Hound Point

And ever when Barnbougle’s lords

Are parting this scene below

Come hound and ghost to this haunted coast

With death notes winding slow

 

The words whirled around his head like leaves caught in a coastal breeze. Frantically thrusting and fluttering through the corridors of his mind; firing brief, erratic sparks of recognition along the way. He knew those words. He was sure of it. Completely. And yet, he wasn’t sure in the slightest. No. But still, he knew them. Or of them. Didn’t he?

He shook his head in an attempt to disperse the half-remembered words. The rest of his body almost immediately followed his lead, shivering in tandem under the strain of the cold night air. He glanced down at his thin, fading overalls, assessing their potential fortitude against the rapidly lowering temperature. An assessment surmised, concluded and curtailed in the briefest of split-seconds. He took one last drag of his cigarette – its final embers a red flitting and ethereal firefly in the evening’s dark – and expertly flicked it over the railing of the Hound Point oil terminal and into the inky blackness of the River Forth below. He stepped forward, his hand connecting with the exposed chill of the railing’s steel, tentatively glancing down toward the water with all the conviction of a committed acrophobe. In a sense it called to him, beckoned him even. Whispered, suggested, murmured; half-spoken fragments, ill-formed and abstract. In another sense it snarled at him, sending fresh waves of chill through his already freezing domain.

He took a step back, composing himself. The cold of the night scraped up and down his cheeks, wove in through his threadbare garments. He glanced to his right; the Forth Bridge thrust its way through the darkness, the palest glimmer of its iconic red coating shining like the dullest of beacons through the evening’s shade. Its beauty undeniable, its grace, unrivalled. A crowning achievement. For the area. For engineering. For mankind itself. A constant reminder of the pinnacles that could and can be traversed in the minds of men. A reaching, soaring feat. A permanent, proud display of all that can be done to both conquer and compliment nature and the surrounding landscape. He turned, taking in a hastily assembled panoramic view of the oil terminal surrounding him. The mass of cold, sterile and nondescript steel seemed to tilt its head in shame, belittled and diminished beneath the weight of comparison next to the Forth Bridge. Regimented. Banal. Beige. It almost seemed to cower in the water – almost wishing to be submerged within the waves – desperately attempting to conceal itself against the backdrop and world-renowned beauty of its neighbour.

The young man shook his head in disgust once more – whether in disgust at the belittlement of his place of work or towards his own fractured and rambling thoughts is questionable – and moved slowly towards the door, the warmth of the indoors tugging at the ficklest of his heartstrings. A howl stopped him in his tracks. A long, piercing, echoing howl. A howl that seemed to plunge and scythe its way across the night sky, tearing open the small cluster of clouds that dared to venture into the freezing air. He stood, frozen. In fear? Perhaps. Why? He thought. A lone man in an isolated oil terminal submerged in the icy cold waves of the River Forth? Without many tasks to occupy him, at the mercy of the night and all its dealings? Sure, that could add the slightest tinge of the macabre to any event or scenario, but he’d covered this shift dozens of times before. He’d heard all kinds of noises when covering this particular shift before. Of course he had. It was part and parcel of the work. An occasional train, blaring endlessly through the night air; cargo ships slowly sleepwalking through the early hours to their eventual destinations; and yes, more often than not, a random bark, hoot or howl from deep within the most shadowed corners of either coastline. But this howl. Something felt different somehow. Something felt…off.

He thrust his hands into the pockets of his overalls, shaking his head once again, and shouldered the door open. A burst of something resembling warm air rushed against his face from inside, dying down again almost instantly, asphyxiated as it was by the external chill. But again, that howl. This time louder, more strained, more…more anguished, perhaps, than the first. Yes, he thought, it sounded pained. Invisible icicles formed up and down his spine, digging in sporadically as small waves of anxiety ebbed and flowed through his veins. He jerked his head around, forcing himself towards the railing again. The door slammed shut behind him with a dull thud. His hands gripped the railing once more, the coldness of their touch minimised alongside the need to stabilise and solidify his trembling frame. He peered into the darkness, simultaneously attempting to carve out the coastline in his vision whilst trying his level best to locate the source of that shudderingly pain-filled howl. His eyes strained, blinking frantically as he tried to evaporate the nigh-on impenetrable darkness before him. Small, vicious bullets of chill shot through his palms at incrementally quickening intervals. He unclenched his hands from the railing, ready to turn back towards the door again when he saw them. Out of the corner of his eye. At first no more than a mere hint, a simple suggestion. Flecks of half-formed dust on the edge of his peripheral vision. A man. And a dog. Walking slowly along the beach. The beach slightly further along the southern coastline. Facing East, their backs turned to the oil terminal, their backs turned to him. Walking slowly. Painfully slowly. Drifting, almost, along the darkened outcrop, the silent-yet-imposing backdrop of Barnbougle Castle towering above them. A regal, assured and yet, altogether, haunting figure at the edge of the vast wooded Dalmeny Estate.

He scrambled along the railing, desperate for a closer look. Again, he knew not why. A matter of yards up against a distant of several hundred yards was never likely to affect any significant change in sight, anyway. Still, he moved, thrusting his stiffening limbs towards the most easterly point of the oil platform, before resting his hands on the railing. Again, he peered. His heartbeat dropping. Just enough. Quietened and placated by the realisation that it was that dog, the one slowly ambling along the beach, that must have howled. For what reason, he did not know. And as to why this particular man was walking his dog in the dead of such a cold night on such a potentially hazardous trail, he cared even less so. Just to see them, to acknowledge them, was all he needed. To rest his pulse. To warm his body, even momentarily. And yet…they were gone. At least, he couldn’t see them. It wasn’t a big beach, if anything it was barely a beach, more of a slight smattering of sand, so where could they have gone!? It was seconds. Barely even that. That’s all it took for his echoing, clanging footsteps to carry him from his previous spot to the one he inhabited. He turned his head right, knowing not why, his gaze seemingly dragged, once again, towards the pitch darkness of the sea waves below. Again, they seemed to whisper, to hint. To entreat. It was calming, enveloping, entrancing. His mind began to drift, untethered, before a further howl regained his flagging senses. His neck jerked; his head jolted violently back towards the view of the beach. When he saw them. Once again. Barely further than a yard or so from where they were before. The man and his dog. An older man than him as far as he could tell. Middle-aged possibly. The night’s coastal shadow inexplicably failing to obscure the man’s flock of greying hair. Walking slowly. As glacial as before. The grand structure of Barnbougle Castle continuing to tower over and peer down towards them. As they walked the howl echoed deep into the distant chasm-like horizon. The howl. That howl. That piercing, spine-scraping howl. And yet the dog still walked slowly, peacefully, without complaint. The sound of the howl somehow completely detached from this particular dog’s lungs and general location. It walked. Alongside the man. Simply, walked. Slowly, gradually, quietly. Step after step after step. And yet, despite the continual steps taken, they barely seemed to move. If at all. Continual forward movement, yes, but maddeningly they seemed to remain in the same spot, the same intimidating backdrop shadowing their every step.

