As The Crow Flies

crow

MIDNIGHT had long passed and it was raining hard. Visibility was limited to that which was illuminated by the bright flecks of driving rain caught in the beam of the headlights. All else was black.

The dance was now a distant memory. Despite the conditions and a bloodstream full of whisky, the man in the brand new Hillman Imp knew this single-track road from Torrin to Broadford intimately. He had no idea he was getting sloppy but he did concede that he was feeling tired and welcomed the thought of his warm bed.

Just as his eyes were getting a little heavier, the man became aware that he was about to pass the old haunted graveyard. The realisation gave him just enough adrenalin to restore him to a state of wakefulness, for Kilchrist was a place that struck fear into the hearts of anyone that had ever been within its perimeter. The man squinted at the timepiece he pulled from his coat pocket.

Two o’clock. God, was that the time?

The witching hour. His grip on the steering wheel became just that little bit tighter.

II

HAD THE man still been in a stupor, he may have had less of a fright when the creature appeared out of nowhere. What looked like a pair of shiny black wings exploded into view, piercing the driving rain and heading straight for him.

The man slammed his brakes, veering to the other side of the road to avoid lurching forward and flying through the windscreen himself. When the car finally screeched to a halt, he sat for what seemed to him an eternity, his fingers and forehead glued to the upper rim of the steering wheel. It was only when he lifted his head that he realised he had no idea which direction he was facing. Whatever that thing was, it had pulled up and over the vehicle just in time.

But even when the danger appeared to be over, the fear persisted and his darkest imaginings ran wild. He could hear the voice of his mother rambling that this was the work of the Devil and at this very moment, he wondered if she was right. He reached for the glove compartment and pulled out the leatherbound Bible that his mother had insisted he keep with him at all times. Without his spectacles, he drew his comfort just from holding it, reciting the Lord’s Prayer until his heartbeat settled into its near-normal pace and he started to feel foolish. Putting the whole episode down to having drunk too much, he returned the Holy Book to its hiding place.

With no inclination whatsoever to get out of the car to investigate, the man had to switch off the headlights to get his bearings. He reoriented himself in the direction of Broadford and went on his way. When he crept into the house, his parents were asleep and he was quiet as a mouse.

III

IT WAS breakfast and an hour past sunrise. The man’s early morning chores up on the croft had been completed and he was on his second cigarette. His mother drew a bowl of steaming porridge from the cast iron pot perched on the range and placed it in front of him. She said not a word. Her face was more drawn than usual.

His father fixing on him through rings of pipesmoke from the opposite end of the table made the ticking of the grandmother clock on the back wall seem unnaturally loud and the man nervous. His intakes became longer and deeper.

His mother muttered some inaudible excuse and headed outside with a basket of clean washing. Once certain that she was no longer in earshot, the Old Man leaned over the table.

“Iain, is there anything you would like to tell me?”

Mid-draw, Iain stopped in his tracks. He scanned his memory to figure out if he should know the answer to the question.

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Well, how do I put it? The Old Man emitted a long puff as he tried to find the right words. “Have you done anything?”

Now Iain’s heart was beating faster. Something was clearly not right.

“Done anything? I still don’t know what you mean.”

“Did you do anything you shouldn’t have?” A shorter pause. “Last night to be exact.”

Iain’s heart stuttered. Sharp intake of breath. A cough. Murky half-faded images from the night before sought form in his head.

“You’re scaring me. If you’re talking about last night, I went to the dance. I danced, had a few drinks and came back. End of story.”

“You sure about that?”

It was hard for Iain to look his father in the eye. The only thing he could think of was that he might have taken a liberty or two with one of the wives, so the look of guilt was unmistakeable.

“Will you please tell me what you’re talking about?”

“You really don’t know ….”

“No! Now will you please tell me.” Panic was setting in. “I don’t want to be late for work.”

The Old Man drew long and hard on his pipe. He was clearly going to stretch this out.

“Well, Iain,” he said, “you must have done something. Not long after you came back to the house, there was a strange and mighty rattling sound coming from the window above your bed.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“No, you wouldn’t. You were fast asleep. Well, I got up to have a look and in the name of the wee man, if it wasn’t a great big black bird trying to get in. It was making one godalmighty commotion, flapping its wings and pecking at the glass with its beak.” He lowered his voice to a near whisper. “It was trying to break the window ….”

Iain’s fingers were trembling, his face ashen, when he stubbed out his last cigarette of the morning.

“Really?”

extract from Close Call: Short and Bittersweet, published April 2015

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2014

The Magic Potion

potion

THERE once lived a man who imbibed a skinful of whisky and fell asleep in his armchair. His wife had long gone to bed, leaving all three bars of the electric fire on. When the man spluttered himself awake in the wee small hours, he became aware of an excruciating sensation in the inside of his left shin and found that his jeans were singed. When he removed them, he realised that although they had not been set alight, they had conducted enough heat to leave a huge burn. In one place there was a dead dark patch where he felt no pain at all, even when he poked it with his finger. Though still groggy from booze, he had enough wits to know what had transpired. He had cooked his leg.

