something…there’s just something about it in this weather.’
‘Madness. It’s bloody madness!’
‘Well I’m going. That’s all I can say. You’re very welcome to come along. You’ve got your ticket after all. So which is it?’
The man sighed, glancing from the Bass Rock to the boat in rapid succession. The latter seemed to diminish in appearance with every glance, it’s wooden frame wilting under the relentless assault from the elements.
‘Where you go I go. That’s how it is.’
‘Grand!’ announced Andrew his arm thrust towards the man. ‘Now step this way please…’

The boat lunged wildly, a particularly eager wave trying its best to topple the vessel onto its side. Andrew struggled desperately to correct the course of the boat, only just managing to catch himself and smile weakly through the strain. Maintaining his facade of composure. Calmness.
‘So why Catriona? Why the Bass Rock?’
‘What?’ Andrew shouted in retort to the voice behind him, slightly unsettled as to why the man’s voice didn’t appear to be in the grip of panic.
‘I said’ repeated the man, ‘why Catriona? Why the Bass Rock? There’s already trips to the Bass Rock. The seabird centre runs them. And their boat’s a damn sight better than this one!’
Andrew refused to turn, his eyes trained rigidly on the gradually approaching rock before them.
‘Catriona. It’s a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. One of Ian’s fav….no, forget that. Anyway, there’s scenes in it at the Bass Rock! Needed a different angle than the seabirds you see.’’
‘Yes I know but hardly worth a trip is it?’
‘Sorry?’
‘I said it’s hardly worth a trip is it?’
The boat buckled once more, Andrew almost losing his footing as water encroached upon the floor.
‘Well you thought it was worth it obviously! You’re bloody well on the trip!’ his calm facade visibly cracking.
‘I was just curious. To find out why. The angle. Why the Bass Rock though?’
‘What do you mean ‘why the Bass Rock’? It’s iconic. History. Tourism. Etc.’
‘Yes but why now when there’s already other trips to the rock. Frequent trips. Trips that admittedly wouldn’t run in weather like this. But still.’
Andrew thought, for no more than a fleeting moment, that there was a familiarity to the voice. One that brought comfort. Peace. The rain, the gales, seemed to cease for a fraction of a second before resuming. He collected himself.
‘It’s…’ he started, straining to raise his voice above the crashing waves ‘it’s because of a painting. One that we’ve got in the house. My partner bought it. The print that is. He’s the art lover, not me. But this painting. It was by Alexander Nasmyth. Painted in the 1800‘s or so. It’s of Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock. Both of them. Only it’s in a storm. It’s always fascinated me. Sometimes, more recently, I’ll just sit and stare at it. For what can seem like hours. There’s something primal about it. Entrancing. The isolation of the rock. The solitude. Even against the storm. Even against all that nature can throw at it, it still looks so bloody heroic, so assured in itself. And yet it can’t escape that isolation.’
The man seemed to hesitate slightly. The previous sharp replies caught in the silence. Andrew began to turn, to find the reason for the prolonged silence but halted. Once more turning back to the rock. Approaching and yet not approaching. As if they were caught in the midst of an optical illusion. Finally the man spoke. Softer somehow, piercing through the sound of the storm and all its apparent ferocity.
‘Are you ok?’
‘What?’ shouted Andrew in reply as gust of wind slapped against his face, ‘Ok?! Of course I am! Never better! And anyway, this is better than your seabird trips, mark my words!’
‘In what way? It’ll be the same, no? Circling the island, staring up at the thousands upon thousands of bloody gannets and then heading back. The same.’
‘Because…’
‘Sorry?’ a crack of thunder tore through the skies, seemingly trembling the sea and all within it.
‘Because,’ shouted Andrew, his voice slicing through the extremities with an almost preacher-like power, ‘we’ll actually be going on to the island! Eh! How about that!’
‘Say again? Onto the rock itself?’
‘Yes! Onto the island, amongst the seabirds, into the castle ruin, the abandoned lighthouse, the abbey, the hermit’s….thing…whatever the bloody hell hermits stay on.’
‘Do you have permission for that!? Surely they wouldn’t just…’
‘Never mind that!’ a streak of lightning flashed above them, alighting the Bass Rock.
‘Never mind!? What the bloody hell do you mean never mind!? Of course you need permission, of course you have to…come to think of it how the hell did you get this boat down to the beach? Who does the boat belong to?’
‘That’s not important…’
‘Of course its important! Of course its bloody important! This is bloody madness!’
‘It’s not…’ nothing more than a slight mumble frittered from Andrew’s lips.
‘What?!’
‘I SAID IT’S NOT MADNESS! Ok!! Because I need it! I need it! I need….something! To fill this horrible, empty bloody hole! This nothing! He was my everything! Everything! I’m fucking lost without him! Pathetic! Nothing! He was my strength! My spirit! My reassurance! Everything good about me was because of him ok! And I can’t….I can’t….arghhhh I can’t even find the fucking words to do him justice!!! He was my life! My Ian! And now he’s gone! And I need something, somewhere, anything to shelter me, shield me, let me start to recover or grieve or whatever the hell I’m supposed to bloody do! I just…I…!’
He slumped against the wheel, raising his hand in a half-hearted threatening gesture and then withdrew it. He glanced up. The Bass Rock full of splendour, of dignity, of ferocity, lay before them but still out of reach. Forever outwith his grasp. He dropped to his knees, his head in his hands. Convulsing as the biting cold thrust into his every vein, every pore. He felt a hand caressing his shoulder. Gentle. Comforting. Familiar.
‘Andrew…’
He let his hands drop from his face and started to turn. Again halting. Some unknown force scolding him, admonishing him to cease
‘Andrew…’ repeated the voice behind him, ‘it’s ok to feel alone. To feel scared. It’s not weakness. It’s who we are as humans. We all get scared. Every one of us.’
Andrew could feel his body quivering, goosebumps erupting across every inch of his skin. And yet, there was also a calm. A peace. The storm had, once again, seemingly and inexplicably abated however momentarily.
‘But…I…’
‘I know you need me Andrew. I always needed you aswell. That’s how it works. Right up until the end. I needed you more than you’ll ever know. That’s ok. But we all have our own strength within us Andrew. Especially you. Particularly you.’
He lifted his left hand gently and placed it on the man’s. Yet still he couldn’t bring himself to turn his head, to look back.
‘I miss you Ian. So much. It’s killing me.’
‘I know. But you’ll always have me here, Andrew. Always. There’s nothing that can or will change that.’
Andrew felt a drop of rain slowly inch its way down his cheek. The words, any words, all words, caught in his throat. Refusing him the right of reply.
‘And this madness has to stop. You know it does. Things are as they are. And always will be like this. But I’m always here. Always here if you need to see me. To feel me. I might be out of reach but I promise you there’s nothing that will ever change this. You always, always know where to find me. I’m going nowhere.’ Andrew squeezed the hand tightly, his eyes welding shut in the process, straining to push back against the well of tears threatening to smother his eyelids. His heart pounded, blood rifling through his arteries.