And ever when Barnbougle’s lords

Come hound and ghost to this haunted coast

The scattered words danced and cavorted through his mind. Returning like an icy gust of wind. The chill, coincidentally, also returned in abundance, completely bypassing any pretence of warmth that the young oil worker’s overalls once projected. Hurriedly, he ungripped the railing and walked briskly back towards the door, pushing it open with his trembling hands. One last glance back towards the beach was met only with darkness. Darkness and nothing more.

 

The door slammed behind him as he stepped inside, weak strands of warmth collided violently within him up against the stubbornly embedded and strengthening cold. He looked around the room. Its mundanity comforted him. The myriad of greys – walls, pipes, dining tables – signalled a calm, unfettered atmosphere. Even the dimming and slightly flickering lightbulb, apparently living on borrowed time, sent a shot of calm through him. The chill remained, yes, but this was safety. For now, at least. He prodded the door behind him with his elbow, confirming its closed status. Locked. Steadfast. His whole body, until then locked in a vice-like grip of contorted anxiety, seemed to exhale in relief as the tension released. The young man ruffled his own hair as he moved towards the table in front of him. He pulled out the chair from beneath said table, the chair scraping uncomfortably against the hard floor, and sat down, clutching onto the half-drunk cup of coffee before him. He took a drink, his face folding into displeasure as the cold, stewing mixture plunged slowly down his throat.

‘Bleh’

He slammed the cup down on the table, his tongue frantically prodding away at his lips in an effort to discard the beads of cold coffee taste scattered across them.

‘Yes, the coffee here always was rather…rather lacking, shall we say.’

The young man froze. A voice. The voice. An elderly male voice. From behind him. Almost directly behind him. His body temperature plunged yet again, almost as if he had been encased in a block of ice. Or at least plunged headfirst into the black inky depths of the freezing Forth. The voice was strange. And yet, familiar. Was it? He was sure he didn’t know it and still…there was a definite familiarity about it. Its cultivated tone, the clipped syllables. The young man forces his eyes shut, admonishing himself for this futile line of thought in light of the developing situation. Who was this man? How did he get in? How could he get in? Was he confused? No, surely not. This is a bloody oil terminal, for god’s sake, he thought, not a random house in a nameless street. You don’t just walk onto an oil terminal platform out of confusion! No, there’s a motive here, and not a pleasant one. Damn. Damn. If only some of the more senior guys had been here. Like…like…damn, what’s his name…the big one, the….damn, it’s a simple enough name, why can’t I…!? No. Steady yourself, don’t panic now boy, he commanded himself. He sounds elderly, you’re a young man in his twenties; unless he has a weapon of some description then you’ll easily overpower him. Surely to god. Weapon. A weapon! He looks at the coffee cup in front of him and slowly reaches his hand out towards it. The silence in the cold, steel-heavy room seems to smother the moment, weighing it down with an expectant gaze. His fingers curl delicately around the cup’s handle. They grip. Tighter. Tighter. His knuckles flare with a calcium-charged whiteness. The young oil worker pulled the cup closer to him, ready to wield his makeshift weapon. He slowly began to stand, his head turning in unison as he raised the ceramic mug above his head ready to crash it down on the intruder when…

‘Oh, don’t be silly son. Sit down.’ He felt a hand gently touch his back, calmly ushering him back down into his seat. ‘I can assure you I’m no danger to you. Plus, that thing wouldn’t work on me anyway so just sit back down.’

The young man folded back into his chair, the cup colliding with the table. His senses almost paralysed, strangled by this strange voice. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a figure walk slowly past him. Gradually it formulated into an old male figure. A thinning pile of grey hair clung haphazardly to his scalp. The man’s face was infused with an almost scarlet glow. He looked warm. Too warm. He looked…old. Frail. And yet, there was a strength about him, a confident way of carrying himself which belied that frailty. But that face, again, it seemed familiar. There was something about it that…

‘Well, boy, how are we then?’ the old man slowly sat down across from the young man, smirking somewhat at the younger’s crippled mass of confusion.

‘What do you mean how are…who are…what’s your name…I mean, how, HOW did you…?’

‘Ah,’ continued the old man, ignoring the younger man’s utterings, ‘I still have a soft spot for these days you know. I liked it here. Oh, to my father it was no more than attempt to toughen me up, to make me ‘experience the real world’ as it were. To show me he ways of the ‘common man’, as it were. But to me, no, it felt like I had a meaning. Or something like that anyway. It gave me a purpose, for a small time at least. God, that must have been, what, a good fifty years or so now that I was working here. Doing this shift.’ He nodded towards the younger man. He smiled, looking around the room curiously.

The young man relaxed slightly, amused by the old man’s now obvious confusion. He must have just wandered here, of course he had. How? He hadn’t a clue. But it’s no more than a confused, possibly senile, old man who has somehow or other found his way in here.

‘I’m sorry, sir,’ the young man began, ‘but I think you must be confused. You shouldn’t be in here, it’s a very dangerous environment especially for a man like yourself…’

‘Oh, do be quiet, boy.’ The old man replied with a curt directive. ‘I told you I used to work here. I still know these controls, this environment, as you put it, better than anyone. And besides, nothing dangerous can or will happen. To either of us.’

‘I’m sorry sir,’ continued the young man, a sprinkle of annoyance toughening his tone, ‘but I can assure you, you haven’t worked here. Maybe in a boat or something a long time back but not at this particular oil terminal, no. Not the Hound Point terminal. Certainly not fifty years ago, it’s only been open for two! This is 1977, not 1927 or whatever year you think we’re in, so why don’t I just open the door and I’ll take you back to the shore and…but, in fact, yes, hold on, how did you even manage to get in here anyway? Let alone out to the oil terminal, I mean…’

The elderly man smiled, closing his eyes briefly as he nodded.

‘You spend most of your life waiting for specific moments,’ continued the old man, oblivious, ‘or at least you think you do, waiting for your ‘shot’ as it were. Waiting, just waiting. And then when it’s finally there you realise that all that came before is the stuff that you’ll really remember, that you really cherish.’

The young man’s annoyance blossomed even further. ‘Ok look sir, I don’t know why you’re here, but you shouldn’t be. I’m going to have to ask you to leave, ok?’

‘Ok then,’ the old man said quietly, not budging an inch from his chair ‘I see how this is going to go.’

‘How what’s going to go?’ the young man’s face screws up in confusion once more. He glanced at the cup, considering reclaiming it as his makeshift weapon. ‘I’m telling you sir, I’ll need you to…’

A howl. Another deep, longing howl spread across the night air. His body clenched in momentary shock before relaxing slightly. That damn dog, he thought. I mean seriously, who walks their dog at this time of night? Or morning, come to think of it. But that howl…he glanced round and looked at the door. Yes, it was shut. Fully shut. But the howl…the howl seemed louder than before. Even with the door shut. He looked up at the old man, expecting to see some semblance of fear etched across his face. But no. That smile. That calm, knowing, smirking smile. Unfettered and unruffled by the hideous howl emanating from the night air. He feels it necessary to calm the old man, whether he needs calming or not, in an effort to try to gain some authority in the situation.

‘It’s ok,’ he said, looking up at the old man, ‘it’s just a dog on the beach. Nothing to worry about.’

