Thomas Fischer

A Night in the Highlands

The road went on forever, it seemed to me. At least, there was no snowfall, yet. Although the forecast predicted that it would come down hard, today. As a matter of fact, it was a pretty fair day in the Highlands. Especially, if one considered that it was the day before New Year's Eve. My mobile phone rang. I was checking the rear view mirror for a patrol car. Nothing, so I answered the call: "Hello?" "Hello Bruce! Did she sign the contract?" It was John Macdonald, my partner and he referred to the reason why I was driving right in the middle of nowhere. "Aye, Mary signed the contract this morning! Don't ask me how I finally got her to sign it!" I replied. John chuckled: "So, the queen was her usual self, again?" Well, the "queen" was our primary client! Her real name was Mary Stuart and she was a big pain in the neck. Sometimes I thought that she would end up like her royal namesake: with her head chopped off by some fed up TV-producer. Yes, Mary was an actress and despite her behaviour a bloody good one. "The BBC will probably not like her additional terms but at the end of the day they want her!" I mentioned. To be honest the producer was likely to get a heart attack but Mary would get her terms fulfilled. She had a reputation of being a prima donna, so everybody expected her to act up on her image. Well, I was used to her behaviour and eventually she paid my bills. "I don't want to know about the terms before the New Year, Bruce! Please, don't spoil my holidays!" John moaned. "When will you be in Glasgow?" he wanted to know. "Probably at dinnertime, if everything works out on the road!" I predicted. I sent a silent prayer to heaven. As a good old city boy I really hated the Highlands - especially at this time of the year. John finished: "Give me a call when you are home safely! By the way happy New Year, mate!" "Yeah, kiss my ass, too! Bye, John!" I retorted and terminated the conversation. Then I continued my drive down the A82. It was already past lunchtime and my stomach started to complain. A couple of miles behind Ballachulish I stopped in a little village snack bar to get something to eat. I had a couple of sandwiches made of stale bread and a cup of coffee tasting like old socks boiled in hot turpentine but at least the stomach was pretty busy digesting the stuff and would not bother me till I reached Glasgow. After an hour I got in my car again and drove on. Unfortunately, the weather tried to pull a fast one on me. There were heavy clouds and it definitely looked as if the white dirt was about to start falling. That was just my kind of luck! There were still the Grampian Mountains ahead of me. Another look in the rear view mirror and I put down my foot on the accelerator. Better getting a speeding ticket, I thought by myself, than getting caught up in heavy snowfall while I pass the Mountains. I turned up the volume of the CD-player and cursed the fact that Mary hated Glasgow and would not go down there to sign the contract. Suddenly, the snow started to fall and it fell heavy! I cursed the fact that I went to university to become a solicitor instead of a dentist. In this line of work I would not have to leave my house and I would not have to go to the bloody Highlands to earn some money. I finally cursed my stomach for forcing me to take a lunch break. The snow turned the road white and I had to reduce my speed to 25 mph. I turned on the wipers but it did not change a thing. It was already 3.30 pm and I knew for sure that I would not be home for dinner. This was a really disturbing realisation. I reached the Grampians 45 minutes later and it was already pretty dark. The snow was still falling and my speed even went down to 15 mph. At least, the fuel gauge told me that I had enough petrol to reach Glasgow. Just when I thought that, the engine started to cough. "No!" I hammered on the dashboard. "Don't you quit on me now!" The coughing continued relentlessly. I promised the car: "I am going to get rid of you if you break down now, you little shit!" Of course, the car did not care one bit about my threat! It just died and I rolled to the curb. "Bloody great!" I moaned and hit the dashboard once more. Then I took my mobile and started to call the emergency number. In this kind of weather the Highlands could be very dangerous and I needed help. Naturally, Murphy's law kicked in! You know: everything which could go wrong would go wrong! There was no net available. In a rage I threw the phone on the floor. "Bugger that darn thing! When you need it, it won't work! Bloody marvellous!" I complained to myself! It started to get cold. Thank God, I remembered to put a fleece- and Goretex-jacket in my car and I always got a blanket with me. Then I took my cigarettes from the glove compartment and lighted one. Filthy habit, actually I was trying to quit but right now I needed a fag. Meanwhile, it was completely dark outside and it was cold, really cold. My dad always said it could get cold as a witches teats in the Highlands. Now, I knew what he meant! I stubbed out the cigarette and declined my seat. Maybe I should try to take a nap. With a little luck a car would pass by and give me some help. Pretty unlikely