Sleat HarbourbyGoldie Munro©
The plot and characters of this story are obviously fictitious but the setting is real and I have tried to recreate it as best I could from memory – I hope I have done it justice. I have never encountered a Selkie but I know they are real!
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Jess parked the car next to the little church in the car park of the Aird of Sleat. This was as far as she could go by car and the next six miles would have to be done on foot. With this in mind she had packed only the essentials she would need into two large back-packs one of which she hoisted onto her shoulders in preparation for the hike to the cottage. The other she would collect tomorrow; if the weather held. She made her way through the big white gate, taking care to close it behind her, and then began to make her way up the hilly, shale path. The walk was exhilarating. The path meandered between outcrops of rocks and here and there little streams and waterfalls flowed into peaty bogs. At this time of the year the heather was still in bloom; its hardy purple flowers dancing in the breeze and contrasting with the deep late autumn gold of the broom. The smell of the sea drifted to her on the wind and spurred her on. It was still light and would not get dark for another three hours or so but the day was dull and gloomy with darks heavy clouds above and she wanted to look out to the sea on her first night here so she began to walk even more quickly.
Two hours later she climbed over a wooden stile and stood looking at the little harbour with its two charming cottages. The harbour was tiny and ancient, so old that it was difficult to tell whether it was natural or man made. It wasn't deep and the banks of the harbour were covered in grass and moss and formed the gardens of the cottages. The tide was out and the rocks and stones of the harbour were slick and green with seaweed. The cottage on the right hand bank was a derelict shell. A weather-worn rowing boat lay on its side outside the sturdy, newly painted cottage on the left bank. Hedgerows of hawthorn, bramble and broom wound its way around the back of the cottage. Her cottage, she thought, well hers for the next six months anyway. She smiled and made her way up the narrow stone path to the front door and put the big metal key that she had collected from the property agent in Ardvasar in the lock.
'It should open easily,' he had told her, 'I oiled that lock masel' only last week. If ye do have trouble with it though just go round the back that door is always open!'
Jess had taken the key and driven up the lonely single track road and as she drove she thought about those she had left behind. Only that morning her family and friends had reluctantly waved her goodbye, hoping that she found the peace and serenity that she so craved. Her family and friends had been shocked when she had told them her plans to leave the mess and hurt of her failed marriage and the pressures and deadlines of her rat race job in the city behind for six months of isolation on the Isle of Skye.
'For God's sake, Jess, what on earth are you doing? This is classic running away tactics! Bury your head in the sand and hope it all goes away?' This was Lindy, Jess' best friend.
Jess had sighed and taken hold of Lindy's hand, 'That may be the case Linds but it is also a case of self preservation. I need to do this...I want to do this and I am going to do this! And it's only for a little while! I'll be back in Edinburgh before most of you even miss me.' She pushed the memories of the last few weeks to the back of her mind. Once she had decided to pack up and leave she had had a strange compulsion to go to Skye – she would never have told anyone but it was if it was calling to her.
Now here she was and the front door of the cottage did open easily and she dumped her back-pack on the floor and immediately left again. She made her way carefully over the slippery rocks of the harbour bed, passed the other cottage on the other side and made her way over the boulders and grass and gorse covered dunes of the high cliffs near the Point of Sleat. The Point and its lighthouse were another four miles south of here but this was her favourite spot. She climbed down a bit to a rocky outcrop where she could sit and look out at the sea and the view. To the west the hulking outlines of the Isles of Rhum and Eigg could be seen, looking like two sleeping sea monsters in the gloomy half light. To the north the wondrous peaks of the Black and Red Cuillins raised their mighty peaks to the heavens. All around the sea ebbed and flowed and crashed. Jess felt the wind whip her hair around her head and at times the gusts took her breath away but her heart leapt and as planned she let her soul soar on the wind higher, higher, up and out until she felt at one with the elements around her.
That night after she had unpacked, made and eaten a simple supper of eggs and bread, she snuggled under the downy covers of the big creaky bed and marvelled at the darkness. She had never known such a thick blackness before – she could almost feel it surround her, close in on her, the minute she switched the bedside lamp off. The sound of the sea crashing on the nearby rocks made its way through the windows, the wind caused the window and door frames to creak gently but she paid no attention to these unfamiliar noises and let the all enclosing darkness engulf her further by falling fast asleep.