‘I’m not worried.’ The old man smiled, almost wearily. ‘And it’s not a dog on the beach. There’s no dog on the beach.’

‘Look sir, I’m telling you, there’s a dog on the beach, I saw it only minutes ago. With its owner. A man.’

‘I’m sure you did, boy. But there’s no dog. There’s no man. On the beach or anywhere else.’

‘Sir.’ The young man felt the heat of anger flow through his blood yet again, fighting off the, until then, omnipresent chill. ‘Look, I can assure you, there is a dog on the beach. You won’t convince me otherwise. I don’t know who you are or why you’re here, but you are quite obviously confused. There was, and is, a dog on that beach. And moreover, this oil terminal has only been here for two years. Not fifty or so. Now I’ve already asked you, very politely, to leave here so please don’t make me ask again.’

‘Christ.’ The old man scoffed, shaking his head dismissively. ‘I forgot how embarrassing it looked.’

‘How what looked?’

‘When I, when you…never mind.’

‘No, let’s not ‘never mind’, I demand you tell me what the hell is going on right….’

‘And ever when Barnbougle’s Lords

Are parting this scene below

Come hound and ghost to this haunted coast

With death notes winding slow’

The young man’s eyes widen. In recognition. In fear. In terror. The words. Those same scattered fragments of verse. The ones that keep returning, keep fluttering through his mind. Barnbougle. Hound. Ghost. Those words. Those rhymes.

‘Those words,’ he whispered, ‘how do you…where do you know them from?’

‘We’ve always known them. Us. You. And Me. Always been tied to their words, their premonition, so to speak. And moreover, that dog that you claimed to see on the beach, that’s your dog.’

‘My dog? But I don’t have a…I’ve never had a…’

‘No but you will. Or you did, at least. Or…I’m not sure on the timeline to be honest and how it all works. I’m as new to this as you obviously are. But yes, that’s your dog. Or was.’

‘Look sir, I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about so…’ the young man’s nerves continued to fray at a rapidly quickening pace, another long continuous howl, again louder than the one before, interrupting his stumbled and stammered words. ‘…so, so please just leave here, it’s too late for any of this nonsense.’

‘It’s too late for a lot of things, boy.’ The old man smiled sadly. ‘In fact, it’s time.’

‘Look, I really MUST insist that…’

The young man froze, mouth ajar, his jaw seemingly bereft of the strength or desire required to close. His eyes darted from left to right, hungrily taking in the scene around him. A bedroom. The lights, the fire, the colours. The oil terminal room, the oil terminal itself, gone. And before him, a bed. A four-poster bed. Decadent, opulent; at one with the room surrounding it. An occupied bed. The covers rising and falling in laboured, lessening thrusts.

He looked to his right. The old man was standing next to him, staring at the bed. A sad, resigned look holding court in his expression. The young man turned, startled. To his left a middle-aged man, the very same middle-aged man from the beach, stood, his dog sat next to him. Their feet covered in wet grains of sand. Both staring solemnly at the bed in front of them. The young man scrambled for words, grasping for clarity. But the words would not come. No more. No longer. All he could do was stand. And watch on. As the covers ceased rising, ceased falling. The howling continued, engulfing his ears, gripping his mind. The fire in the middle of the room crackled its last.

The three men, identical in face but for the varying rigours of time, and the dog stood side by side watching on. Resigned. Aware. Ready. As the desperate howling eventually petered out into the night air the figures gradually vanished.

 

The Lord of Barnbougle Castle lay motionless in his bed, departed from this world and summoned into the next by those familiar words. By that all-too familiar howl.

Snow Blind

PP1902

The blindness isn’t the worst of it.

No.

It’s the burning.

The burning.

Oh Jesus motherfucking son of God, the burning! It feels like my retinas have been dipped in lighter fluid and struck alight. My eyes; watering. Dripping. Gushing. Each tear stinging as it seems to peel…no, rip…yes, rip…from my eyelids and trail down my face. My eyelids twitching. Twitching. Twitching. Little shots of pain stabbing into my eyeballs.

The blindness I can take. If it’s temporary. At least that’s what I’ve read anyway. That’s what snow blindness is, ain’t it? Temporary? Please fucking God, don’t blind me. No, it is. I’m sure of it. My eyes need rest. Calm. Lack of exposure to bright lights. Temporary; that’s all it is. Like I said, that I can take. But this pain. Holy fuckballs!! It fucking stings! Burns. I might be able to deal with this darkness, this lights out shit, if there weren’t two very small but very fucking vicious fires raging in each of my goddamn eyeballs!

What the fuck I’d give to slam my head in a sink of cold water right about now. No, better still, straight into the motherfucking Chukchi Sea over yonder! Yeah, fuck the freezing temperatures, fuck it all, I reckon I’d give just about anything to do that right now.

Even bound and fucking gagged the way I am. Who gives a shit. All that needs to go in is my head. My eyes. If I slipped in, meh, fuck it! Anything will do. Anything. Anything to stop this FUCKING PAIN!!!

Aarghhhh!

I mean fuck, man. It’s just shit out of luck. That’s all. It’s Alaska for Christ’s sake! Wainwright, fucking Alaska. The fucking ass-end of the world. The coldest fucking point of the coldest fucking place on the goddamn fucking planet. In winter! In the afternoon. 33C below. How the fuck was I to know that fucker of a sun would show up like that! Fuck, it weren’t shining before I came into this place were it?! It ain’t been shining for the best part of a goddamn month or so. Na, fuck that, try three months, maybe. Who the fuck thinks about wearing sunglasses in fucking Alaska in the dead of fucking winter, I ask you! Certainly not this fucker. They mentioned it once or twice up at the oil fields, up at Prudhoe Bay, but it never fucking happens does it? Fuck, man.

If only I could just get these fucking hands free. If only….argh…if only…arghhh…if…if……..if…arggggghhhhh!!!…

‘If fucking only this fucker, whoever the fuck he or she is, would just fucking let me out of these fucking bounds I’d be able to rub my fucking eyes!! Once! That’s all I’m fucking asking for! Just fucking once!’

God fucking damn it!

Fuck, how the fuck was I supposed to know someone would be in here! These houses are supposed to be empty this time of the fucking year. Vacation homes or some fucking thing. Surely not even the fucking Indians, or fucking Inuits, natives, whatever the fuck you wanna call them, surely even they aren’t stupid enough to fucking stay here during the winter. That’s what those fuckers back at the oil fields said. Fuck, man. Easy pickings, they said. Easy fucking pickings. Some of these houses up in this region belong to big fucking oil magnates, rich sons-a-bitches. The kind that get the fuck out of dodge when this evil fucking winter hangs over the place.