considering the weather and that it was the night before New Year's Eve. Mary was going to pay for this. I would get a pretty good bonus out of her for my misfortune. Bloody unlikely, too! She was a typical Scottish lass - tight with her money as if they would stop printing it tomorrow. The snow started to cover the car. "What the heck! Nobody is going to drive by anyway!" I said to myself. Said that and tucked myself into the blanket and closed my eyes. It seemed only like minutes when I woke up by the sound of my clattering teeth. I was shivering. When I looked on my watch I realised that I slept a couple of hours. It was already close to midnight. The windshield was covered in snow and I thought it might be a good idea to clear the car of snow. This would give me some physical exercise and my body could heat up a bit. At least, so I thought. I took my hand broom and got out of the car. The cold hit me like a wave. It was still snowing but not as heavily like before. Then I started to move around the car brushing the snow off it. Finally, I got a bit warmer, just a little bit! When I finished clearing the car from snow I took out my pack of cigarettes and lighted one. There was a grand view despite the falling snow. Not very far to see though in the darkness. Everything seemed so peaceful. "My, my old boy - you are not going to start enjoying country life, are you?" I chided myself. Still, the snow covered landscape was indeed beautiful, I decided, while smoking the fag. I was looking around and there ... ! No, that cannot be, I thought. I took a closer look. "Yes! There is a light!" I exclaimed loudly. I watched the light another couple of seconds just to make sure that I had not got some kind of Fata Morgana. The light stayed there. How far away I could not tell but it seemed like an open fire. I took the flash light from my car and locked it up afterwards. The decision was made! I would go towards the light. There had to be people! Anything else did not make any sense at all. I started to walk towards the light! The snow was almost knee deep! "Shit!" I moaned, because I forgot that I was not wearing exactly the right shoes. Then I went back to the car because like every decent Briton I always kept a pair of Wellis in the trunk. I changed my shoes for the boots and started off again. It was very hard work, indeed. My progress through the snow was very slow. The flash light did not give much light but it was better than nothing. I turned around but I could neither see my car nor the road, anymore. So, I did the only sensible thing, I walked on. It really seemed that I would not get any nearer to the light. I had been walking for about twenty minutes now. Suddenly, the light was very close and it was some kind of bonfire. "Hopefully, this is not a gathering of some nut case Celtic heathen cult!" I muttered to myself. Would be typical for me to get eaten alive by some fruit cakes. "Though, it'd be exactly the type of luck I always seem to attract." I whispered. There was no other choice but to walk on. So I did it! Meanwhile, I was able to make out people standing in a circle around the fire place, there was no sound but the cracking noise of the blazing fire. Great, just like I hoped. A bunch of Celtic druids! I stood still, observing the scene. Nobody moved but that was not a group of ancient priests. They looked like knights, like soldiers from the middle ages. Wearing helmets and cloaks covering their whole bodies. They leaned on their shields and one of them held a torch in his hands. Everybody was looking down to earth, therefore I could not see any face! I did not see any weapons, either, no swords, no spears! It was an odd view and I argued with myself whether I should disrupt the scene. But for Christ's sake, there was a fire, a hot blazing fire and I was cold, very cold. So, I stepped forward, calling out to the group: "Hello, Gentlemen, is there any chance I could get some warmth at your ...!" I stopped in mid-sentence when the group of soldiers were rising their heads and turned to face me. I swear to God, I never saw something like that before. Where their faces were supposed to be, was only darkness and from the darkness two red eyes were staring at me like hot coals. Shivers went down my spine! I could not move. I stood there with my mouth wide open and felt a fear like never before in my life. Suddenly, I remembered that deep down in my heart I was a coward and the cowardly thing to do was start running, right now. I turned around and began to run as fast as I could in the deep snow. To be honest that was more like a quick walk than a run. Nevertheless, I did my very best to get as much distance between myself and those creatures as fast as possible. I fell down and lost my flashlight but I did not care. I just got up again and continued my flight! I did not even care whether I was running in the right direction, I just run for my life! It was dark, pitch black night! I could not see one thing. I ran and ran! I did not know how long I ran but it seemed the things did not follow me. Not that I did mind about this. No, quite honestly I was glad that they appeared to be the shy sort. Nonetheless, I ran on until I smashed into something ...!