Over the next two weeks Jess settled herself into life on the Point and eased herself into a routine of sorts. Most mornings she got up and hiked the six miles to her car and drove into the village of Ardvasar. She then bought her groceries, posted and collected letters and occasionally had a coffee at one of the two hotels. The locals were polite and would nod or murmur a 'Hullo' to her but like many isolated island folk they were not too friendly towards newcomers and Jess knew that she would probably have to be there a good few years before their wariness would be likely to fade. In the afternoons, back at her cottage, she would sit in front of a canvas, outside or in the cosy little front room depending on the weather, and paint. It had been an unfulfilled ambition of hers to take some time out and do nothing but paint and she was loving it. Especially here, where every evening she would walk to the cliffs and let her heart, soul and spirit fly free and she could let that freedom and lightness of being penetrate her work. She was as happy as she had ever been in her life.
Although the place was fairly isolated it was also a very popular walk for tourists and Jess had to share her little idyll most days with an ever dwindling stream of walkers. It was late October and many of the tourists had flown south for the winter. She didn't mind sharing her harbour and her cliffs though – she wanted to share their beauty and felt an odd connection with these folks who took the considerable trouble to come and experience it. There was one regular visitor, however. She wasn't too sure when she had first noticed him, she had a vague recollection of a grey shape moving round the harbour bay maybe even the first day, but he came collecting the cockles and mussels in the harbour, when the tide was out, everyday. He was a very striking man, tall, broad, dark and swarthy, with black, tousled curly hair. His face was oval; his eyes dark pools where light seemed to enter but never leave. He always wore a long, dirty, grey, oil skin coat and on his back a brown pack that she had never seen him take off. They nodded politely to each other when they met and once when Jess had been standing on the cliffs in the evening gloaming she had thought she had seen him down on the shore and made to wave to him, however, in the blink of an eye the shore was empty save the foam and spray from the waves, and the wet grey rocks.
She had been hanging out a washing when he had first spoken to her.
'Aye, it's a grand drying day so it is, Miss,' his deep, soft lilting voice had startled her a little.
'It is indeed,' she had replied, smiling.
He stood by the stone path that wound its way around the cottage and looked up at the sky, 'Won't be many more like this I'll wager. The dampness will be settling soon.'
'Really? I wouldn't know. I'm not from round here.'
He laughed gently, 'Aye, I had heard. Jess, isn't it? Well that's whit they call ye in the village – oh don't look so put oot, Miss! The tittle tattle is to be expected! They are only curious is all. Euan, my name is. Euan. Would ye like some mussels for your supper now, Jess?' He held up his bucket and took a step towards her.
She finished pegging her clothes and peered into the water filled pail. Inside was a cornucopia from the harbour walls and rock pools of the bay – mussels, cockles, tiny crabs and shrimps and other weird watery things. Jess loved mussels so smiled and nodded at Euan.
'I'd love some mussels, if you can spare them.'
'Course I can spare them – plenty more where they came fi! Got something to put them in?'
Jess brought a pint glass from the kitchen and Euan filled it full of mussels and a few stray cockles too.
'There ye go! Boil them wi' a few onions and a sprinkling o' black pepper – that's a' they need.'
'Thanks, Euan. That's very kind of you.'
Euan laughed. 'Think nothing of it!' and with a wave of his hand he made his way over the harbour bed and walked off round the bay.
After that he had made a point of saying hullo, giving her some of his catch, taking a cup of tea with her or just sitting watching her paint, on a daily basis. They didn't speak much, never spoke of past or future; they just ambled along in the here and now, strangely at ease in each others company. Jess had an overwhelming sense of contentment when he was around and a strong desire to paint ideas of the sea. Not seascapes as such but watery abstracts of blue, green, grey and white, her canvases frothed and foamed with forms and colours that she had never dreamt of using before. He never commented on her work, but he watched.