She weren’t…

I mean…she shouldn’t…

She weren’t supposed to be here. She shouldn’t have been there! I was only after money for fuck’s sake. Money, some valuables. Any jewellery. The usual. Whatever the fuck was lying around. If they hadn’t fucking canned me back at the oil field I wouldn’t have needed this shit, man. She shouldn’t have…she…housekeeper maybe, but what kind of fucking housekeeper would come out to clean a fucking house in this fucking weather, I ask you?! If she’d just stayed home. Or stayed in bed. Or…or…or whatever the fuck she should have done, rather than be here. I wouldn’t have fucking needed to knock her down would I? When she sprang out on me like that? Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that hit beforehand, man. I might have…might have thought things through. Reacted calmly, maybe. But fuck man, what the fuck else is there to do up here!? And no, no fuck that. She jumped out on me, man. Coke or no fucking coke, if she hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have had to fucking sock her one. And I wouldn’t have had to run out the house and get fucking blinded by that fucking sun and have this FUCKING PAIN burning my motherfucking fucking eyes!! Would I!?!? Fuck fuck FUCK it fucking burns!

It weren’t her that hit me though…when I came back in. I’m sure of it. It weren’t her that fucking cold-cocked me. No, I mean, she were out cold when I ran…I’m sure she was still breathing though…I mean…I mean she musta been…I mean I hit her a good one but fuck man…surely she…she has to be…I mean she did hit the ground like…well, like….like….fuck man. No, no. She ain’t dead. But it was a hell of a crack when she hit that floor…I mean…no. She can’t be dead. Someone else was here. They would have helped her if she were in trouble. He. He would have. Definitely a fucking he. That hit knocked me right the fuck out. It’s surely a man. Either that or very big fucking woman, I mean…

Fuck…

What the fuck is that noise?

Oh shit man…

Is that a….?

Ah the fucking pain, this goddamn fucking pain man! I mean you can’t fucking imagine anything like…

It is…ah shit man, that thing’s growling the fucking place up…

That’s a fucking dog.

Oh fuck, fuck. What the fuck kind of fucking freak show have these fuckers got planned. Oh fuck, man. My hands. If only I could just pull these things free. If only…this fucking darkness…this fucking PAIN!

Na, fuck, a dog would be ok. That I could deal with. This thing sounds like a fucking wolf!

It’s trying to rip that fucking door to shreds. Oh fuuuuuck…fuck this man. Fuck this! I need to get fucking up…I just need to…

Ah fuck! It’s ripping into my fucking wrists! Ahh shit!

That thing sounds feral, man. Oh fuck. That needs its feeding, man. Listen to it for Christ’s sake!

Listen to the…

Listen…

….to the footsteps.

Oh shit, man. Here we go…

I can’t see a fucking thing. Ah fuck. I can’t see a…

He sounds a like a big fucker…fuck man, that’s heavy fucking industrial boots by the sounds of it…stairs…fuck, I must be in a basement or some shit…

Quiet…

Oh fuck, man, no…

Oh shit, no…

He’s unfastening the leash…he’s…she…whoever the fuck…

No that’s the door handle…

That’s the…

‘Listen man, listen, this all a fucking misunderstanding, look it’s cool. I’m fucked man. I’m fucking blind, look. Snow blindness or some shit. Honestly. I can’t see anything. Seriously! Fucking snow blindness, man. When I ran out…the sun…the light…it…Karma or shit. Ha! Fuck, man. I’ll be gone. Just untie me man, I’m gone, I need a hospital man, look, look, seriously man, I’m fucking gone, let me go and I’m gone, I fucking swear…I swear…I’m sorry man…I just needed…look, I’m…look, I’ll be gone…just keep that fucking thing away from me man, I swear…I fucking swear…I…I….hey?…look, man….hey?….’

Silence..

Maybe he’s…na…but maybe…maybe he’s thought…

Ah fuck it burns…it fucking burns!! IT FUCKING…

Shit.

The creak of the door…the snarling…the footsteps…

The darkness…

The…

Fuck.

The Tuchinski Theater

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Colin Casimir took his seat at the end of the row, sinking gracefully into the plush red cushion. He slowly gazed around in awe.

The Tuchinski Theatre, Amsterdam. One of the most beautiful art deco cinemas, nee buildings, in the world. A three-tiered display of theatrical majesty, a world away from the standard fayre of the average ten-a-penny cinema. This place took the name ‘theatre’ and deserved to wear it as an accolade. The décor, the symmetry, the fixtures; all pristine, all displaying an elegance unbefitting of the simple ‘cinema’ tag.

He’d fallen in love with the place ever since he’d first set eyes on it, Colin. Back in his student years. When he and a handful of friends had made the pilgrimage to Amsterdam – a seeming right of passage for males of a certain age in the western world – he caught sight of the place. The exterior façade of the theatre looking less like a cinema and more like a gothic haunted house, sandwiched in between a cheese shop and, most likely, a sex shop of some kind. And whilst his friends had played out an invisible game of tug of war – a few wanting to trudge the remaining 50 yards or so down the street to Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square) to sample the beer and nightlife of one of Amsterdam’s most visited tourist ‘areas’, and the others desperate to trudge slightly further in the opposite direction and visit ‘De Wallen’ (or the Red Light District as it is more commonly known) – Colin had chosen to stand stop still on Reguliersbreestraat and peer up in wonder at the beauty of the Tuchinski Theatre, cigarette ember burning away in his hand. Only a flurried concoction of tram and bike bells had managed to shake him from his stupor and move him from the spot. But he had always, always vowed that one day, ONE DAY, he would come back and visit the theatre. Even if it killed him.

And now here he was.

As darkness descended. Yet despite the darkness the beauty of the theatre’s interior was still abundantly apparent. The slightest touches of red forcing themselves through the gloom and into his vision. And through the darkness he sensed how crowded the place was. Barely a seat was left empty. At least that’s the impression he got. In fact, he barely remembered seeing anyone at all as he walked towards his seat, caught in such a daze as he was. As he looked initially ahead of him and then along his own row of seats he could make out heads, limbs, bodies. At least he thought he could anyway. The theatre was shrouded now in such darkness that the others in the theatre appeared only as mere outlines to him, if at all. Adding to this haze was the slightest suggestion of smoke which crept around the theatre, further obscuring the already minimalistic chance of visibility.

Perfect, thought Colin. Very fitting. Well, it was a Vincent Price film celebration after all. What better atmosphere to celebrate the great man himself in than one like this. Ornate surroundings, plunged into a threatening darkness, sporadic wisps of smoke providing the only company. Perfect. He rubbed his hands together, smiling, and settled further back into his chair as the velvet curtains slowly began to open, revealing the screen.

The merest suggestion of an orchestral tune began to drift into his consciousness. The kind of orchestral murmuring commonplace in a theatre such as this, particularly one attempting to evoke a 1950s grandeur on proceedings. A slice of muzak nostalgia if you will. Only. Yes, was that? That was, it was. Colin sat forward in his chair slightly, straining to hear. Was that Townes Van Zandt? It was, he was sure of it. The legendary drawl of the late country singer-songwriter seemed to pierce the orchestral muzak only briefly before dying out again.

‘Wont you give your……

Won’t you give your….

Won’t you give your….

The words seemed to stick, to repeat, clicked back in repetition each time like a stuck needle on an old-fashioned record player. Colin sat further forward, confused and more than a little intrigued. But the music orchestral muzak had kicked back into its unobtrusive monotony. Strange, thought Colin, as he sank back into the chair. Oh well.