.. then I woke up again and it was wonderfully warm. I kept my eyes closed and took the warmth in. I smelled an open fire and suddenly I felt fear again. Those creatures got me finally. "No!" I screamed loudly and sat up. I forced my self to open my eyes. There was a room, sparsely furnished and an open fire place. I was lying, no sitting on a wooden bed. One corner of the room was like a kitchen with cupboards and an old cast-iron stove with a kettle on it. The bit of light in the room came from an oil lamp. It smelled great in here and I got calmer again. Then, with a loud bump the door was opened, snow flakes came in. The terror came back to me while I waited for the inevitable to enter. After a few seconds a giant came in. He was at least 6 foot 4 inches tall and heavy built. If I had to estimate his weight I would say at least 18 stone. The most wonderful thing about him was the fact that he had a face. An old wrinkled face, wearing the signs of about 70 years. He wore a white beard and an unruly tuft of white hair. "Well, boyo, seems you are with the living again!" he said in a deep friendly voice. "What happened, sir?" I asked the man. "Cut the sir, boyo, me name's Terry!" he replied joyfully. "Thanks Terry! My name is Bruce Mackenzie from Glasgow!" I introduced myself. Terry pulled up a chair to the bed and sat down: "You really are some lucky sod, Bruce! If I hadn't found you in time you might be celebrating the New Year next to St. Peter." he started to explain, "I've heard you cry out when you run against the tree!" "I run against a tree? I can't remember anything!" I answered. "Yes, and by that probably the only tree for miles! You really seem to be the lucky guy!" he shook his head in amazement and did a deep belly laugh. That really seemed like me. No tree for miles but I had to pick the only one to run into. Maybe I should try to find out why things like that always happened to me. "Found you out there and carried you into my humble home. You have been out for a couple of hours know. What does your head feel like?" Terry wanted to know. Apart from a slight headache I felt quite okay. I put a hand to the head and felt a bruise but there seemed not to be any blood. Good news for a change! Meanwhile, Terry went to the stove and filled two cups with coffee, then he came back, sat down and handed me one, "Here have a brew, son!" I mumbled my thanks and drank slowly. It tasted delicious and it was wonderfully hot. The hotness filled up my stomach and I started to feel good, again. A little bit dizzy, though. Maybe, I had gotten myself a slight concussion. I would worry about it later. While I listened to Terry talking about my rescue I realised that Terry did not have a Highland dialect, not even a Scottish dialect, at all. He was talking like an Englishman from the south coast. I asked him about it and he told me: "You have a pretty good ear, Bruce! I was born and raised in Weymouth. I spent all my adult life there, too! After my little Rose died 16 years ago I left my hometown and moved up here. Pretty odd, isn't it? An old Englishman spending the rest of his life up here in the wild Highlands!" he explained to me. Then I made the decision to tell him about my experience: "Terry, I saw something, that's why I was running away ...!" He held up his hand and stopped me from telling him about the creatures, looked at me for a couple of seconds, which seemed like an eternity to me and said in a very low voice: "I know! But this is not the time to tell me about it. Drink up, Bruce and get some sleep! You will tell me tomorrow when the sun is up and I might tell you some things, too!" I nodded slowly, although I still wanted to tell him, right now, but he seemed serious about it so I shut up and we drank our coffee in comfortable silence. I put away the cup and fell asleep very quickly.
When I woke up, Terry was already working on the stove and by the smell of it he was preparing breakfast. Suddenly, I realised how hungry I was. The sun was shining through the windows. Apparently, it stopped snowing. Thank God! "Good morning, Terry" I said while sitting up. "It seems that the sleeping beauty finally woke up - without having a prince kissing him! Good morning, Bruce. Hope you had a good night's sleep!" the old giant said to me while he continued to cook breakfast. I slowly got up and walked over to him: "That smells great, Terry!" "Help yourself to a cup of coffee, son! Have a smoke, too if you want!" he told me while I realised that I had pulled out the pack of cigarettes when I got up. I fetched me a cup, sat down on the table and lighted a fag. Although I was eager to tell Terry about the nightmare I experienced this night, I did not say anything. Terry finished preparing breakfast and came over with two full plates. Then he sat down and we had a silent breakfast. He watched me while I wolfed down the food. I could not help it, I was starved. He smiled knowingly while he ate. When we finished breakfast he sat back, lit his pipe and said: "Okay, son! It is daylight. Now is the time to talk about the dead. Tell me what you saw!" And I told him everything, about my journey, the breakdown of my car, the discovery of the light and then I told him about the creatures. During my tale he kept his silence, he only nodded knowingly from time to time. "That's it, Terry! It is weird, isn't it? You believe me, don't you?" I stammered when I finished my story. "Yes, Bruce, it is a weird yarn you are telling me but I do believe you!" he told me and I felt relieved that he did not think me mad. He continued: "We will do a little walk now and I will tell you a very violent story!" Then he got up, took his coat from the hook and handed me mine, too. I stepped into my Wellies and we left the warmth of