His eyes slowly began to open, the Bass Rock forming in his vision once again. The biting cold of the storm replaced by a mildness, one threatening to veer into an uncomfortable warmth. The clothes, previously festooned to his body through sheer wetness felt lighter, freer, drier against his skin. As his eyes readjusted to the light the Bass Rock appeared to retreat. And retreat. At an alarming rate. Until it settled in the distance. Stoic amid the storm, the ruin of Tantallon Castle perched to its left on the cliff edge. Oil. Paint. Canvas. His painting. Staring down on him as he gazed back up at it. He tasted the salt in the tear as it encroached upon his lips. His left hand clawed at the limp vacant woolen material of Ian’s jumper wrapped around his neck and shoulders.

He sighed. Deeply. Agonisingly. And pulled himself up off the chair. He continued to stare at the painting. Allowing it one last lingering look.
‘That’s it.’ he whispered to himself. ‘Enough’.

Passing Place

‘Fresh Mussels’. At least that’s what I think the very dishevelled, bearded man is scrawling onto the wooden board in white paint. In fact, it is. ‘Fresh Mussels’. That shows you the kind of place this is I suppose. A sleepy, at-their-own-pace, sell-what-you-can-when-you-have-it kind of place. Of course, the fact that I’ve got time to read the sign as I wait at yet another bloody Passing Place somewhat hammers home that point. This isle, Mull, is full of the buggers. Passing Places that is. Not mussels. Or it might be, I haven’t a clue. First time here you see. 38 years of age, lived in Scotland all my life, and yet this is my first experience of the Inner Hebrides. Shameful I suppose. Took the Calmac from Oban this morning. Early morning. Far too early in the bloody morning if you must ask. Early enough to be high-jacked by the seemingly self-appointed tourist representative for Mull when I nipped into the shop at Craignure once the ferry landed. Nice woman, yes, but by Christ I could write an anthology about the place after that chat. Oh you have to try this restaurant; say hello to Jill the postie and be sure to let her pass you on the road; watch out for any white tailed sea eagles etc etc. I only nipped in for a bottle of juice! Having said that, I’m glad she warned me about the eagles. Jesus, I thought I was being attacked by a bloody pterodactyl just back along the road. A wingspan of 8ft!? That’s bigger than this motor! A bright red motor at that. A big bright red, slow-moving, passing-place-stopping target. Fills me right up with confidence that one. And you can couple that with the random sheep sauntering casually along and across the road at various points along the journey. I tell you, if the animals and wildlife of Mull ever decide to gang together and try to seize control of the place I doubt the humans would stand a chance.

‘Aye, aye, you’re welcome’ I raise my hand in acknowledgment at the passing car as I sit, foot firmly on the clutch, at what must be, I assume, the four millionth Passing Place I’ve come across so far. Stunningly beautiful place this though, I have to admit. Serene yet majestic all at once. Calm measured solitude. Something I could be doing with at this point in my life. Ah look at that. That’ll be Ben More (More? Mhor? Moore?) the island’s Munro slap bang ahead in front of me. Breathtaking. All fed by, what was it she called it, Loch na Keal, on the left hand side there. I can see why he decided to move here. It’s a different life here. Another setting. Another world. A different…atmosphere, almost. Well, certainly compared to my flat just off bloody Union Street in Aberdeen city centre, that’s for sure. You barely get a moment to come up for air in a setting like that. Here it’s nothing but air. Calm. Settled. Yes, I certainly can see why he moved here anyway. Understandable in certain ways. Doesn’t make him any less of bastard mind you.

