We knew it was a
bad idea to isolate ourselves so much when it was so near her
time but it had been years since our last holiday and besides,
her doctors assured us that we were at least three weeks away
from the birth.
It wasn’t planned—not at all.
We’d settled for a couple of weeks rest and I’d booked a three
month sabbatical from the office, hoping to get some work done
on the house. Then we won the competition. One week anywhere
in Britain of our choosing as long as we took the holiday in
the next month. One day we were in our flat in London, surrounded
by half finished building work, noise, dust and general aggravation,
the next we were all alone on the west coast of Scotland, in
a cottage by the shore on Jura—just us, the seals and the view
over the sea to Argyll.
I wasn’t sure at first. I wanted
to be near a hospital, just in case of emergencies, but she
insisted. It would be our last holiday alone for a while, she
was fit and healthy and she wanted to do it.
The nearest house was five miles
south—the nearest doctor twice that distance. To the north
and west there was only the rugged hills and the deer. We didn’t
even have a boat. At least there was a road—a single track
lane with passing places. It had recently been resurfaced and
we had been provided with a new Range Rover for the duration.
I was confident that we could reach the doctors’ house in less
than twenty minutes in event of an emergency. That was quicker
than I could have managed it in London. And we had warned the
doctor we were coming. I had talked myself round to the idea
and I wasn’t worried. I should have been.
We arrived late—Jura is not the
easiest place to get to. It involved a flight to Glasgow and
a short hop over to Islay. The Range Rover was waiting at Islay
airport, which is more a glorified field than an airstrip.
After that it is a fifteen mile trip to the Port Askaig ferry,
a small ramshackle affair which can take four cars on a calm
day across the half mile of treacherous waters towards the
stunning mountains of Jura.
Once on the island it was a single
track road all the way. There is only one road—twenty miles
of it—with Craighouse, the only town, half way along but we
were going right to the far end.
We stopped in the one and only
hotel for a meal but we were too late to pick up any other
provisions—that would have to wait till the morning.
It was dark when we arrived and
Sandra was too tired to do anything other than fall into bed
and sleep. As for me, I was restless. I never believed that
I would miss the bustle of London’s streets, but the lack of
noise here had me on edge.
The only sound was the gentle
lapping of the sea on the rocks only ten yards from the cottage’s
front door. Occasionally there would be the forlorn cry of
a gull or the croaking of a crow but apart from that it was
silent and dark and strangely disquieting.
I paced the floors, studying
the titles of the books on the long shelves round the walls,
listening to the radio, drinking whisky and trying to pretend
that I didn’t miss the television.
It was very late by the time
I snuggled into bed, taking advantage of the radiating heat
from my pregnant wife beside me. I believe I slept soundly,
I don’t remember any dreams and nothing disturbed me during
She woke me the next morning
with a whisper.
“Get up. Hurry. You’ve got to
I was still groggy when I raised
my head to see her leaving the room. I got out of bed, wincing
at the cold seeping through the floorboards, and joined her
at the window in the front room.
“Look”, she said, “Isn’t it wonderful?”
It was very early morning—the
sun was just coming up over the hills of Argyll, spreading
a pink glow across the wispy clouds.
The sea was being slightly ruffled
by a small breeze and, there in the foreground, just at the
edge of the small lawn in front of the house, sat three otters,
obviously a mother and two smaller young. As we watched, they
trotted along the shore, then slipped into the water.
We crept out, still naked, and
watched them cavorting among the huge fronds of seaweed until
I slipped on the wet grass and the sudden movement caused them
to dive, resurfacing again much farther out. Sandra came over
and squeezed me, her full belly pressing its heat against my
“Thanks for bringing us here,
John. I love it.” We kissed and I marveled again at how hot
and alive and heavy with life she had become. It was only as
we turned back to the house that I noticed the mound.
It had been too dark the night
before to see any details of the surrounding area but now I
could see that the cottage was built on a small raised piece
of land between two arms of a river. We had come across a small
bridge last night but in the dark I had failed to notice it.
Behind the cottage, just where
the rivers split, there was a huge stone cairn, standing eight
to ten feet high and topped off with a cross which looked to
be the same height again as the cairn and made of solid iron.
Around the cairn there was a wrought iron fence with spiked
railings jutting up towards the sky.
“Why would they put something
like that out here?” she asked me “I thought that cairns were
usually built on top of hills?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe it’s for
someone who died either here or at sea near here. We can ask
in town if you like?” I turned towards her, noticing the goose
pimples which had been raised on her arms.