It was a real shock to Jess to discover the keen sense of loss she felt that day when he didn't appeared at her door. It was 31st of October, Hallowe'en, and she had spent the evening before hollowing out a large turnip to make a lantern. She hadn't done anything like that since she was a child but she had felt a sense of frivolity and wanted to share it with Euan. Now, as she watched the darkness fall on the distant islands and the last shafts of sunlight set fire to the Cuillins she chastised herself for missing Euan. She came here to be alone, to be an individual, she needed no-one. By the time she began the short walk back to the cottage she had shaken off the disappointment of the day and determined not to let Euan affect her so in the future. As she reached the crumbling ruin of the right bank cottage an eldritch wail rose from the deepening dark around her. The scream filled her with fear and dread for she had never before heard such a terrifying sound. She couldn't say whether it had been made by a human or an animal or whether it had come from near or far. Now all was quiet except for ever constant whine of the wind and sea.
'Who's there?' she yelled into the night, 'Is there anybody there?' She felt her words being lifted away on the wind, silenced and hurled out towards the sea. There was no reply, she hadn't really expected one. A seagull probably, she thought, such noisy creatures! She quickly made her way across the harbour bed and into her cottage. The front room was dark except for the lantern whose ugly smile sneered at her from the table – she had lit the candle before she had left for her walk. She fumbled for the light switch, found it and flicked the switch. The lantern face continued to shine brightly out at her. The light had not switched on. She flicked the switch a couple of times to confirm it. The light was not working. By the light of the lantern she turned on the radio. Nothing. No hum came from the fridge in the kitchen. Shit! She swore to herself. This is all I need. She picked up the phone and heard a dialling tone and gave a sigh of relief. Well at least the phone is still working, she thought. She sat down on the sofa and considered her options. Well she didn't really have any – the electricity wasn't working which meant that her generator had packed in and she would have to wait till the morning before anyone could come and fix it for her, she had been warned to be prepared for such an event. At least the cooker worked from gas canisters so she would at least be able to feed herself. She scrabbled around in the cupboard under the stairs and found a box of candles. She lit and placed them all over the house until the cottage glowed with their warm golden flickering light. She threw more logs on the fire until there was a healthy and hearty blaze in the hearth. She poured herself a large whisky and settled down with a book.
By 11 o'clock her eyes were hurting from reading by candlelight so she closed the book and laid it on the table. She had a foot on the first step of the stairs when a second scream filled the night outside the cottage. She stood, frozen, on the stairs and the hairs on the back of her neck stood to attention as she heard the sound of the back door open and close. Fear gripped her throat and made her heart gallop in her chest.
'Who's there?' The words were a mere whisper. 'Who's there?' She shouted this time, fright taking hold of her.
She turned back round and looked into the kitchen. All was dark and silent. She took two steps into the front room and then was paralysed with terror once more. The canvas she was working on was moving! It was moving into the air, levitating above the easel, moving towards the ceiling. Jess gaped at it open mouthed, unable to believe what she was seeing. Suddenly, the canvas crashed down onto the easel with some violence and ripped; the wooden frame cracking and splintering. Jess' hands flew to her mouth and gagged a scream. Without thinking she made for the door and she turned the handle. It wouldn't open! She turned the key and pulled and pulled on the door but to no avail. This was too much for her and sobbing she sank to the floor, arms covering her head. The room was silent and eventually she let herself look round over her shoulder. The ripped and crumpled canvas lay on the floor and sitting in a chair by the table was a ghostly figure.
The man was thin and pale and dressed in old fashioned clothes, roughly woven trousers tucked into heavy worn boots. He wore a grey shirt under a brown wool waistcoat. His hair was long and lank and greasy and hung down over his shoulders and his face. Jess let out an audible groan as she took in what was around his neck. Around his thin, scrawny neck was a thick, rope noose. The man looked her in the eyes and let out a third eldritch screech – this time it was so loud Jess pressed her hands to her ears and screwed up her eyes in pain and fear. When Jess opened her eyes he was pointing a bony and shaking finger at her.
'Whore!' The man's voice was low and the word gurgled in the back of his throat.
'What?' Jess managed to reply.