Mr Hughes. Alan. Our nice, friendly neighbour Mr Hughes. Mr and Mrs Hughes. Pillars of the community. Liked by all. Never a harsh word spoke about either. Strange that, in a place like Aberdeen, where the bastards have a harsh word for damn near every bugger. No kids of their own of course but you were never to ask questions about things like that. Alan was always quick to come out for a game of football on the street, or at the park round the back though. I mind once he offered, quite clumsily now I think of it, to take me to Pittodrie. Not my two older brothers though, just me. My Dad was a Celtic man you see whereas I was a Dons supporter through and through. As was Alan. It never happened of course. I can remember my Dad being mightily pissed off when I broached the subject with him. I just assumed it was an Aberdeen-Celtic thing. At the time I never assumed there was anything more to it. Why would I? But of course when I start to piece things together that was round about the time my folks started arguing relentlessly. Fighting. Swearing. Screaming. And suddenly any interaction with Mr and Mrs Hughes ceased. Literally overnight. My Mum had been good pals with Mrs Hughes, Gina, for a good number of years. They’d often nip round to one another’s for a fly cup now and then. But again, that ended abruptly. Ah shit, it’s started to rain, that’ll make this drive all the more enjoyable right enough! But aye, there was one night in particular I mind a vicious argument between my folks. Then the door slammed. There’s me peering out the slit in my bedroom curtains watching as Dad marches around to Mr Hughes’, battering at his door, calling him every bloody name under the sun. My Mum chasing after him in her nightdress. Catching sight of me and screaming up at me to ‘go to bloody sleep! Shut those bloody curtains! Now!’ I never did get the full story, I was too bloody frightened to ask. And then very soon after that Mr and Mrs Hughes moved away. Out of the street. Gone from our lives. I vaguely recall my old man, I think, snidely commenting one day that he’d heard they’d ‘split’. ‘Hardly surprising’ I remember him saying. I couldn’t understand why given they always seemed happy together but again I never bothered following it up. Relations at that point between me and him were far from perfect and were about to go downhill rapidly. But that was that.

Or so I thought. Until my Mum’s deathbed revelation, that is. Well, hardly ‘deathbed’, but it was in her final few days anyway. Always one for the dramatic was Mum. She thrust a piece of paper in my hand as I sat by her bedside. ‘Andy Hughes’ written on it. And an address. And a phone number. Confused, uncertain, perplexed. The whole gambit of ‘eh’ ran through my mind. Swiftly followed by an outpouring of ‘What’s this for?’, ‘Why have you given me this?’ etc. But all she would say, all she would repeat in fact, was ‘Just phone him Mark. Phone him. Just phone him. I’m sorry. I’m sorry son, I’m sorry.’ No elaboration. Nothing else. But then there was nothing else she needed to say. Why just me? Why not Ian and Peter aswell? It was obvious. Loaded with a hundred questions of course but obvious nonetheless. It’s damn near impossible to shove something like that to the back of your mind but I had to. To get through the funeral. The grieving. To say goodbye to my Mum. But it was always there. Nagging. Gnawing. Waiting.

So I phoned. And we spoke. And both of us knew. Neither of us explicitly said it but both of us knew. Through the condolences. The half-uttered, meaningless platitudes from one to the other. The banal ‘what are you doing with yourself’ type questions. And just like that we agreed to meet. In any normal circumstance it would be ridiculous, nonsensical. But we agreed all the same, both of us knowing why. I agreed to come to Mull, fancied seeing this renowned island rather than letting him traipse up to the pokey bugger of a flat I call home. And that was the call done. No remonstrations, no apologies, no volleys of abuse at the bastard for fucking off out of my life at such a young age and not even bothering to try to make any kind of contact since then. Nothing. I’d bottled it. He’d bottled it. Just like he’s bottled the last 38 years of my life. I’ll tell you though, my Dad, or at least the man I thought was my Dad, might have been an absolute bastard to me growing up, a horrible fucking bastard of a person in fact, but at least he had a fucking spine. At least he stuck around, John. At least he gave a shit. Suddenly it becomes obvious why he was how he was with me. With both of us, me and Mum. Bastard. No, bastards. The two of them. Look I know it can’t have been easy for Mr Hughes…or should that be Dad?…no, Mr Hughes. I understand that but…come one for…I…ah, I don’t know.

Anyway, I’m here. In Mull. Prepared to meet him. To talk to him. To do whatever my brain decides to do. Shout? Swear? Talk? Accuse? Who knows. He knew what ferry I was getting on but we never actually arranged a meeting place or time or any of that nonsense. I would phone ahead and let him know I’m on my way down but there’s bugger all signal here for me. Unsurprisingly. So that’s why I’m inching my way down to Fionnphort at the foot of the island. Off to meet Mr Hughes. Alan. Dad. That bastard. All things to one man. To this man. Ah jesus, that rain is battering down now! The bloody wipers are barely moving it’s that heavy! And oh joy, here’s another car. So in I go once again. Into yet another bloody Passing Place.

 

Passing Places. Perfect for this type of weather. Thundering down with rain. I can’t even begin to imagine trying to negotiate past cars on this road in this weather without these Passing Places. A nice shiny wee red card that one. Well, everything’s shiny in this rain isn’t it. Haven’t seen that one in this area before. Maybe Barbara’s got that new car she was threatening to buy for so long. Or it could be a tourist on their way down to catch the ferry to Iona. Good luck in this weather pal. You’ll need it. I strain my eyes but can’t make out the driver in the red car thanks to the shower of rain pelting both our windscreens. Just a raised hand. Ah well, thanks all the same kind sir or madam. Bloody awful weather this.