“Get yourself inside and put
some clothes on; we don’t want you to catch a chill. Anyway,
by the time we get going and get to the town the shop will
When we eventually got to the
shop it was ten o’clock—there had just been too many things
to see on the drive down.
The shop held only basic foods—eggs,
bacon, cheese, nothing too fancy—but Sandra had got over her
cravings for exotica and we would be able to stock up with
most of our needs for the week.
Sandra was the focus of much
of the talk and was in danger of excessive mothering from some
of the women we met—we turned down several offers of a warmer
room closer to town and the shop owner took our list from us,
promising that she would make it up and we could collect it
Luckily, the hotel served late
breakfast. The pace of life on the island moved slowly and
you could run breakfast into lunch into evening meal into supper
without leaving the hotel grounds. We managed to escape at
one in the afternoon, weighed down by bacon and sausages and
swilling with coffee.
It was only when we stopped by
the shop to pick up our supplies that I remembered the cairn.
The shop keeper tried to hide
her movement but I caught it—the sign against the evil eye,
two pronged fingers stabbing at me as she spoke. “You don’t
have to worry about that, sir. It’s only an old memorial. Some
say there used to be a plaque fixed to it but no one can remember
what it’s there for.”
I noticed that the rest of the
customers in the shop had fallen silent. I supposed that the
cairn was the focus for some old superstition. That didn’t
bother me, but I wasn’t about to tell Sandra. Unlike me, she
held a fascination for the supernatural. Anything that went
bump in the night or was out of the ordinary—she fell for it.
I could never understand the
fascination with scaring yourself half to death but I knew
that if she found out that there was something weird about
the cairn she would not stop until she had winkled out the
story. In the car on the way to the cottage I told her it was
a war memorial and then let the subject drop. She didn’t ask
We finally got back in late afternoon
having made numerous stops to marvel at the stunning variety
of life around us. Sandra made a big show of hand-washing our
traveling clothes and hanging them from a clothes line at the
back of the house.
The rest of the day passed lazily
as we sat on the lawn, drinking long drinks, watching the scenery
and making happy plans for our future. We took our food out
onto the grassy area, sitting on an old rug and throwing occasional
morsels to an inquisitive squirrel. I think that evening was
the closest to heaven I have ever been.
Doctor Reid arrived around six
o’clock and spent ten minutes reassuring himself that Sandra
was not about to go into labour in the near future. He was
gracious and gentlemanly and I could see that Sandra was charmed.
Something in my chest loosened as a knot of worry melted away
I walked him back to his car
while Sandra cleared up the remains of our picnic. We made
small talk about the weather and our prospects for the coming
week, and he had got into his car before I said what was really
on my mind. I don’t know what made me do it, what made me think
that he was the man to ask, but before I knew it the sentence
“Do you know anything about the
monument out the back?”
He gave me a little sideways
look over the top of his glasses and it was several seconds
before he replied.
“And why should you let that
thing bother you. Mr Wilson?”
Before I could reply, he continued. “If
you really want to know the story, you’ll find a version in
a book on your shelves. A Tourist’s History of Jura. I
believe you’ll find it educational. But make sure you don’t
tell your wife—it’s not a tale for the faint hearted.” At that
he wound up the window and drove off, leaving me with an unexplained
chill in my spine. I shook it off and went back to help my
We were finally forced indoors
by a chill wind which brought the clouds down the hills as
the sun disappeared and a fine grey mist spread over the sea.
Sandra busied herself with some
knitting—baby clothes naturally, and I managed to locate the
book which the doctor had mentioned.
It didn’t take me long to find
the appropriate section and I was amused to see that the chapter
had been written by a certain Doctor Reid of Craighouse, Jura.
There was a block of description
of the cottage and the surrounding area before it got to the
The mound behind the house is
of some antiquity. A local legend associates it with the little
people who seem to be all prevalent in this area, and one of
the race in particular. In 1598, the battle of Trai-Guinard
took place on Islay, the neighbouring island. The battle was
going badly for Sir James MacDonald when he was approached
by a dwarfish creature who proclaimed himself capable of swinging
the battle in return for certain favours.
To cut a long story short (and
in these parts stories can grow exceedingly long), Sir James,
despite some qualms, agreed. An hour later, the battle was
his and his enemy, Sir Lachlan, lay dead of no apparent injury.
Sir James retired to his house near Craighouse and that night,
Wee Robbie was made a freeman of the estate.