'You! Wifewhore! How dare ye come back here? Do ye mean tae torment me forever?'
'I...I don't know what...' she began but the words were knocked out of her as she felt invisible hands lift her body up off the floor and slam her into the door. Then everything went black.
When Jess came to it was into a nightmare. She was lying on her back on the bed in her room and icy hand was holding her firmly by the throat. She struggled and tried to scream but she was powerless against this determined ghost.
'Aye, struggle away woman but I killed ye once before and am going to dae it again.'
'Please! I don't understand! Please don't hurt me!' Jess pleaded.
'Oh Jessie! Listen to ye pleading. You are a whore and ye led Jamie Prentice here a fine old dance now didn't ye? You lay wi' that abomination o' a Selkie time and time again right under ma nose. Do ye think ah festered in the Heart o' Midlothian goal for nothing? Do ye think I ah swung fi the gibbet in the Grassmeract just so ye could come back and taunt me aw over again? It is the fell night of the year and I will have my revenge!'
Jess listened to the roughly spoken words and tried to make sense of them. As far as she could work out the apparition thought she was his wife come back, that he had killed her for being unfaithful to him and had been hung for his crime long ago.
'Jamie, you have this all wrong. Please, Jamie, listen to me...'
'Shut up you wifewhore! You will torment me no more!' His voice filled the room and Jess felt the air grow even colder than before. Jamie lifted his free hand and as he did the cords from the curtains floated into the air and then down and curled themselves around her ankles. The cords tied her feet fast to the bedend. Then her leather belt slithered from the loops of her jeans and hovered over her head for a second until Jamie pulled both her arms above her head and the belt coiled itself around her wrists and bound her to the headboard. Jess let out a whimper as Jamie roared with laughter.
'Let's see whit it is that you like to share around so much!'
Jess felt her clothes being ripped from her body by a tremendous force – her jumper, t-shirt, jeans and underwear seemed to disintegrate to nothing as the force tore them from her. She lay naked and shivering in the freezing cold room. The candles were nearly spent and they guttered and hissed in their saucers. Jess felt tears form in her eyes and panic grab her heart; she turned her head to face her captor.
'Please, Jamie,' she sobbed, 'don't hurt me! I'm not her!'
The tormented soul ignored her, however, so deep was his anger and hatred. Jess felt Jamie's long, bony, icy fingers move from her throat and begin to rake over her body. He tugged and pulled and twisted at every inch of her making her cry out in pain and struggle against her bonds in an effort to avoid his revolting touch. He spent a long time scratching and tweaking at her breasts and nipples and occasionally bending down and slurping her nipples into his foul smelling mouth. His hands then seemed to more faster and his touch became even icier until every part of her body was frozen numb. Every part but one. Jess watched horrified as Jamie took his hard ghostly member from his trousers and began to stroke it as he looked down at her shivering nakedness.
'You are a heartless slut, Jessie, and I'm going to make your insides turn to pure ice,' he whispered menacingly.
Again all Jess could do was plead quietly and sob, 'Please stop. I'm Jess not Jessie. Don't hurt me anymore, please...'
He knelt between her legs and opened the lips of her sex and began to run his fingers up and down her exposed slit. Jess cried out in agony as the iciness of his fingers penetrated the delicate skin of her inner lips. Then he took his penis and began to rub that up and down her pussy lips. He yowled his pleasure at the touch. The cold hardness of it took her breath away and she shuddered at the thought of that cold and hard as steel rod making its way inside her. She screamed loudly; this time it was her wailing that filled the night; she screamed at the thought of the coldness that would invade her. She felt Jamie move the head of his cold, hard penis to her soft, warm opening and as he did she thought she heard some sound on the stairs. She turned her head towards the door and as she felt the icy member thrust into her the door burst open.
'Euan!' she screamed in pain and delight, but the pain won out and as Jamie pounded into her she felt an icicle coldness travel from her sex to her belly until it gripped her heart and began to numb even her brain. She began to lose consciousness but just before she did she thought she saw not Euan leap at Jamie but some kind of animal. An animal with sleek grey skin and ferocious teeth and there was an overpowering smell of the sea...