Just as well I’m on my way to pick him up. Mark. My son. The son I’ve not seen in over 30 years. He never asked me to of course but I’m sure he’ll appreciate it. This road is bad enough for a first timer let alone in this weather. His ferry should be in by now so he’ll likely be sitting waiting in his car. Or at the pub possibly. I don’t know if he takes a drink or not. It’s no use being out in rain like this though. So aye, call it surprise, call it whatever. I’ll meet him there and drive him down to the house for a sit down. Or join him in the pub. If he’s there. If he drinks obviously. Ah bugger it. It’s fair to say I’m a bundle of bloody nerves.

Right out of the blue that phone call. I didn’t even know who it was at first. How could I? I was sad to hear about Sandra. Very sad. We were never star-crossed lovers or love’s young dream or anything approaching that but there was something. There was definitely something once. We found each other. Needed each other. She was loaded down with two kids, getting no help from John. He used to treat her like garbage but you don’t say anything do you, it’s not your place. And then there was me and Joan, the first and only Mrs Hughes. Ah the perfect couple. To the neighbours at least. Always with a smile, a kind word. A shared joke. So perfect that we could barely stand the sight of one another after a few years. We were both to blame for that though. No. I’m not blaming her. She was a good woman. It was my fault. Entirely. I broke our wedding vows. Happy marriage or not, that’s unforgiveable. But Sandra. Me and Sandra. Sandra and I, we just…got one another. It was good. Stressful but good. For a while. And then of course we found out about Mark. A ticking timebomb. Joan and I never had kids of our own of course. She wasn’t able to. I’d always told her I was fine with that, happy that it was just the two of us. But I’d always wanted. There was always a part of me that wanted a son or daughter of my own. I told Sandra we could run away, start a new life, come clean. Anything it would take for us, the three of us, to be together. I would tell Joan everything. Confess all. Chapter and verse. But she wouldn’t have it, Sandra. She was married. She had two children that she couldn’t and wouldn’t uproot for the sake of a fling. And besides it all, no matter how much of cruel nasty bugger John was, she was adamant that she still loved him. I was heartbroken. Heartbroken. I didn’t just lose Sandra but I’d lost a son. My son.

And then Mark was born. Their third son. John’s ‘third’ son. I watched him grow up on that street. Right before my eyes. Rolling past the window in his pushchair. Walking, running. Kicking his first football. It was agony. He was there. In my life. And yet I couldn’t get near him. Sandra wouldn’t let me. As far as she was concerned he was John’s and that was that. An end to it. But I would fight back. Bit by bit at a time. I would talk to him and his brothers, him and his pals, about football. Even join in now and then when they had their kickabouts. I would speak to him whenever he’d pass. Trying to get to know him. Trying to make any connection I could. And then came the offer. The tickets. For the Dons game. John blew up. Called me all kinds of names. Kiddy fiddling pervert peado this, that and the other. I was to stay the bleep away from him and his two brothers in future or he’d effin kill me. There’s only so much I was willing to take. I lost it. Hit him back with the truth. Right there. With Joan sitting next to me. Completely oblivious. Unaware. He went for me. If it hadn’t been for Joan stepping in between us and physically restraining him I haven’t a clue what kind of damage he would have done. She got him out of the house before quietly stepping back inside and asking me if it was true. A few hours later of course there was the rammy in the street where he marched along for round two, Sandra in tow screaming at him, at me. Joan saying nothing. Silent. And that was it. We moved away very soon after. Joan was adamant. It was either that or the marriage was over. So we did. To Mull. Of all places. You couldn’t get much further away from the North East. And less than a year later the marriage was over. Inevitable really. I don’t blame her. I blame myself for all of it.

Maybe I should have tried harder. Should have attempted again, and again, to force my way into Mark’s life. There’s no maybe about it in fact, I absolutely should have. If I had my chance again I would…I’d…in all honesty I’d probably do the same thing all over again. Not through choice or intention, no, but simply because I’m a coward. I was scared. Scared Sandra wouldn’t want anything to do with me? Scared John would kill me? Scared Mark wouldn’t want anything to do with me? Probably all of the above and more. Coward. And I’m still at it. I could have told him. On the phone. The other week. I could have just told him as clear as day. ‘Mark, I’m your father, son.’ But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Christ I’m not even sure I will today. But I have to. Must. I’m a bloody coward though so who knows. A 68 year old coward, how’s that for you. That’s why I’m glad he phoned. God knows how Sandra managed to get my number but I’m glad she did. If the roles had been reversed and I’d had Mark’s number I very much doubt I’d have had the courage to pick up the phone. Or dial the number anyway, that’s for sure. Oh there’s Jill out with the post. I’ll nip in here and let her pass.

At least it’s drying up now. You get them here. These sporadic, hellish rainstorms. Here one minute and gone the next. Even the sheep don’t bother retreating for them any longer. Ah, Donald’s got a fresh batch of mussels in I see, shall have to nip in there on the way back. That’d be a nice fresh taste of Mull for Mark I’d bet. If he likes mussels that is. Or fish in general. So much. So much to talk about. To hear about. 30 odd years of my boy’s life that I’ve not got the slightest inkling about. He mentioned working on the rigs. That must take him all over the world. Some life I’d expect. Interesting. Unlike mine. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mull. Its home. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. But it’s hardly the most exhilarating of places. Especially now I’m retired. Although I think that was the point when Joan moved us here. There was something about this place that I took to instantly though. It was quiet, so peaceful. Serene. You really could have solitude here. Even when Joan left me, headed back to the mainland, I never once thought about leaving. It worked. For me. For who I am. Hiding? Maybe. Probably. But I found my life here. I would have given it all up in a second if Sandra or Mark had asked me to mind you. In a heartbeat.