And now we come to the meat of
the story. The townspeople did not take kindly to the creature
in their midst, but he was under the protection of the Laird
and they were powerless. Until that is, the children started
Tales are still whispered around
the fires of the scene that met the eyes of the men who had
the courage to enter the dwelling of the dwarf. Hideous dismembered
corpses lay strewn in all corners and a cauldron was bubbling
in the grate, a foul brew of body parts which could be seen
rising in the stew before falling back once more into the stinking
And yet none had the courage
to end the creature’s life. They interred him in the tomb,
a chambered cairn for long dead kings, and they fixed him there
with the cross and the iron.
It is said that sometimes, in
the dead of night, the tortured screams of the Dubh-sith, the
black elf, can be heard ringing from his prison, and that at
such times it is wise to lock the doors and huddle around the
warm hearths of home.
I could see why the Doctor didn’t
want me to pass the tale on to Sandra—one thing she didn’t
need was lurid fantasies of a child molester in the back yard.
When she asked me what I was reading I passed it off as some
local colour and changed the subject.
For the rest of the evening I
tried to read about the wildlife of the island, but I couldn’t
get the vision out of my head the seething pot of offal and
the things which floated in it.
The next time I looked up Sandra
was smiling at me and it wasn’t long before we adjourned to
the bedroom and made tender careful love as the darkness closed
in around us.
Later, just as I fell asleep,
I could hear that the wind was rising, whistling through the
chimney breasts and causing the trees to rustle and crack.
I woke early and squeezed myself
away from Sandra, taking care not to wake her. After boiling
some water in the kettle I ventured out to see what the weather
was like but the first thing I noticed was the effect of the
wind. The washing was gone from the line, torn off the rope
during the night. I found a shirt in the left hand stream,
a pair of underpants halfway up a tree and I could see Sandra’s
blouse hanging from one arm of the cross on the cairn.
I retrieved everything else I
could see before moving to the mound of stones. I stepped over
the railing, just missing doing myself an injury on the spikes
and clambered up the rocks, dislodging a few in the process
and giving myself several bruises on my knees.
The blouse was wrapped around
the rusted spar and, by straining and stretching I could just
about reach it. Catching hold of the blouse I pulled, just
as my footing gave way. I fell, pulling the blouse with me
and felt the material tear before something solid and heavy
hit me on the head forcing me down onto the rocks, rolling
dislodged stones until I was brought up against the railings.
I heard a loud creaking and looked
up to see the cross, now with a spar missing, swaying from
side to side in the breeze. When I looked down I found the
missing piece, lying by my side with Sandra’s blouse still
wrapped around it. I left it there as I hauled myself over
the railings and hobbled back to the house.
That was it for the rest of the
day. I was dazed, bleeding from a head wound and bruised over
much of my body. Sandra wanted to fetch the doctor but I talked
her out of it. I didn’t want anybody to know that I had defaced
the cross, not yet anyway, not until I had the chance to try
to repair some of the damage.
I spent the day in bed, most
of the time with Sandra beside me, nursing my wounds and wondering
what the islanders’ reaction would be.
As darkness filled the room,
Sandra fell asleep but I lay awake, listening to the creaking
of the cross, the rasping of iron against stone as it swayed
back and forth in the wind.
At some point I must have fallen
asleep. I was awakened by a cold draft, hitting me just on
the back of the neck. I rolled over, hoping to snuggle against
my wife’s warm body, but I met only more empty space. It took
several seconds for me to realise that she wasn’t in the bed.
Moonlight was streaming in through
the window, enough for me to make out her pale figure and the
cross which bobbed and swayed hypnotically in front of her.
I was out of the room and through onto the grass before I realised
that we were both still naked.
I went back to fetch some clothes,
pulling on a long jumper for myself and picking up an overcoat
for her. When I got back to the door she was gone.
In the moonlight I could just
make out the footprints in the grass and I followed them up
to the cairn. I called out her name, twice, but there was no
As I got closer, I could see
that the cairn had collapsed in on itself on the left hand
side. A dark passage led downwards, down into the earth, and
there was a dank salty smell wafting up into the night.
I looked around again but there
was no sign of her anywhere. The only assumption I could make
was that she was down there somewhere—down there in the earth.
She had gone walkabout at night before, sometimes getting as
far as the front door in our flat in London, but this was the
first time that she had actually left the house.
I was worried - of course I was,
but I wasn’t thinking in terms of anything other than the personal
danger to her should she stumble in the dark. I wasn’t thinking
in terms of monsters or dwarves. Not yet anyway.
I called her name again, louder
this time, but all I heard was the echo of my voice coming
back to me. I entered the passage but after only two or three
yards it became as black as a pit of hell. It was no good—I
needed some source of light.
Precious minutes were wasted
before I located a flashlight and clouds had covered the moon
when I finally went back outside. I called out, not really
expecting a response, and none came. I put the overcoat on
over the top of the jumper and with some trepidation I went
down into the dark.