Suddenly the screen burst into life. Vincent Price’s image appeared on screen. Flickering, blurring. In the way that all the greatest restored films seem to. An illustrated image, lurking just below the title ‘THE RAVEN’. Colin smiled. Ah, The Raven. A classic. It had to be. Not his favourite of course, but one of Price’s best. But then there were so many to choose from weren’t there? In fact, there they are he thought as small shards of light lit up the walls on either side of the screen, revealing the movie posters of many of Price’s most famous works; The Raven, again; House Of Usher; House Of Wax; House On Haunted Hill; Masque Of The Red Death; Pit and The Pendulum. He gazed from one to the other through the combination of weak light and the cluster of smoke continuing to billow gently from an unknown source.

The screen continued to flicker as The Raven print stared back at the audience, inky blots appearing disparately across the screen as the film reel continued to power through its obvious antiquity. And one…well, not so inky, as, well. What was that, thought Colin. He glanced around to see if anyone else had taken notice of the strange, oddly shaped image that all-too-briefly appeared in the centre of the screen. But he was met with stony silence and darkness. It was almost…well, almost alien-like in its shape, he decided. Not quite cylindrical, corroded even. He laughed to himself quietly. That’s what you get, he thought to himself, for being a devotee of film from an era when they used to pose a risk of burning the theatres down. There was a hell of a lot to be said for vintage film, vintage machinery, vintage things; but thank god technology had moved on since then. Once more he settled back into his seat. Ok, here we go. He smiled…

The theatre shook. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Rocked even. Visibly rocked. Throwing Colin from his chair. Coupled with an almost deafening thud. Or a bang. He scrambled back up onto his seat, wide-eyed in terror.

‘What the hell was that!?’ he shouted. Panicked.

Silence. Stillness. Darkness. The outlines remained there. Remained in place. Jesus, he thought. The weather wasn’t that bad outside was it…I mean, it was…what was the weather like, actually? In fact, I can’t remember noticing the weather, he thought to himself. He clambered back onto the seat, a mixture of embarrassment and perplexity as to why there had been no further reaction to the noise, for lack of a better word, throughout the theatre. Maybe it’s a thunder storm he thought? Are they common in Amsterdam perhaps? Or was it a sound effect by those running this event…no, no it was far too loud for that. The place shook for god’s sake! Well it…it must have been the weather…must have been. He pulled himself onto the seat and turned back towards the screen. He looked up through the increasing smoke, batting it away with his hands. A new image stared back at him –

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL

It had changed. Oh, he thought. The Raven must not have been working. Or something. He’d decided it was best to stop guessing given the absurdity of events thus far.

‘I actually prefer House On Haunted Hill’ he said to the darkness next to him. ‘It’s actually the…’

He stopped speaking. There was that song again…Townes Van Zandt…he was certain.

‘Won’t you give my…

‘Won’t you give my…

‘Won’t you give my lungs to…

And once more the song, ticking back to the start time and again, abruptly blended back into the orchestral muzak of before. Colin shook his head and turned to the seat next to his own.

‘Someone has to get a grip back there don’t you think?’

Shhhh

The command was fleeting, ethereal almost. He couldn’t tell where it came from – it certainly hadn’t originated from the seat next to his own, but sure enough, as he turned to look back at the screen the film had begun. Vincent Price’s floating head commanding the middle of the screen, dictating to the audience the outline of the premise, cleverly laying out a platter of exposition at the very first.

This is more like it, thought Colin as he settled back into his chair for the umpteenth time. Almost instantly he sat forward again, fidgeting as only someone who knows the ins and outs of a specific film can do.

‘There she is,’ he whispered to no-one in particular as the actress Carolyn Craig appeared on screen under the guise of supporting character Nora Manning, ‘Carolyn Craig. So beautiful. So young. Destined for great things. Destined to be a Hollywood starlet. And yet, no. A couple of divorces later and she shoots herself at 36. 36 years of age. A child left behind. Did you know that? Poor thing. Poor thing, don’t you…’

The film flickered. Jolted. Skipped, even. Inky blots. Imprints on the film. And that…that shape again. More prominent than before. A chill ran through Colin’s blood. What was that thing. It was hideous. Jet black. And yet, withered. It was…

‘Won’t you give my…’

‘Won’t you give my…’

‘Won’t you give my lungs….

And there was that song again. What the hell was going on?! Surely not this film aswell? I mean, I come all the way to Amsterdam, to a grand theatre such as this only to…

Vincent Price suddenly appeared on screen again. In the living room, or parlour may be more precise, of the ‘haunted’ house in question. Surrounded by his supporting cast. Holding a gun. Explaining to that same group of actors how there was a gun for each of them should the night turn in a sinister direction.

‘A gun?’

‘Surely he couldn’t shoot…?’

‘Surely he wouldn’t?’

‘He can’t shoot…surely not a gun? No, no, no.’

Colin heard the ethereal whispers around him, floating through the air as the smoke seemingly continued to cluster throughout the theatre. His intrigue of the strange goings-on dissipated all-too instantly as the pretentious film-lover in him leapt to the surface.

‘Actually,’ he announced in a loud voice, competing with the precise, clipped tones of Vincent Price, ‘actually, yes. Of course he’ll shoot the gun. It’s a fairly general rule in film, actually. It’s called Chekhov’s Gun, the rule. I learned it when I was studying film many years ago. What was it he said, oh something like, yes, something like “one must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if isn’t going to go off” or “never show a gun in act one if you don’t plan on shooting it in act three”, something like that. So yes, of course he’s going to shoot the gun, it would defy film logic if he didn’t. It…’

Colin gripped the arms of his chair, his pompous film speech ceasing instantly. His eyes widened as the velvet curtains bordering the screen begin to, for all intents and purposes, drip red. Thick, slimy red. Spilling, swilling to the floor. To all appearances it looked like blood. It..it was blood…no it couldn’t be…it. The dripping gathered pace, the flow of red spilling faster onto the floor beneath the stage.

The screen jolted again. Blackening out completely for no more than a second. As it flickered back on that alien-like shape appeared in the centre of the screen once again. Larger, closer than before. It looked evil. Ugly. Rotten. A whole split into two abhorrently broken parts. It…

‘Won’t you give my lungs to me….’

‘Won’t you give my lungs to me….’

‘Won’t you give my lungs to me, mine are collapsing….’

That song.

Again. It stabbed into Colin’s mind, spinning again and again, repeating, clicking, repeating, clicking.

The red continued to gather apace, now beginning to flow up the centre aisle, engulfing the first few rows of theatre, covering the unmoved, indifferent shadows occupying the seats in said rows. The film jumped abruptly to one of the film’s final scenes, Vincent Price collapsing to the floor after being shot. And then darkness again. The screen black. Before once again returning to that horrific image. That charred, venomous, poisonous looking thing. It spoke of evil, of death, of suffering. The red. The blood. It continued to flow. Speeding up the aisle. Closing in on Colin’s row. His hands felt weak. Limp. His body likewise.

The song juddering against his skull.

The image on the screen carving into his retinas.

The smoke. Always the gathering smoke.