The following morning, his wife persuaded him to get it seen to.

II

THE DOCTOR informed the man that he would require a course of antibiotics and a skin graft as soon as one could be arranged. This was unavoidable and the replacement tissue would be taken from his backside. He should come back in a week.

On leaving the surgery, the man decided no flamin’ chance. And so he paid a visit to the other place. But he was not so stupid as to reveal to the vet why he was asking for a bottle of horse liniment.

III

THE MAN took the antibiotics as directed. And every day his wife was subjected to the foul stink of horse liniment. After a few days of faithfully wrapping his leg in bandages soaked in the odious compound, it looked as though progress was being made. Within a week, well, it was nearly but a scabby indentation and some of the feeling had returned.

It was quite out of character for the man to return to the doctor’s surgery without being pushed but he was keen to gloat at the success of his own ministrations. When he pulled up his trouser leg for the doctor to examine what evidence remained, the latter was close to speechless.

It stuck in the doctor’s throat to admit that he could no longer see any reason for an operation. When the man told him how he had achieved such a miracle, the doctor just said “You cannot be serious”, before suggesting that he could perhaps continue doing whatever he was doing and come back in another week.

The man had no intention whatsoever of letting on that without the antibiotics, his leg would have become so infected from such a rapid healing that it would surely have killed him.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2015

The Undertaking

The aftermath of a funeral is the setting for an encounter with the supernatural. Appearances can be deceiving …

“I had already returned to my home town by bus by the time the fancy Hearse arrived from Glasgow … In the first few moments of being introduced to the young undertaker and melting at the mild trace of a Slavic accent, I had decided I was head over heels. Smitten. Gaga. Arse over tit …”

Extract from ‘The Undertaking’ from Close Call: Short and Bittersweet by M K MacInnes. Available now as ebook and paperback on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

Port Wine

Granny’s acting awfy suspicious-like. Why on earth would she want to harm her newborn grandchild?

“… [THE woman] quietly turned the handle and crept towards the little cot that had been placed beside [the] bed. There she found the infant loosely wrapped in layers of swaddling blankets, a tiny set of fingers poking out the top … A nurse entered the room only to find an old woman dangling the newborn like a plucked chicken. When she cried out “Unhand that child immediately!”, the speechless old lady handed the infant to the nurse, then escaped through the door and down the corridor before anybody had a chance to stop her. The child’s mother had just woken up and asked what the hell was going on …”

extract from Close Call: Short and Bittersweet by M K MacInnes, available via Amazon 13 April 2015 More details here.

Terminus

THE Abortion Act has not long been passed. An unmarried pregnant woman is railroaded into terminating her pregnancy due to mental illness. If her doctor has his way, she will be among the first in the Highlands …

“ … THERE was no sense of dread, only a knowledge that she didn’t want to be here. Somewhere in the back of [the woman’s] mind flickered a notion that she was supposed to feel something, but she felt nothing. Instead, the last moments of her journey to oblivion were occupied by an image of bright white walls and lace curtains – and the clock that her GP had forgotten to put forward …”

extract from Close Call: Short and Bittersweet by M K MacInnes, available via Amazon 13 April 2015 More details here.

As the Crow Flies

What has Iain been up to? The Old Man has his ways of getting to the truth of the sins of the son …

“… THE MAN slammed his brakes, veering to the other side of the road to avoid lurching forward and flying through the windscreen … When the car finally screeched to a halt, he sat for what seemed to him an eternity, his fingers and forehead glued to the upper rim of the steering wheel. It was only when he lifted his head that he realised he had no idea which direction he was facing. Whatever that thing was, it had pulled up and over the vehicle just in time …”

extract from Close Call: Short and Bittersweet by M K MacInnes, available via Amazon 13 April 2015 More info here.

Chicken

The house has a little secret. What is Roddy not telling his wife?

“… MR MCDIARMID was just polishing off the last spoonful of cream from his plate when the light and soft quiet emanating from the window was interrupted by a dark shadow and a loud flutter … By the time Morag returned from the kitchen with a neat tray of teacups and a freshly made pot of tea, Mister McDiarmid was out of his seat, Iain’s arms locked around his waist …”

extract from Close Call: Short and Bittersweet by M K MacInnes, available via Amazon 13 April 2015 More details here.

The Serpent and the Bicycle

IN THE wake of the Great War, a young Skye man experiences an inexplicable occurrence that leaves everyone with their heads scratching and his mother climbing the walls. It is an event that that will change the course of his life forever.

“… NOT EVEN the sight of Beinn na Cailleach and the Coolin mountains in a cloudless sky could soothe [the young man’s] anxiety over what the future might hold. During his eleven-mile journey from his mother Marsali’s house in Heaste, he had already narrowly avoided being clipped by a motor car in Broadford … Now approaching the abandoned churchyard, he was greeted by the sight of Blaven towering over the softer rolling Kilbride terrain. Knowing full well how distracted he was, Roderick pedalled his bicycle slowly to avoid any further mishaps …”

extract from Close Call: Short and Bittersweet by M K MacInnes, available via Amazon 13 April 2015

More details here.