Today’s collection is mixed in genre. The first is a development on a scene from my previous entry, expanding on the journey along the West Highland Way. The two latter stories are very different to my usual writing. I do not tend to write much murder or love stories (if you can describe either of these narratives so), so excuse me for it seeming rusty.
I hope you enjoy this entry.
Splosh. My foot had sank into (yet another) dismal little pot hole in the sand-like path, drowning the front half of my boot in yellowish-brown water. The rain was coming down in droves, flinging itself against my side like bullets hurled by the gale.
The hills on either side of the glen looked like great gods, looming over the tiny road that snaked about their feet. Their heads were grey and purple, heavy with the weight of the saturated clouds. It had been three days since I had made out from Mulgaive, on the 151 kilometre journey to Fort William.
Now, here I stood, battered by the relentless storm that had been running towards me from the. Pushing forwards I made my way further into the shadow of the mountains; The Great Shepherd on my left, standing like a guard to the glen.
For the next three hours I trudged on, taking two steps forward and one step back for every time the wind threw itself into my face. As I neared my destination, my nose felt like it was no longer part of me, and every piece of clothing I had felt like it was now just another layer of skin.
I followed the road, and turned left before a small bridge that spanned across a torrent of water. Finally, the lights of the Clachaig Inn shone out of the darkness on my right, some half a mile away, down a twisting single-track road.
Not long after veering off from the main road I stood at the steps to the Clachaig Inn. A sorry sight I must have looked to anyone looking out, or perhaps like some wondering stranger in a horror movie. The rain had eased up a little, but it still trickled down the front of my hood, into my clothes underneath
I opened the door to the Inn, and warmth flowed over me like the morning sun, and the rich smell of Scottish food pulled me in by the nose As I stood in the entranceway – unbuckling my rucksack, and peeling off my dripping jacket – a burly-looking man, who sported a grizzly beard, came in and handed me a towel.
“Give yourself a scrub, son”, he growled in a humorous tone, “where have you come from?”
Rubbing my head with the coarse towel, I replied, “started in Mulgaive three days ago, heading up to Fort William.”
He made a noise close to a bark, which I took to be a laugh. “You doin’ the West Highland Way? You gotta go back about a mile or so to get up the Devil’s Staircase then!”
“I couldn’t pass up the chance to get a good meal in,” I said. I was starting to get that drained, hollow feeling of hunger.
“Don’t worry, son. We’ll get ye sorted out! I’ll just take your jacket into the dry room, eh?”
The Clachaig usually got visitors of all sorts: people who had wondered in after doing one of the hills, like the Aonach Eagach Ridge, or Bidean Nam Bian; people like me doing the West Highland Way; or people stopping by on the road to Kinlochleven, or Fort William.
Normally when I stop walking, my feet feel like they are on fire in my boots, but the water in them seemed to be preventing them. I would not have been surprised to see steam emanating from them.
The “restaurant” – for want of a better word – was a compact little room, with benches along the window-side, and hardy wooden tables and chairs everywhere else. One portion in the corner was raised slightly, and the bar could be found cut into the wall facing the storm outside.
I ordered myself a steak pie – mash, veg, in all its glory – and a “proper” Irn-Bru (none of that sugar-free stuff on this walk), and sat myself in the corner by the window, but more importantly by the bronzed radiator.
Looking around I saw people who looked just like me: other walkers who were clearly glad to be out of the elements for a short time, but here and there families sat who were obviously on their way to the west coast.
What is most fascinating about little places like this is the enormous variety in the people. Accents of all sorts floated to me over the usual hubbub that exists in a good pub: west coast accents, Hebridean, some of the soft-speaking central belters like me, a few Dundonians, and several that were speaking German and Polish.
Kicking off my boots under the table, I let my feet warm by the radiator. It was lovely. I didn’t have to wait long for my meal, which came floating towards me on a tray carried by a pretty waitress.
“One steak pie”, she said, in a distinctly French accent.
“Oui, merci!” I replied, thinking it was only nice to give my newly born French its first chance to walk.
She beamed at me in an affectionate sort of way, before asking me something in rapid French that left me totally bemused.
“I am not quite at that level yet!” I laughed. She smiled, and asked if I would like some sauces. I said I did, and she brought them, before saying, “bon appétit”.
I was famished, and soon the plate was back in the kitchen completely spotless. Naturally, dessert was required, and I enjoyed a beautiful apple crumble and custard. It was exquisite. Not quite the level of my grandmother’s custard, but certainly close.
Heaving my not-quite-so-damp boots back onto my warm feet, I paid my bill at the bar, thanked the growling barman and the waitress and left a tip, and made my way to get my jacket and bag.
And so there I was, standing on the doorstep, with my rucksack and jacket on. The wind had eased, and the clouds had cleared, leaving Glen Coe in a silvery glow from the near-full moon. Thank goodness – putting up the tent was going to be a lot easier now.