The blood flowing, flowing, flowing…from his eyes? From his eyes!? He could feel the thick drip of blood spilling down his cheeks. His eyes oozing, filling with blood, scarlet tears dripping onto his chest. And then…

Darkness.

Complete and utter darkness.

And then light.

A jolt of light. Blinding at first and then gradually bearable.

Colin was standing. Elevated, it seemed. He slowly pulled his hand from his eyes and peered out through his flickering eyelids.

Seats. Row upon row of empty red seats looked back at him from below. He was elevated. He looked down. Behind him. He was on a stage. On a stage staring out at an empty theatre. The screen at his back was blank. A canvas of nothingness. He felt his eyes. Dry. Unstained. No blood. Nothing. No music. No orchestral muzak. No twitching, disparate interrupting country folk music. Nothing. Only the sound of curtains. The curtains either side of him. Gradually closing. Gradually stifling out the light once and for all. Gradually. Slowly. Eventually shrouding the theatre, and Colin, in darkness.

 

When the first police officers arrived at Colin Casimir’s home the smoke, caused by a lit cigarette burning in an ashtray on the coffee table, threatened to overwhelm them. When the smoke was eventually beaten back and the room aired, the officers discovered the body of Colin Casimir lying dead on the floor of his living room. A single self-inflicted gunshot wound to the skull. The carpet beneath him was covered in patches of scarlet-red blood. On the coffee table a photograph album lay open. The photo on the left hand side of the page showed Colin Casimir as a long-haired, fuller-figured younger man pictured outside the ‘Tuchinski Theater’ in Amsterdam – as opposed to the sickly frail, bald-headed appearance he now possessed. The picture was captioned simply ‘This is the dream!’. The living room walls were adorned with several old film posters, most of them containing the famous horror actor Vincent Price. Casimir’s vinyl record player was still playing when the police officers entered the property. Although the needle of the record player had stuck on ‘Lungs’ by the late American country folk singer Townes Van Zandt.

It has since transpired that Colin Casimir was suffering from a particularly aggressive, and fatal, form of lung cancer, a cancer that was at a very advanced stage. Colin Casimir was 36 years old.

Gone

Ayla felt the harsh cold of the pillow against her face. The remnants of saliva, spilled during the night, pressing rudely against her skin, invading her slumber. Slowly, lethargically, she dragged her hand from beneath the crumpled mess of sheet and duvet, lodging it between her face and pillow before lazily wiping the damp patch from her cheek. When she felt it. A chill. A targeted, unforgiving chill. Clawing down her spine before splintering through the rest of her body. She shivered. She felt the goosebumps stand to attention across her flesh.

‘Another lovely Scottish summer’s day…’ she croaked to herself sardonically.

The words jabbed against the back of her throat, forcing her to reach for the half-full bottle of water sitting on the bedside table. She unclicked the bottle cap with her teeth before gulping down the majority of the drink. She grimaced as the warmth of the water, left sitting out all night, clashed with her tastebuds. Bleugh she thought as she hammered the bottle back down on the bedside table, the shape of the plastic crumpling slightly. Another flash of cold shot against her exposed arm. She jolted, taken by surprise, and quickly withdrew her arm, sending it back into the comparative warmth beneath the duvet. But even there she felt the cold, her body quivering slightly as she pressed her limbs against her torso. Her nipples hard, raw against the thin material of her nightdress. Her fingers and toes tingled, little pockets of ice threatening to invade the rest of her bones.

Why is it so bloody cold!? she asked herself as she pulled the duvet up to her chin. The forecast wasn’t great but it wasn’t supposed to be this bad!? Maybe the heating’s broken. Yeah that’ll be it. Just what I need. Another bloody bill to fork out for! So soon after that stupid bloody boiler had to be replaced aswell. The thought permeated in her mind for a good 30 seconds or so before she realised that she had, effectively, switched the heating off a month or so before as ‘summer’ – in the loosest definition of the word – had arrived in Scotland. Maybe I was too optimistic, she thought. But still. It’s never been this bad before. Even during the winter. She shivered again, the chill graciously bookending her period of scattered thoughts for her.

Phone. The thought came to her suddenly. The action was usually automatic. As her eyes flickered open of a morn she would instantly reach for her phone. An indifferent, choreographed grasp in order to apprise herself with the news or, more accurately, social media updates she may have missed out on in the preceding handful of hours. But this morning the cold had stifled any such thought. I’ll check the forecast, she thought. Must be another freak wintry wave from Siberia or something like that again. The phone was only inches from where her bottle stood. A quick reach, grasp, retreat. That’s all that was needed. It isn’t hard, she thought. No. One quick movement. The cold won’t matter. 3..2..1….reach. Her body remained still. Her arm refusing to budge. C’mon, she thought. Bloody hell. You’re Scottish girl! Get a grip. You’ve dealt with cold before. Ok. Ok. 1..2..3..REACH! Her arm shot out of the duvet and grasped. She felt the sharp cold of the phone’s casing collide with skin. Her hand recoiled slightly. She fumbled. Sending the phone sprawling to the floor below. She caught sight of it lying on the carpet next to a small pile of discarded clothes. Now a good three feet or so away from the foot of the bed. Shit!

Stop it, she thought. This is silly. Whether it was genuinely this cold, or whether she was coming down with something, the fact remained that she had to get out of bed at some point. At the very least she had to retrieve her phone. A resolve had started to inch through her veins, starkly at odds with the goosebumps continuing to form on her skin. Her legs began to tremble, naked as they were but for a small, light pair of shorts. She tried to pay them no heed. Trying to ignore the sensation burrowing away at her flesh. She’d had the right idea with the phone, she decided. The execution might have been wrong but the plan was solid. A quick, rapid move. That’s all that was required. Like stepping out of a hot shower on a cold winter’s morning and grabbing for the towel. That’s all it was. In a series of quick moves she would roll out of the bed, run to her wardrobe and grab her dressing gown. The fluffy winter one, not the thinner kimono. Yes, it might be unbearably cold for a few seconds or so but once it was done that would be it. Just do, don’t think. Do, don’t think. She repeated this simple mantra to herself, over and over again. Do, don’t think. Do, don’t think. The words, the thoughts, drowning out the first false start. And the second. And the third. Before she finally managed to emerge from beneath the duvet and rolled to the floor. An involuntary scream escaped from her as the malevolence of the cold tore at her skin. She scrambled towards her wardrobe, grabbing her phone on the way, and desperately threw open the doors. She grabbed for her dressing gown, sending a handful of dresses tumbling from their hangers in the process, and quickly wrapped it around her body. The freezing temperatures abating just enough to allow her to calm her nerves.

She grabbed at the pile of dirty washing on the floor and placed it next to her on the bed as she lowered herself onto the mattress. They would do for now. I’ll put some clean clothes on later when this Arctic cold spell buggers off. She readjusted the front of her dressing gown with one hand, wrapping it tighter around her body, as the other hand started flicking through her phone. She opened the weather app. It failed to load. Hmm. She checked the Wifi signal at the top of her screen. Not strong but strong enough. She closed down all her apps and tried again. Nothing. Just the continual whirring wheel that indicated no luck. No Dalgety Bay. No Inverkeithing. No North Sea. Nothing. Location services seemed to be lost. Disabled. Whatever.

