Authors: William Meikle
The Book of the Dark
Copyright 2015, William Meikle
JIM KERR knew it was a bad idea to isolate themselves so much when it was so near her time but it had been years since their last holiday and besides, the doctor had assured them that she was at least three weeks away from the birth.
It wasn’t planned...not at all. They had settled for a couple of weeks of rest and he’d booked a three-month sabbatical from the office, hoping to get some work done on the house.
Then they won the competition: one week, anywhere in Britain of their choosing…as long as they took the holiday in the next month. He wasn’t sure at first. He wanted to be near a hospital just in case of emergencies, but she insisted. It would be their last holiday alone for a while, she was fit and healthy and she wanted to do it.
One day they were in their flat in Glasgow, surrounded by half finished building work, noise, dust and general aggravation. The next they were all alone, on the west coast of Scotland, in a cottage by the shore on Jura...just them, the seals and the view over the sea to Argyll.
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.
They didn’t even have a boat. At least there was a road...a single-track lane with passing places. But it had recently been resurfaced and they had been provided with a new Range Rover for the duration. He felt confident that they could reach the doctors’ house in less than twenty minutes in event of an emergency...which was quicker than he could have managed it in Glasgow. He had talked himself round to the idea and he wasn’t worried.
He should have been.
They arrived late...Jura is not the easiest place to get to. 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. They were going right to the far end.
They stopped in the hotel for a meal but were too late to pick up any other provisions...they would have to wait till the morning. It was dark when they arrived and Sandra was too tired to do anything other than fall into bed and sleep. The only sound was the gentle lapping of the sea on the rocks only ten yards from the cottages’ 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.
It was very late by the time he snuggled into bed, taking advantage of the radiating heat from his pregnant wife beside him. He slept soundly...he didn’t remember any dreams and nothing disturbed him during the night.
She woke him the next morning with a whisper.
“Get up. Hurry. You’ve got to see this.”
He still felt groggy with sleep when he raised his head to see her leaving the room. He 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 they watched, the creatures trotted along the shore then slipped into the water.
Jim crept out, still naked, and watched the otters cavorting among the huge fronds of seaweed until he slipped on the wet grass and the sudden movement caused the animals to dive, resurfacing again much farther out.
Sandra came over and squeezed him, her full belly pressing its heat against his flesh.
“Thanks for bringing us here sweetheart. I love it.”
They kissed and he marveled again at how hot and alive and heavy with life she had become.
It was only as they turned back to the house that he noticed the mound. It had been too dark the night before to see any details of the surrounding area but now he could see that the cottage was built on a raised piece of land between two arms of a river. 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. They had come across a small bridge in front of it last night but in the dark he had failed to notice it.
“Why would they put something like that out here?” she asked. “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?” He 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. By the time we get going and get to the town the shop will be open.”
When they eventually got to the shop it was ten o’clock...there had just been too many things to see on the drive down, what with scenery, wildlife, wide-open spaces and stunning vistas of sea and sky.
The shop held only basic foods...eggs, bacon, cheese, nothing too fancy...but Sandra had got over her craving for exotica and they would be able to stock up with most of their 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 they met. They turned down several offers of a warmer room closer to town and the shop owner took their list, promising that she would make it up and they could collect it later.
Luckily for them the hotel served late breakfast. The pace of life on the island moved slowly and it was possible to run breakfast into lunch into evening meal into supper without leaving the hotel grounds.
They finally managed to escape at one in the afternoon, weighed down by bacon and sausages and swilling with coffee.
It was only when they stopped by the shop to pick up the supplies that he remembered the cairn.
The shopkeeper tried to hide her movement but he caught it...the sign against the evil eye, two pronged fingers stabbing 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.”
He noticed that the rest of the customers in the shop had fallen silent. He supposed that the cairn was the focus for some old superstition...that didn’t bother him but he had already decided not to tell Sandra.
Unlike him, she held a fascination for the supernatural. Anything that went bump in the night or was out of the ordinary...she fell for it. He could never understand the fascination with scaring yourself half to death, but he knew that if she found out that there was something weird about the cairn she would not stop until she had teased out the story. In the car on the way to the cottage he told her it was a war memorial and then let the subject drop. She didn’t ask any questions.
They finally got back to their cottage in late afternoon having made numerous stops to marvel once more at the stunning variety of life around them. Sandra made a big show of hand-washing the travelling clothes and hanging them on clothesline at the back of the house.
The rest of the day passed lazily as they sat on the lawn, drinking long drinks, watching the scenery and making happy plans for their future. They took food out onto the grassy area, sitting on an old rug and throwing occasional morsels to an inquisitive red squirrel. That evening was the closest to heaven he had ever been.