Here we are. Craignure. And that’s the sun coming out. That’s the second season of the day, still plenty time for the other two before we’re done. I scan the seafront, scouring for any new or ‘visiting’ cars or vehicles. Nope. Just the usual few. I’ll maybe nip into the shop and ask Arlene if anyone’s been in before I try the pub. That’s if she’ll let me get a bloody word in edgeways. And that’s another ferry coming in. Ready to dump another load of sightseers on the island before setting back off again. Probably set for Tobermory up north. That’s all we are on the south of the island, one big passing place. That’s a good idea mind you, I’ll maybe see if Mark wants to take a drive up to Tobermory. That’s if I can find him, of course.

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.

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.

A Collection Of Dual Carriageways

Nicki Minaj…

Little Mix…?

Katy Perry!?

Taylor bloody Swift!?!?!

Ah well at least there’s no…arghhhhh!…there is, there bloody well is… Justin fuckin Bieber!!??!?!

Simon scrolls through his iPod, a look of disbelief contorting his features. The kind of look only achieved by someone scrolling through a list of music previously, and unknowingly, sabotaged by a current or former partner. Not content with ending things out of the blue, for no decent sodding reason, she has to go and infect my iPod with this garbage. Bitch. He settles for the Shuffle option, choosing to take his chances rather than make any kind of informed decision, his mind once more awash with all the memories, anxieties and self-loathing that comes with the end of a relationship. He sighs and looks up, bright slithers of sunlight creep in through the stainless steel cladding surrounding him. People, young and old, distracted and determined, mill around him. ‘HEAD UP’ reads the sign across from him. He catches a blurred reflection of himself in the steel, his shaggy overgrown hair protruding from his pale, unshaven complexion. He glances down at the glossy, folded leaflet clutched in his hand, reading ‘…in some case kelpies would take their victims into the water, devour them and throw their entrails to the water’s edge…’ before losing interest.

The Kelpies eh, he thinks, a work in progress for so long, everyone watching on from afar, gazing in awe at this ‘incredible’ creation as it grows, the anticipation, the wonder and then, now that I’m here, it doesn’t seem all that worth it. Beautiful to look at yes, but bugger all else to it. His eyes narrow as an Olly Murs song blasts unwelcomingly into his headphones. He hits the skip button with far more force than is necessary. Come to think of it, he decides as he looks up again, the Kelpies are a bit like Mhairi; gorgeous to look at but hollow on the inside, nothing much to them. A sinister smirk appears briefly on his face before falling away again just as quickly, disappointed as he is with the clunky metaphor he’s just used. Hardly befitting someone getting set to study English at University in only a month or so’s time. ‘Fuck it’ he announces to himself quietly, deciding for roughly the twentieth time since the break-up that he is over it. This draws slightly baffled, with a touch of offended, looks from those perusing the structure beside him. Simon only slowly realises that one’s perception and grasp of the quiet–to-loud ratio often becomes somewhat distorted with headphones lodged in one’s ear. A swift rush of embarrassment begins to flood through him as he decides to quickly step out of the Kelpie and back into the afternoon air.

 

Bastard.

Lousy bastard!!

Fucking lousy fucking miserable bastard! Fucking…!!

Jenny’s eyes well. A small tear escapes from her left eye, slowly abseiling its way down her cheek before dropping soundlessly onto her green summer dress. A tear born more of anger and frustration than sadness. She’d told herself countless times, as had her friends and family, not to constantly scroll through Facebook, checking his feed, seeing how he was dealing with the split. But here she was. Scrolling through Facebook. Finding herself boil with rage, with betrayal, as she see’s the pictures he’s posting from Magaluf. Or ‘Shagaluf’, as him and friends keep hashtagging at the end of each post or picture. Tarts, slags, sluts. Draped around him. Him around them. One blonde in particular, in countless pictures; kissing him, sitting on his lap. The lousy fucking bastard!!! She has to stop herself from screaming out in anger, reminding herself that she’s here with her family. Her parents, her little brother, her Grandma. Plus there’s the rest of the kids and families swarming about the place. They’d hardly appreciate a 17 year old girl screaming and hurling ‘fucks’ and ‘bastards’ at her iPhone would they. Not on such a rare and beautiful summer day like this. No, not at all. Especially when they’ve chosen to spend such a beautiful sunny day staring at a couple of giant bloody horse heads!?

She closes the Facebook app down and walks into the ‘HEAD DOWN’ Kelpie, shuffling slowly a few yards behind the rest of her family. Her disinterested eyes darting everywhere except towards the mass of steel now encasing them. She opens the Facebook app up once again. Automatically, a force of habit and need. She doesn’t even need to scroll down this time. There he is. Right at the top of her feed. Bleary-eyed, grinning as THAT blonde sits astride his lap. Jenny grips her phone, squeezing, clutching, her hands burning, her knuckles whitening, threatening to burst through the skin. HE SAID HE WANTED TO BE ON HIW OWN she screams internally. He broke up with ME. He didn’t want a girlfriend, he didn’t anyone, he was moving up north to work on the rigs and it wouldn’t be fair on me if he kept stringing me along, only being able to see me once every month or so. Wouldn’t be fair on ME!? Well how is this fair!? Eh!? How is this fair!? She feels her eyes start to well once more, the urge to hit or throw something pulsing through her veins. She closes the app down once again and turns, rushing out of the kelpie. Her family glance round at her quizzically as she exits, the sound of her rushed footsteps echoing around the hollow structure.