Odd, she thought, as she folded one leg over the other instinctively as the cold threatened to sneak between her thighs. She scanned through her social media accounts, caring less and less for the myriad of late night updates that peppered her screen as each one rolled by. And anyway, she hadn’t posted. There was no sign. She closed them down. She glanced at her messages app. No red number cornered the green smudge yet she tapped on the icon anyway. Her name appeared. Melanie. The last message between the two appeared before her eyes. Sent a week or so previously. She’d read it several hundreds of times since its arrival. The words burned into her mind. Each letter, each syllable. The over-riding message clawing at her already shivering frame. Done. No more. Gone. Ayla felt the familiar gathering flood rising to her tear ducts. No, she thought, scolding herself. She locked the phone and tossed it onto the bed. No.

She stepped off the bed and walked across the room towards the window. Again she tightened the cord on her dressing gown, the cold refusing to abate any further. She drew the curtains and opened the blinds. An expected blush of sun and light failed to materialise. She cowered slightly, despite herself, as the room seemed to wallow further into the gloom. She stared through the window, decorated as it was with a smattering of condensation, and saw the fog. Mist. Haar. Whatever the correct term was. It was thin, almost peripheral even. It seemed to skirt the surrounding trees, the roads, the rooftops, without ever truly engulfing. It seemed…no, that’s ridiculous she thought…but it did all the same…it seemed…sinister. Somehow. She shook her head in self-derision and stepped back from the window, proceeding to slowly and delicately pull on the dirty clothes beneath the cover of her dressing gown. Shivering continuously, her teeth chittering along in a silent harmony. I’m definitely coming down with something, I must be. The thought repeated in her mind as she picked up her phone from the bed, automatically checking her messages once again, before stepping out of the bedroom.
She clicked the heating on. Ridiculous, she thought. In the height of summer. Or ‘summer’. The flat began to warm instantly, temporarily filling with the tame burning odour that accompanies the turning on of a radiator or electric fire as winter approaches after a handful of months out of action. That’s better. The mass army of goosebumps gradually began to retreat from her body, clusters at a time. Warmth crept through her skin. She frowned, feeling the unwashed clothes clinging to her flesh. She felt unclean. Restless. A shower, that’s what she needed. As soon as the flat warmed up properly she would jump in the shower and then put some clean clothes on. She glanced at her phone again. The signal seemed to be diminishing. No messages. Standard. She untied her dressing gown chord, feeling the heat begin to claw at her uncomfortably beneath the fluffy material, as she went from room to room in the curtain and blind opening routine that began each of her days. The thin layer of mist greeted her as each curtain was drawn. Pawing at the windows with long, wispy limbs and fingers. She walked into her living room, instantly feeling the cold of the wooden floor bite against the soles of her bare feet. She quickly skipped across to the window, resolving all the while to make her next destination the sock drawer, and loosened the cord for the blinds.

She furrowed her brow at the sight that unravelled before her. It was different. A variation on the usual canvas that greeted her of a morning. The familiar view that had essentially convinced her to settle on this particular flat sometime before. There had been other flats, bigger flats, for less rent, but Ayla’s mind had kept returning to the lapping waves of the Forth and the dazzling red brilliance of the Forth Bridge; the view that this flat had afforded her. It was unrivalled. In most places throughout the world, she guessed. It was inspiring, breathtaking and, after a while, it had become comforting. But this time, it was different. Yes, a thin mist still clawed at the window pane however beyond that it had solidified, for lack of a better word. In fact the mist appeared so dense, so thick, that half of the bridge appeared, quite simply, to be gone.

No, she thought, squinting her eyes at the developing site before her. A trick of the light, perhaps, a trick of the fog. It certainly wasn’t so unfamiliar, anyway. She had woken often throughout the months of winter and spring to discover that the bridge had been completely covered in mist. As if it had disappeared through the night. But the outline was always there if you looked hard enough. Like a thin underlying sketch appearing through the colours of a watercolour painting. But this sight was, somehow, entirely different. The Fife side of the bridge looked intact. Barely touched by the mist. The South Queensferry side however was, well, gone. Not there. As if a gargantuan solid greyish wall had been clipped in place halfway across the structure. No outline poked through the haar. No hint or suggestion of the red paint nudged its way into the foreground. Gone. Confusion reigned in her mind as she tried to compartmentalise, to rationalise, the vision before her.

Another check of the phone. Again, instinctively. This time she couldn’t even say why. She felt an urge within her. To see if they were alright. But who, she thought. To see if who were alright? Her? Melanie? Why would she need to check if she was alright? They’d broken up, it wasn’t as if she would want to…no, this was different though. Why though? Why did it feel different? Her self-interrogation was brought to an abrupt close as her eyes drited from the ‘disappeared’ bridge and latched onto the vision of roughly 40-50 men, women and children standing, gathered at the shoreline.

Who were they? Why were they there? How had she missed them? Again her mind raced, latching onto and then discarding question after question. The figures were huddled – even from where she stood Ayla could see them seemingly shivering against the effects of the cold. But still, their focus appeared fixed. Robust. On what lay across the shore from them. On the thick, impenetrable, blanket of mist. Why? It’s mist, she thought. Even on the most gorgeous of sunny days you’d only have a handful of passers-by soaking up the view, so, again she pondered, why? Where they lost tourists? No, surely they’d keep walking towards the bridge, or further into town maybe. But the bridge…the bridge. She looked up at it again. And again the image baffled. It was almost as if she was looking at the bridge as it had been mid-construction, far more than a century before then. Only…only…she could swear that another slight part of the bridge had been eaten by the fog in only the last minute or so. From her distance it seemed to be only an inch or so but in real terms, well…

She checked her phone again as she pulled on her jacket. Again, she elected to pluck her ‘winter’ garment off the hanger, neglecting the lighter jackets she had been used to in the preceding days and weeks. She emptied her pockets – a handful of receipts and a belatedly-received Christmas card from months earlier (when she had last worn the coat) spilled onto the counter. Phone. She opened up her Recent Calls list and selected her name, Melanie. She hovered over the Call button. Why wouldn’t she be ok, she thought, I’m being silly…she’ll…no, why am I doing this!? Stop. She slid the phone into her jacket pocket and scooped a woolly hat from one of the coat hangers. She caught a brief waft of dust, a musty scent, as it passed by her nose on the way to her head – again, a victim of clothing neglect in the previous handful of months.

She grabbed her keys, unlocking the door, and stepped out of the warm flat and into the cold of the morning. She’d managed only a dozen or so paces before halting slightly. Again, the spectre of Why hung over her. Why, she asked. Why was she going down there!? Why was she bothering? It was mist. Fog. Haar. Shit weather. That’s all. And who knows who these people were!? It could be a religious cult. Weirdos standing waiting to wave at a passing cruise liner, perhaps. Anyone. But still, something, something, she knew not what, told her to continue. To join the others. Ayla shook her head slightly. A seeming gesture of realisation, one that told her how irrational her actions seemed. But the urge, she thought, there’s an urge to walk on. To see. To discover. A purpose. Something she’d frequently struggled to obtain. More so in recent months. Move. She shoved her hands deep into her pockets, tightening the jacket around her, and walked forward into the increasingly thickening mist.