They were finally forced indoors by a chill wind that brought the clouds down from the hills as the sun disappeared and a fine gray mist spread over the sea.
It wasn’t long before they adjourned to the bedroom and made tender careful love as the darkness closed in around them. Later, just as they fell asleep, he could hear that the wind was rising, whistling through the chimney and causing the trees to rustle and crack.
He woke early and squeezed away from Sandra, taking care not to wake her. After boiling some water in the kettle he ventured out to see what the weather was like but the first thing he noticed was the effect of the wind. The washing was gone from the line, torn off the rope during the night. He found a shirt in the left-hand stream, a pair of underpants halfway up a tree and he could see Sandra’s blouse hanging from one arm of the cross on the cairn.
He retrieved everything else he could see before moving to the mound of stones. He stepped over the railing, just missing doing himself an injury on the spikes and clambered up the rocks, dislodging a few in the process and giving himself several bruises on his knees.
The blouse was wrapped around the rusted spar and, by straining and stretching he could just about reach it. Catching hold of the blouse he pulled, just as his footing gave way.
He fell, pulling the blouse with him and felt the material tear before something solid and heavy hit him on the head forcing him down onto the rocks, rolling amongst dislodged stones until he stopped against the railings.
He heard a load creaking and looked up to see the cross, now with a spar missing, swaying from side to side in the breeze. When he looked down he found the missing piece, lying by his side with Sandra’s blouse still wrapped around it. He left it there as he hauled himself over the railings and hobbled back to the house.
That was it for the rest of the day. He was dazed, bleeding from a head wound and bruised over much of his body. Sandra wanted to fetch the doctor but he talked her out of it...he didn’t want anybody to know that he had defaced the memorial, not yet anyway, not until he had the chance to try to repair some of the damage. He spent the day in bed, most of the time with Sandra beside him, nursing his wounds and wondering what the islanders’ reaction would be. As darkness filled the room Sandra fell asleep but he 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 he fell asleep.
He woke when a cold draft hit him on the back of the neck. He rolled over, hoping to snuggle against his wife’s warm body, but he met only more empty space. It took several seconds for him to realize that she wasn’t in the bed.
Moonlight was streaming in through the window, enough for him to make out her pale figure and the cross that bobbed and swayed hypnotically in front of her as she walked away from the house. He ran out of the room and through onto the grass before he realized that they were both still naked.
He went back to fetch some clothes, pulling on shorts and a long jumper for himself and picking up an overcoat for her. When he got back to the door she was not alone.
The figure stood just inside the railing, thin and white and tall and naked, beckoning to her with one long ivory finger, saliva dripping from its mouth...a mouth that seemed to have far too many teeth. His mind screamed...he wasn’t stupid...he’d seen the films…he knew what those teeth meant.
He was still twenty yards away when she reached out to take the creature’s hand. Still ten yards away when its head bent to her neck, a long hand stroking her across the swell of her belly.
He got close enough to see the red eyes sparkle as the vampire realized she was pregnant. He could see the blood oozing down across her shoulders as the creature gulped noisily against her neck, the dark liquid glowing black in the moonlight.
He still hadn’t been noticed...right up until the point where he gripped the creature’s head and pulled it away from its feed. He realized at once that it had been a mistake...he was lifted off the ground, causing the muscles of his back...already tender from their earlier bruising, to scream with white-hot agony.
The beast stared at him from the deep pools of its eyes. It lifted him above the railings, feet flailing as he tried to wriggle from the iron grip. It pulled him close to the withered face, so close that he could feel the cold dampness of breath and see the blood...his wife’s blood, glistening on the evil curved fangs. Suddenly he was lifted higher, above the vampire’s head, and thrown...dumped to the ground…forgotten.
He knew what the creature wanted...he had seen the lust in his eyes.
Once more the long fingers reached for his wife, white arms pulsing red with the blood it had already taken, white hair spreading behind it like a cape as it lunged forward. It took her in its arms and crushed her body to its chest.
She sighed deeply, a heady groan of pleasure as her husband writhed on the ground and tried to get to his feet, trying to block out the sucking and moaning from his brain.
He tripped, falling over the broken spar of the cross. He lifted it, hoping to smash it across the creature’s skull. An image from the films came into his head...the image of the beast impaled.
The vampire was still oblivious to him as he struck, forcing the heavy rusty metal through the thin leathery skin, putting all his weight behind it.
The screaming started immediately. Sandra was dropped to the ground, black blood still weakly pulsing from her throat as the beast raged. It turned towards him, pulling the spar out of his hands, taking several layers of skin with it. He moved back, stumbling over the fallen stones, but it had no intention of coming for him.
The eyes pierced him; the red turning to gold and then black as its face opened in a scream and the first wisps of smoke appeared at its chest.