 

‘Stunning, Simon? Don’t you think?’

‘Eh?’ he looks up as his Dad approaches, the rest of the family traipsing behind him.

‘The Kelpies! Stunning aren’t they?’

‘Yeah…well…they’re ok I suppose, aye.’

‘They’re better than okay, Si. They’re art.’

‘Get your backside off that grass Simon, it’ll be soaking!’ Simon’s Mum arrives on the scene.

‘And hello to you too mother…’ he pulls his sunglasses down a touch.

‘Dinnae play smart wi me Simon, get up so I can put a blanket down.’

‘It’s boiling hot!? Probably the hottest this country will get this year. The grass is fine.’

‘Aye but it was dinging it down yesterday young man so c’mon, up!’

Simon grumbles under his breath, nudging his sunglasses up again. He discreetly tries to wipe the back of his jeans which, annoyingly, are a tad on the damp side. His Mum catches him doing this and offers the briefest of ‘I-telt-ye’ smiles.

‘Aye,’ declares his Dad, ‘it’s about bloody time Central Scotland had something worth shouting about. It’s always your Edinburghs, Glasgows, your Borders that get the money chucked at them. Never the Central Belt. What did we have before? The Falkirk Wheel and a big bloody petro chemical plant. Brilliant. But this…these, I should say…makes you proud to be from the central belt so it does. It’s a great wee thing for a great wee part of the country.’

It’s a crap wee part of the country retorts Simon in his head. All it is is a collection of bloody dual carriageways. A bunch of concrete-swamped little towns, drained of any hope, cobbled together by road signs, roundabouts and a shared sense of lifelessness. The kind of towns where you’re sure to spot an Asda or Tesco trolley abandoned about a mile from the nearest Asda or Tesco store. That’s all these Kelpies are, in fact, the architectural equivalent of an abandoned shopping trolley miles from anything of significance. Doomed to be forgotten over time. He looks at his grinning Dad, pride etched across his face. Embarrassed almost by the depth of his own disdain for the place.

‘Yeah’ he agrees half-heartedly. ‘It’s about time. I like the water surrounding the Kelpies. It’s a nice touch.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, y’know, the whole association between Kelpies and water. The mythical creatures?’

‘Oh…aye. Aye, aye, aye. Nice play park for the weans aswell eh.’

His Dad turns around and empties out a plastic shopping bag, sandwiches wrapped in cellophane and bottles of juice tumble out onto the newly-laid blanket. Simon digs into his pocket and pulls out his headphones again, pressing play on his iPod as he does so.

‘Oh for f….Rihanna!?’

‘Wit’s that son?’ his Dad looks up at him.

‘Nothing…na, nothing. Listen I’m going for a wander around the place, it’s too hot just sitting here, I’ll grab a sandwich once I’m back.’

‘Fair enough Si. And hey…’ says his Dad, ‘cheer up eh? Plenty more fish in the sea as they say, or eh, or Kelpies eh? Haha.’

‘Aye ok Dad.’ He batters the skip function on his device once again as he walks away.

 

‘The equine creatures were known to be able to entice victims onto their back with their ethereal singing…’ reads Jenny. She tosses the leaflet down on the grass next to her. She sits for a minute or so watching her parents and Grandma playing with her brother on the monkey bars. Twelve years age difference. Maybe that’s why I’m taking this so hard. If I had a brother my own age or older I might have had some clue as to what massive bastards men can be. No, not men, he’s a boy. A stupid little boy pissing it up in Magaluf. Letting his hormones run wild. That was all he was after anyway. It must have been. Bed me and then dump me, that was it. Just in time to go and spread it around on holiday. Well she can have him. Bimbo bitch! She thumps the grass beside her with her fist. Pain rushes through her arm. Fu…fu…fu…arggghhh!!!

She looks up at the Kelpies, the massive structures towering over her as she sits in their shadow. What’s the point, she ponders. They’re beautiful, yes, but what’s the need. People talk about this area needing help, needing improvements but how is two huge horse heads going to help? People always talk about wanting to leave these towns, something like this isn’t going to stop them is it!? ‘Oh yes I was desperate to leave this life of teetering on the poverty line and lacking in opportunity but those two massive horse heads next to the motorway have convinced me to stay.’ Likely. She takes a drink from her bottle of water once the pain in her hand subsides. The pain replaced by that familiar itching feeling. An itch only ever scratched by the seamless unlock- phone-open-up-Facebook manoeuvre.

‘No…’ she announces out loud to herself. ‘NO!’

She shoves her phone in her purse and pulls out her iPod, untangling the headphones cable. She flicks through her playlists. ‘Night Out’…no; ‘T in The Park 2013’…na; ‘Date Night xxx’…..she freezes for a second, battling within herself not to click into the playlist. That itch desperate to be scratched once again. She stares. Continues to stare. And then deletes it. Quickly backing out from the playlists option and clicking on ‘Shuffle’. The opening bars to ‘Roar’ by Katy Perry kick in. Jenny smiles to herself, relieved, liberated even, in however small a way. She pushes herself up off the grass and turns to walk back towards the Kelpies.