Eve stood still in the middle of the corn field. For all its beauty, she knew, somewhere out there, her investigation had to begin.
The corn swayed in the gentle breeze, turned golden by the July sun. She made her way through the corn, rising up the corn field, which draped across the hillside. ‘A most bizarre place for a case’, she thought, thinking of her other jobs that were often in the city.
This was different, though. This was no gang crime – or, at least, not that she knew of. From the briefing she had been given earlier, it appeared to be more of a family feud. The call had come into the station at 07:35, when an apparently distressed lady had been walking her dog.
“I cannot believe it!” she had said. “In all the world – not in Corngrove. Eve now understood why it was named so: for miles the corn seemed to stretch, interrupted sporadically by a small farmhouse or barn.
It was not a part of the country she had been to before; she lived some forty miles away, and did not have much time to spend walking outdoors. She loved it here, though; the tranquility, the closeness to nature – she’d never had that before. But she knew, of course, it was all a mask. Bad things happen even in the loveliest of places.
As she crested the top of the hill, she found what she had been looking for. There, in the middle of an unassuming part of the corn field, was a perfect circle of corn that looked like it had been scythed down.
Inside this right, forming a circle around the centre, were seven small piles of some burnt material; it was still smoking, but was cooled. And there, in the centre, a gruesome sight met her eyes.
A man, pale-faced and wide-eyed, was nailed to a short cross-like construction; in his mouth was a large carrot, and on his head a large fedora. He resembled something like a scarecrow, had it not been for the half-sized pitchfork protruding from his chest. This was her case.
He had never considered her to be somebody he could spend time with. When he had sent that anonymous letter, he meant it only to be something to make someone happy. Nathan saw so many people at school who deserved somebody, who were alone, and he made it his goal to do something special.
When Jackie received that letter, she could not describe her feelings. Something soared inside her, something she had never felt before. And then, as soon as it had leaped, it came crashing to earth. What if it was a joke? What if someone had done it as a laugh? She had never had anyone tell her she was special; her mother was a drunk, and who her father was she did not know.
Nathan sat for some time the night he had sent the letter to Jackie. For some reason, even though he had sent a few letters like this one before, this one felt different. Everyone else he had sent a letter to – he felt – had known love before. Jackie hadn’t. She was eccentric; with Doc Martins and untidy hair, and a passion for music, he did not like what people said about her. How would she take the letter? Would she be upset, or happy? He lay on his bed, staring towards the ceiling, wondering if Jackie was doing the same.
Jackie lay on her front. The letter was propped on the pillow in front of her; she had read it what felt like a hundred times over. Perhaps it was honest. But if the person had wanted to send her a love letter, and not be ashamed to do it, they would have left their name. She couldn’t blame them. She knew people thought she was weird, and although she was in a better place then she ever had been, it did not make it any easier. Jackie didn’t like looking back into her past. It was covered in darkness, and the old Jackie felt completely detached from the new one; alien, detached, unfeeling. She would wait, she decided, and turned off her lamp.
He had to do more, thought Nathan. He would ask her tomorrow at school – he had to! He knew Jackie wouldn’t want to mention it to anyone, because people would laugh at her. The next morning, he walked towards the table in the canteen where he had seen Jackie before, and where he had left his first note. There she was. Her hair was much less wild-looking than it had been. She had curled it at the ends, and pushed one side behind her ear.
“Hi”, came a voice above her. She looked up, pushing her glasses up her nose. Nathan Cosgrove was looking back at her. He looked a little ill, she thought, and looked like a person standing at the edge of a diving board in full medieval armour. “Hello”, she said quizzically. Nathan didn’t normally speak to her. What would people think?! Was he here to tease her? Did someone know about the letter?
Nathan tried to string the next series of words together. At the moment, everything was spinning in his brain like a washing machine. Round and round and round. “I saw you sitting alone”, he said. Yes, he had. “Mind if I eat with you?” What? That must sound weird. He didn’t have any food! “Err…sure”, Jackie said, raising an eye brow over her spectacles. He suppressed a smile, which probably looked like an odd grimace.
She had never spoken with someone like this before. They spoke about what felt like everything: music, food, travel – he didn’t mention any sport, which was a relief, she thought. Her imagination made her think of two baby gazelles, trying to chase each other, but kept falling over themselves. What was she talking about? That was a bizarre analogy. But…he was sweet – sweeter than she expected.
The morning was bright, and clear. Nathan stood at the top of the stairs, he pulled at the collar of his shirt. He was sweating, which he doubted he had anything to do with the weather; it was sunny, but March in Scotland is not notorious for its warmth. He looked to his right, and was met with the jovial gaze of his friend Mark. “Calm yourself”, Mark grinned. Then the doors opened, and fifty heads turned towards them. There she was, her flaming hair bright red against the white of her dress. To think that it all started with an anonymous letter, he thought, as the music started.