‘What’s…what’s going on…?’ she asked tentatively as she approached the group.
A host of silent faces turned towards her. They seemed to slowly eye her up and down before turning away again.
‘What’s going on…?’ she tried again. The faces remained turned away, continuing to stare at the dense block of mist across the water. ‘…anyone?’
‘Gone.’
‘Sorry?’ Ayla turned to see a small elderly woman standing next to her. She was wrapped in a thick grey coat, the hood of which obscured a large portion of her face. Her eyes, taught and fearful, peered out from beneath the cover, staring straight ahead into the mist.
‘It’s gone. All of it. Gone.’
‘Gone?’ she asked. ‘What’s gone?’
‘Gone.’
‘What’s…I mean, it’s not gone, it’s just fog, isn’t it? What do you mean it’s gone…?’
‘It’s not fog. Look at the bridge. Look at the mountains. They’re gone.’ Ayla turned towards the voice of a middle-aged man who, as seemed to be the norm, bothered not to turn towards her, staring straight ahead into the gloom as he spoke.
‘I…I don’t understand…’ she mumbled. ‘What is…’ she broke off her own sentence as she scrambled to pluck the phone from her pocket. No, this wasn’t right. It wasn’t normal. She’d have to call Mel. She’d…just call. She’d call her. Just quickly. Just to disprove…to disprove what she didn’t know…but she had to all the same. She headed straight into her Recent Calls list and dialled – shorn of any of the reluctance that had accompanied such a move in the previous weeks. She held the phone to her ear, the cold tingling down the slight piece of exposed skin on her wrist. Nothing. No ringtone. No engaged tone. No call failure beeps. Nothing. She pulled the phone from her ear and checked the signal. Miniscule. But there was a signal there. She tried again. She looked at the faces surrounding her as she waited for any sound, for any acknowledgment from her phone that a call was being attempted. They continued to stare. A mix of fear, confusion, resignation populating their gazes. Maybe she as right about the cult thing after all, she thought. Nothing. Still nothing. Shit.
‘Excuse me…’ she began.
‘Where do they live?’
‘I’m sorry…?’
‘Where do they live?’ the question snapped out from a woman roughly the same age as Ayla, late twenties she would say, standing a couple of feet to the side of her. Her hair was tied up in a just-woken-up-and-not-ready-to-face-the-general-public style but her eyes were glazed, once again staring straight ahead, imbued with that same mix of fear, confusion and resignation.
‘Erm…where do who live?’
‘Whoever you’re trying to phone?’ still not a flicker of a look towards Ayla.
‘I don’t think that’s…’
‘Is it Edinburgh?’
‘Sorry, what…?
‘Is it Edinburgh?’
‘It…’ Ayla looked at the woman’s unflinching stare as the words seemed to spit out from her mouth robotically. She thought about protesting, reasoning, pleading, anything. And then instinctively, somehow, thought or knew better. ‘It is, yes…Edinburgh.’
‘Then you won’t get through.’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘You won’t get through to them.’
‘Why…’
‘Or anyone south of here.’
‘South? I don’t under…’
‘We’ve all tried. You just won’t.’
‘Gone.’ Ayla shook slightly as the elderly woman repeated her mantra next to her. ‘Gone. Gone.’
She felt the fear rise in her as she turned frantically from the elderly woman and tried her phone again. Nothing. Nothing. Still NOTHING! Was she safe?! Of course she was. But. But they just said…they just said. No. The thought of something happening to her…oh, god, no…No! Confusion. Anxiety. Fear. Restlessness. Clawing at her. Within her. All explanation, all rumination falling by the wayside. Again she looked at those around her. The stoic deafness, the robust muteness remained. Again she glanced at the bridge. Gradually, incrementally fading into the mist. She looked again towards the mist itself – it was growing thicker, edging closer, of that she was convinced.

‘LOOK!’
The sudden shout shook her. A tremble of cold pierced her spine. She turned. All of those surrounding her seemed to be becoming animated.
‘Look’
‘Look there…’
‘Over there, yes…’
‘Look!’
Ayla followed their excited gazes, plunging her vision into the mist where, yes, yes, she could see an outline. Yes. A boat. It looked like, no, it was, a boat. A small wooden fishing boat, if she had to guess. Emerging from the grey canvas. And what appeared to be two figures on board. Headed towards them. Lapping lightly, rocking from side to side in time with the steady waves. The excitement, the anticipation grew. The faces around her shunting from the deadened masks of resignation into ones settling into something like hope. It was silly she thought. It’s…I don’t understand. It’s only mist, it’s surely only mist. There’s no cause for panic. Nor hyperbole. There’s surely no need for this kind of hope. And yet, in spite of herself, she felt herself begin to latch onto a feeling somewhere in the realms of hope. This boat, this small wooden vessel, bearing down on them, seemingly only just staying ahead of the approaching mist, seemed to infuse her with a warmth, a sense of future. She looked around the strangers next to her and felt a kinship, as irrational as that thought appeared. She saw the slightly contorted smiles, the jittery anticipation, the anxious hope and she understood.
‘Someone help them, get down there…’
She heard the call from amidst the group as several began to advance towards the edge of the shoreline to meet the boat as it drifted slowly to shore.
‘Here we are, here it comes…’
Ayla looked up as more and more of the assembled group made their way towards the incoming vessel. Out of the corner of her vision she caught sight of the bridge. Or what was left of it. The world famous red landmark had all but disappeared now into the fog. The structure almost completely submerging in the gloom. She felt her chest tighten as she followed the edge of the mist and realised how close it now was to their position on the coastline. Her fears flared up once again. This wasn’t just mist, she thought. No. She knew. This was something else. This was…this was. Her train of thought was broken by a gaggle of screams bursting from those gathered beside the boat. Her chest tightened further. She felt her stomach lurch.
Slowly, almost as if in a daze, she walked towards the boat, passing through the others, now in various stages of revulsion and panic. Tears dripped down the elderly woman’s face. The girl who spoke of Edinburgh was bent over, vomiting on the ground. The middle-aged man’s face was awash with a dread, the kind of which she’d never seen before. Dozens of others gripped by fear, twisted and skewered by the various stages of grief. But still Ayla walked on. Until she reached the boat. Gentle, indifferent, waves scratched at its base.

Even before she glanced up she knew what she would see. How, or why, she knew not. But sure enough as she lifted her gaze into the vessel, her eyes settled on the grotesque corpses of the two sailors. Their skin almost rotten, flesh singed very nearly all the way to their black, charred bones. A look of terror eternally carved into their expressions.
The screams loudened behind her. Unbridled levels of panic filled the air in a crescendo of fear. Her eyes slowly, almost lazily, inched down from the corpses towards the floor of the boat. She could feel her eyes widen in her own grasp of terror as she saw a thin burst of mist creep into the boat. Only temporarily obscuring the word scraped frantically into the wooden floor.
She mouthed the letters. She tried to scream but her lungs, her vocal chords, failed to respond. The word playing over and over in her head.
One syllable.
One word.
A warning.

‘RUN’