The walls were built of large
blocks of sandstone. I had visited several Neolithic tombs,
in Carnac, in Orkney and on Salisbury Plain. This gave the
same sense of age, of a time long past. What I hadn’t expected,
what was completely different, was the overwhelming feeling
that this place was in use. The walls ran damp and there was
a salt tang in the air but there was no sign of moss or lichen
on the walls—only the damp glistening stone.
I pressed on. By shining the
light downwards I could see the barefoot prints which Sandra
had made on her descent. I had no choice but to follow.
The path kept going down, deeper
and deeper, and the air was getting colder and damper. I judged
that I must be under the sea by now and the thought of all
that water above added an extra worry line to my already furrowed
brow. At least the passage hadn’t diverged. Not yet anyway.
I was so busy concentrating on
the way ahead that I stumbled when my foot didn’t meet the
expected step and the path leveled out.
I was in some sort of chamber.
It was hexagonal in shape, about ten yards across and there
was an entrance in every wall. My feet were wet. That was what
I was thinking. It’s funny how your mind gives you something
else to think about at times of stress.
The thing I was trying to ignore
was lying on a slab in the centre of the room. The slab was
a pale green marble of a kind I had never seen and she was
lying on it with her knees raised in the air as if on an operating
Between her legs something moved—something
grey and green and warty and hideous. It slithered and crawled
and I could see that it was inside her, was copulating with
I think I went slightly mad then.
I remember grasping the slimy body, almost dropping it as its
small wizened face turned towards me, a face lined with age
and infinitely deep in its evil. Even as I looked, the life
went out of the eyes and the puny head bent in death, one last
smile playing on its lips.
I remember dashing the body again
and again against the wall but I don’t remember tearing it
and mashing it. I must have done though for when I moved towards
my wife I had the slimy remains of it all over my free hand
and its juices coated my feet and ankles.
She was alive. I thanked God
for that as I cradled her in my arms. She seemed to be in a
stupor but when I stood her upright I found that she was able
I dragged her unyielding body
along, grateful that she seemed to be capable of walking. I
had one last look around the chamber before we headed for the
stairs. The pieces of the creature I had dismembered were bubbling
and frothing in a puddle of bloody ooze.
After only twenty or so steps
I felt her stiffen beside me and then she began to pull me
back as she tried to go down once more.
I am not proud of my next action.
I hit her, hard across the chin and she fell into my arms.
I carried her up the stairs. Quite how I managed it without
dropping the torch I am not too sure, and how long it took
us I will never know.
Finally we emerged into the cold
night air. I laid her on the grass beyond the railings and
tried to tumble the rocks over the passage. I had just covered
the entrance when the screaming began.
“The baby. Oh God…It’s coming.
I don’t remember much of the
next half hour, only fragments—driving like a maniac as she
sobbed quietly behind me, the sudden light in the deer’s eyes
just before the car hit it dead on, smashing the car’s headlights
into a million tinkling fragments.
I remember the small twinkling
lights in the black distance as I just managed to avoid the
cliff edge and, finally, the iron gate on the path which I
almost fell over as the doctor came towards me and I collapsed
into a faint.
I have a vague memory of being
put in an armchair and practically force fed whisky as my wife
was carried upstairs and the doctor called for some help but
my legs wouldn’t move and my arms were heavy and sleep called
me back again.
I dreamed—hot lurid fantasies
of violence and fire, of rape and bloodletting and of a cold
black fury which carried all before it. I woke from screams
My legs pushed me out of the
chair and towards the door long before my brain was fully awake
and I was halfway up the stairs before I recognised the voice
behind the screaming. I reached the door just as the screams
Early morning sunlight was streaming
into the room, lighting a scene which will be forever etched
into my memory.
The doctor is standing off to
one side, his left hand covering his mouth, his right clutching
his chest as if to keep his heart in.
An old woman is lying across
the bed in a dead faint, her grey wisps of hair mingled with
the blood from my wife’s legs.
My wife is lying there, throat
muscles straining, mouth open in a long soundless scream which
refuses to come, her gaze fixed on the shape writhing on the
carpet, ignoring the blood flowing from her, ignoring the woman
across her legs, all else immaterial to her pain at the sight
of our child. And there on the floor lies our future, burning
golden in the first rays of the sun, being cleansed in the
purifying light of the new day, my son.
The last thing I see before darkness
takes me away for a long time is the face, the small wizened
features and the age old eyes, the red mouth which squeals
at me as I bring my foot down, hard, and all the members of
my family scream in unison.
# # #
Wee Robbie by
published August 13, 2009