 

The searing afternoon sun beats down on the two giant stainless steel horse heads, scalding the surface, small heat mirages sporadically dart around the structures. Beneath them families wander, sit, eat and play. Children scream in delight, in faux-horror, in boredom. Muddied knees and reddened cheeks race around the wood-chipped play park. The water surrounding the area ripples only slightly thanks to a feeble excuse for a breeze. It disappears sheepishly, unwanted, back into the afternoon heat.

At the edge of the water two figures slowly, and unbeknown to one another, walk towards each other. A male and a female, both in their mid-to-late teens. The female has her head down, the male his head facing up, sunglasses covering his eyes. Both have a set of headphones in. The male is singing gently to himself. Lyrics from a Taylor Swift song creep from his vocal chords into the afternoon air. The male’s eyes, it turns out, are closed in a dreamlike slumber all the while. Still the two figures close in on each other, still neither aware of the other’s presence. Until the female, in between songs on her device, hears a gentle singing. It confuses her, entrances her, she’s baffled by how close it sounds. She looks up. The two figures collide. Both throw their arms up in shock. Both are off balance. The female is sent tumbling backwards into the water. The male decides he should panic, or be heroic, or panic, or be heroic and panic, or…the male’s decision is made for him as the female, whilst flailing desperately, grabs a hold of his arm as she plummets to the water. They both fall in.

A multitude of splashing ensues. Both frantically waving their arms. Only then realising the depth of the water is minimal at worst. Both are drenched. The female’s green summer dress clings tightly to her shivering body. The male’s shaggy indie hairstyle now resembles an old wet mop. Both clamber to the water’s edge and pull themselves up onto the path. Both forming puddles beneath their feet as their clothes drip relentlessly. Others take notice of this scene. Some struggle to stifle laughter, others fail miserably. Some move towards the male and female, a look of sympathy or concern on their faces. The two figures are hunched under the weight of the cold now gripping their bodies. Angry looks and words are exchanged by both. And then silence. And then laughter. They look at each other, lingeringly. Smiles are exchanged. As are gentler, softer tones. ‘Your iPod will be ruined’ murmurs the female. ‘It’s probably for the best,’ answers the male, ‘it was full of rubbish anyway’. More laughter is exchanged. The female struggles to take her sodden shoes off, spontaneously she leans her hand on the male’s shoulder for balance, for support. He smiles. With her head down, struggling with her shoe, she only just grasps the sequence of events. She smiles aswell. Others arrive, asking if the two are ok. Do they need anything? What happened? Do you need a towel? The two answer that they are ok. They both say their families are just over this way and over that way respectively. As the crowd slowly disperse, satisfied with the answers given, the male and female smile at each other nervously, neither sure what the next move should be. Eventually they exchange pleasantries and apologies and begin to slowly walk away in opposite directions. Both their smiles disappear instantly as they do.

Both drenched individuals continue to walk slowly back to their respective families, both preparing their stories for their soon-to-be no doubt-bewildered relatives. The female turns and sneaks a look back. She notices the male does not. Disappointed she turns back and continues to walk away. The male stops, turns and looks back at her. He notices that she fails to do likewise. Disappointed, he turns back and continues to trudge away. Cars speed by on the nearby motorway as the sun continues to beat down. Almost in unison the two figures stop, one at the far end of the ‘Head Down’ Kelpie and the other at the opposite end of the ‘Head Up’ Kelpie. Both slowly begin to turn around. Excruciatingly slowly. Both afraid of what they might not see once they do turn. Eventually they turn. They catch sight of one another. Slowly, beneath the looming shadow of the Kelpies, both begin to walk towards one another.

The Launch

‘Just launch it…’
‘I will. I just…’
‘Come on Eillidh, you need to launch it. Just throw it in…’
‘I just need a minute Cara…just give me a moment…please…’

The two girls stand at the edge of the pier, their slender outlines gently imprinted on the calm, idyllic coastal scene. The first hint of the early evening’s shadows begin to invade the cool, crisp, and often, unexpected sunshine of the late Spring day. A frittering, uncertain sunshine. Like an infant taking its first steps, desperate to exude confidence, all the while only a heartbeat, a mis-step, a moment away from defeat. Gentle waves prod at the foot of the brickwork pier below them, respectful of the calm, quiescent air, careful not to intrude upon the measured silence. Across the river the Lothians stand proudly, illustriously, distant. The peaks of the far-off Pentland Hills creeping into the horizon. Another world, another life. To their right the Forth bridges cut through the landscape. Each bridge unique, oozing character. Each offering a varied route of travel, a mode of escape, from the introspective small town life, piercing a hole into the seemingly salubrious, high-rolling, problem-shedding city life.

‘You’re going to have to do it sooner or later Eillidh. The quicker you do it the faster you can walk away. Yeah?’

Cara glances briefly at the object, the focal point, the subject of the conversation, forcefully clutched in her friend’s hand. She follows this up with an unsteady, yet comforting, squeeze of Eillidh’s shoulder. The latter’s hand slowly rises to meet Cara’s, gently caressing it as her gaze remains fixed on some nondescript point on the opposite shoreline. A slight smile, more forlorn than joyful, edges across her lips.