the house. Though the sun was shining it was chilling cold outside. We started to walk side by side. Silently again. I saw the tree which was in my way, last night. Indeed there were no other trees around. I chuckled and shook my head slowly. We walked for quite a while until I realised that we were walking towards the place of the bonfire. I got a bit anxious but Terry was with me and it was daylight. So my troubles flew away. Then we stood where the creatures were standing during the night. Terry started to talk: "In the year of our Lord 1397, there was a small village here. The men were away serving their clan chief in the fight against the English. Only women, old people and children remained here. It was a hidden valley so they felt pretty secure. One day, it was the day of the New Year's eve, a band of rogue warriors from England came here. They killed the old people, then the kids in front of their mothers, then they raped and killed the women. 32 human beings ceased to exist within a couple of hours. They gave pardon to nobody. Then the band of 12 warriors left again like they came without a trace. Weeks later the men came back to their village and found everybody dead. They were furious, desperate, many of them broke that day and never recovered. There was no chance for them to find the murderers. So, they buried their dead people and over the graves of them they cursed the perpetrators. They cursed them to return to the place of their crime every year on the same day the slaughter happened and to watch over the graves of their victims. Their ghosts should return to this place until the last offspring of them dies. Until their families do not exist anymore, either. Then their deed should be redeemed." After he told his story Terry fell silent. I was astonished: "Wow! And this is the graveyard of the village?" "Yes, but there is not much left. The villagers, having lost everything, went their ways and disappeared all over Scotland." Terry explained. I looked at him and asked: "How is it, that you know so much about this? Did you read it somewhere in a book, Terry?" He held up a hand and replied: "I will tell you but I need to know something, Bruce! Can you tell me how many torches the ghosts held in their hands?" Thinking about it, I stood there. Then I remembered: "There was only one torch. Yes, I'm sure there was only one!" A sad smile lit up in Terry's wrinkled face and he nodded knowingly: "I hoped so! It will end very soon, now!" Not getting his point I asked him: "What do you mean with it will end very soon, Terry?" "It means that very soon the last of their offspring will die and they will be redeemed. It will end very soon!" he told me. "But how can you know that, Terry? The last one of them might have a huge family left! It might still go on for ever!" I uttered to him. He smiled at me: "Did I forget to mention the name of their leader? His name was Roderick of Wheatfield, a violent man, mercenary for the English crown and murderer of this nameless village!" I did not get what this was supposed to mean and before I could tell him that, he told me: "My name is Terrence Wheatfield, Bruce! I am the last one living. I don't have any family left! With me, the curse will die and all this will find an end! Years ago I discovered a very old family bible. Somehow Roderick learned about the curse. Don't ask me how! He was very troubled, despite his violence he was a very God fearing person. Odd but the truth. So he wrote everything down in his bible as a kind of confession before God. And almost 600 years later I learned about it." I was astonished. I could not believe what I had heard. "This was the reason you moved here? You knew you were the last one!" I exclaimed. He shook his head: "Though it was the reason I moved here I did not know that I was the last one until you told me about the torch. I never went there in the night of the New Year's Eve. I came here often, almost everyday throughout the year but never on December 31st. I was just to afraid to find out!" I nodded understanding his reason. "You might still live another 20 years, Terry!" I said and he shook his head again. "No, I don't have much time left. I've got cancer and I'm already living on borrowed time!" he explained to me. This revelation shocked me for I came to like that gentle giant in the few hours I knew him. He must have realised what I felt: "Don't you worry, son! I led a good life and now it is time I went to my little Rose, again!" We stood there in silence looking at the valley which was a graveyard and I said a silent prayer. Suddenly, Terry put his hand on my shoulder and said: "Well, let's get this car of yours fixed, shall we!" Then we walked on towards the A82. Of course, Terry got my car running within minutes and I thanked him profoundly and bid him good-bye. It was not a good-bye forever for I visited Terry very often over the course of the next two years. We became very good friends and I overcame my reservations about the Highlands. Terry showed me their greatness. One day I returned to his little house and I found the windows and the door boarded up. I knew Terry was gone for good and I felt terrible because I was not there for him when he needed my help. But I was pretty sure that he was not disappointed. I do not know where Terry is now but I am certain that he is happy that this valley got back its peace after such a long time of redemption.

Ich habe diese Geschichte während eines Englischauffrischerkurses geschrieben, als mir ziemlich langweilig war. Ich hoffe sie gefällt Euch! Da es die erste Geschichte ist, die ich veröffentliche, würde ich mich über Kommentare oder konstruktive Kritik freuen.Thomas Fischer, Anmerkung zur Geschichte

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