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

High Altar

A LONG long time ago in a far off town, some friends and I were invited to a swanky party at an abandoned Victorian monastery that had been converted into a corporate events venue. Rumour had it that back in the day the monks used to run their own moonshine.

II

ON FINDING ourselves a table, we could queue up at any of the seven feeding stations, themed according to each of the Deadly Sins. The catering staff were fitted with horns and forked tails.

After the buffet and the band, the venue became an instant nightclub, the dance floor in front of the High Altar, the music leaning towards anything with a deep base and a strong beat. Lasers and soft psychedelics blended into stained glass, dry ice oozed from the seams.

Doof. Doof.  Doof. Doof.
Doof. Doof.  Doof. Doof.

I itched to join in the revelry but couldn’t bring myself. Haunted by an image from Sunday School of a psychotic-looking Jesus wrecking the Temple because it had been put to wordly use, I declined all attempts to drag me onto the floor.

Until I raised my eyes, I hadn’t paid much attention to the dying Christ suspended from the rafters. The thorns, the twisted expression of pain and suffering, sinews taut, a cloth barely covering his dignity, the unimaginable sorrow of a man in his final moments.

And punching the air beneath the feet of the naked guy nailed to the cross was the tall man wearing a jumper and a dog collar, his sweaty face gleaming through the fog. The vicar.

Dear God, I’ve seen it all now.

A subtle movement above his head caught my eye. The painted wooden crucifix swung back and forth like a pendulum. Hardly blinking for several minutes, I could see the movements become more pronounced. One swing now for every four doofs.

I ran my eyes up and down, looking for the weakest point. The pendant hung from two long metal chains, hooked onto rings attached to a high wooden beam. Beyond that, it was hard to tell what was what.

But one thing was certain. That crucifix weighed a tonne and it had a life of its own. I could see it all now. The plummet, the loud crash, the gasps, the cloud of dust, the horror as it smashed into the minister and his immediate entourage.

Images of screaming choir boys in St Paul’s Cathedral, a mummified Richard Burton lying in a hospital bed. The bit of paper at the end of the movie scrawled with the words ‘Windscale’ … The Medusa Touch. How little it would take to bring that lot down. I should be careful not to think on it too hard. I might cause it.

And didn’t I know just how easy it was for those screws to come loose. Oh yes, I had watched episode upon episode of CSI. I had just seen the one where the house collapsed because the sonic boom of low-flying aircraft made the screws drop out of the walls …

I could see it now, JESUS SPLATS RAVING VICAR. Great headline … very messy …

Swing. Doof, doof, doof, doof. Swing …

III

I CAN only assume that everyone survived. My friends and I left before we had a chance to find out.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes

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.

As The Crow Flies

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