‘Do you remember when we used to come here as kids? To the beach I mean.’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Any sunny day. Even some rainy ones. Hiding in the caves-but-not-really-caves further along the coast to keep dry.’
‘That’s right’ smiles Cara.
‘All the way through Primary School,’ Eillidh squeezes her friend’s had before withdrawing her own, letting it hang by her side. Cara taking this as a cue to let go.
‘I honestly can’t remember the last time I even built a sandcastle. Buried someone in the sand. Skimmed a stone, even. No matter how crap I was at it.’
‘Everything seemed…I don’t know…freer then. Easier.’
‘Look Eillidh…you’re still…’ begins Cara meekly before she’s cut off.
‘I had my first kiss there aswell, remember. That English boy, Will, up here visiting his Granny, or Auntie, or someone, I don’t know. Where was he from? Cornwall or something, wasn’t it. God, it was awful. He tasted like cheese and onion Pringles. He wasn’t even eating cheese and onion Pringles.’
‘Yeah, I remember’ replies Cara, now managing to force only the barest hint of a smile.

The light continues to gradually diminish around them, the evening entwining with the daylight, a dusky hue beginning to claim sovereignty over proceedings. Towards the opposite shoreline two birds, seagulls thinks Eillidh, one noticeably larger than the other, suddenly career into the air. The larger of the two confidently cutting through the encroaching shadows, the smaller visibly struggling, ascending and plunging with all the consistency and speed of an unrestrained roller coaster. The larger bird descends time and again, flapping alongside the smaller; in support, in encouragement, in kinship. Until, eventually, the smaller bird finds its stride, its confidence, and propels itself into the air. Gliding gracefully through the landscape, pirouetting over the lush red steel of the railway bridge. The larger bird proudly mirroring its every move, coasting close by as the younger of the two etches its own celebratory path into the coastal expanse.

‘And then the beach parties started’ she says.
‘Well…’
‘Didn’t they?’
‘Well, hardly parties’ answers Cara, ‘more like a group of underagers getting together and smoking and drinking anything we managed to steal from one of our parents’ drink cabinet. If that’s classed as a party then…’
‘Suddenly everything just felt different.’
‘Eillidh…’
‘Like happiness is suddenly something you have to work for, y’know.’
‘Eillidh, listen…’
‘Appearance. Expectations. Responsibilities. Exams. Careers. Plans. Books. Looks. Boys Girls. Everything. Like you’re no longer only making decisions to please yourself and make yourself happy any more. Every little thing you do or don’t do, every little thing you say or don’t say, somehow it suddenly becomes all about pleasing someone, anyone, everyone else. When did that start, tell me that.’
‘I don’t know Eillidh. Look, you did the right thing. You did. It’s not…’
‘And then you end up doing the wrong thing anyway. Making the wrong choice. It’s always about the wrong choices.’
Cara’s voice drops to a whisper. Unsure. Muted. She pulls nervously at her hair, curling it around her index finger, tangling it in the process.
‘Eillidh…’ she begins, ‘you had to do it. Ok? You didn’t have any choice. There wasn’t a right or wrong choice. There was just the only choice. You have to know that. To believe that. You had to get it done. You’re 15 years old, Eillidh. 15! It was the only choice you had.’

Eillidh looks down at the object in her hand. Staring at it. Fearing it. Hating it. She looks up again, indifferently staring across the glistening waves. The skyline above the bridges glows a fiery red, the dying embers, the final flourish of an otherwise fading daylight. She tightens her grasp of the object.

‘I could have waited though.’
‘Eillidh, why say that?’
‘In the first place I mean. I could have waited.’
‘Come on Eillidh, there’s no way you could have known this would happen. No way.’
‘Cara, I could have waited.’ she replies sternly, ‘like you just said, I’m only 15 years old. I didn’t have to do it. Didn’t have to say yes. To agree to it. To let him. Even though I knew…I knew it wasn’t what I wanted.’
‘You just…you only…’
‘You weren’t that stupid were you!’
‘It’s not about being stupid, Eillidh. Like I said, it’s not about being right or wrong. All you did was…’
‘Well, I don’t know. All I know is I could have….I mean, you weren’t…I don’t know. I don’t know.’

Cara looks up at her friend, still gazing blankly into that unspecified spot in the horizon. She gently slips her fingers through Eillidh’s, clasping hold of her quivering hand.

‘You did the right thing. I promise you. School. Your parents. Your own life. It’s still yours to live. You had to do it. You’ve not let anyone down…’
‘I know…’ whispers Eillidh in reply, her voice cracking ever so slightly as she does, ‘I know.’
‘It’s not an ending. It’s just something that’s happened. Something that could have been but isn’t.’
‘Yeah…’
‘So just launch it. Just throw it in, Eillidh. Please.’
‘I will, I just…ok.’
‘Besides, I’m starting to shiver. I told you summer dresses in spring was a shocking idea.’ she forces a trickle of laughter.
‘You did.’ smiles Eillidh, this time tightening her grip on her friend’s hand.

Her attention is drawn to the waves continuing to claw at the foot of the pier below. The gentle lapping of the water against the wall bringing with it an almost serene, hypnotic quality. A distant, echoing seagull screech breaks her repose, calling to her attention the near total darkness now surrounding the two of them.

She squeezes her friend’s hand tightly once again, emphatically even, and then lets go. And with a gentle flick of her wrist she sends the white object flying through the evening air. As Eillidh and Cara turn and walk away the very last fragment of the day’s sunlight briefly enshrines the object in a surreal glow. The white object’s small LED screen, once adorned with the word ‘Pregnant’, glistens under a momentary flash of light, a blinding reflective spark, before it continues its downward trajectory, tumbling towards the shadow-strewn, all-consuming waves.