As the sun began to set over the highlands, Ryan stood on the shore of Kilborn Loch, gazing out across the dark water. The residents of Kilborn were getting frustrated, wanting to know if the constabulary was planning to do anything about the numerous animal killings. Many didn’t believe that anything could be done until the curse was exorcised. His region commander still didn’t see the need to provide any additional resources. That left only Ryan MacDonald.
He bent over and picked up a small, smooth stone, then tossed it into the water. Ripples ruptured out from the center of where the stone had impacted the water. Ryan had decided that the only way to resolve this mess was to catch the perpetrator in the act. With some apprehension, he had dressed warmly this evening, walked down to the loch with the plan to remain on an all-night vigil. He stepped back into the shadows of the trees lining the edge of the shoreline. Although every hideous mutilation had footprints leading back to the various points along the loch, there was no way that Ryan could observe the entire loch on his own. He had chosen this point because it seemed central to all of the footprint trails.
He leaned back against a tree and watched the encroaching darkness. He could hear the faint sounds of small animals scurrying through the forest behind him. Yet, as the darkness grew more impenetrable, an eerie silence fell around him. He could feel the weight of the flashlight, which he had brought with him, in his pocket, but he didn’t dare turn it on. The last thing he wanted to do was scare off whoever was perpetrating these mutilations.
He felt like he had been standing in the cold, dark night for hours, yet a glance at his watch had told him it had only been forty-five minutes. Despite his leather jacket, the cold, crisp air still pierced through to his skin, causing him to shiver. Looking around, he could barely see the water of the loch, or even the trees in which he stood. Ryan had never known a night to be this dark. There was no moon, no stars, almost complete absence of light. The only illumination were the faint lights of Portree Bridge in the distance, but those few lights were not bright enough to break through the blackness. Looking at his watch again, he found that another fifteen minutes had passed. Maybe this was a mistake, he thought. There isn’t anything out here. Reaching into the inner pocket of his jacket, Ryan extracted a small silver flask. He spun off the top, and, putting it to his lips, he gulped down. The whiskey burned his throat and warmed his stomach. As he closed the flask and dropped it back into his pocket, Ryan began to consider returning to his warm cottage and calling it a night. It was a distant terror-filled scream that changed his mind.
The bloodcurdling female scream shattered the silent darkness. It rattled his very bones to hear it drift through the night. It had come from somewhere up the hill behind him. He tried to think for a second about what was up the hill. He knew of three cottages in this area of the loch. Ryan charged forward into the forest in the direction of the nearest cottage. Branches slashed at his face and thorns tore at his pants. As he ran, he pulled out his flashlight and switched it on, shining it before him to illuminate his rapid trek upwards. His feet crashed on the forest floor, crackling as it they snapped fallen branches. He leapt over a fallen tree stump, but misjudged his landing. His right foot landed on a rock, which threw Ryan off-balance. He tried to roll with the fall, but there was no easing the pain in his shoulder as it slammed into the hard ground. The ground-level underbrush seemed to lash out at his face as he rolled onto his back. He could taste blood on his lips; he knew his face must be cut to ribbons. Forcing himself to stand, he ignored the throbbing pain in his shoulder, and pressed forward through the trees.
As his burst into the clearing, Ryan could see the stone cottage, the lights burning bright through the windows. It was an old building, one most likely built more than hundred years ago. The forest surrounding the loch was covered with small buildings just like this one. In the dark of the night, Ryan could not see much of the cottage other than the bright light pouring from the lone window and the open door. Approaching slowly and cautiously, Ryan could see that the front door wasn’t so much open as it was gone. Laying on the ground to the right of the gapping doorway was the old wooden door, torn from its hinges. Pausing, Ryan felt a chill run down his spine. He had a feeling of foreboding fear that froze his feet in place for several moments. When he had regained his composure, Ryan slowly stepped forward toward the cottage. The closer he came to the cottage, the more detail he could make out. The overgrown ivy had crept up the front walls of the small stone facade. A bright yellow light glowed from the interior of the cottage through the single window, providing the only light in the large forest clearing; a small car was parked along the right wall. As he passed the fallen door, he noted that the old hinges were bent and misshapen. Ryan gripped his flashlight, prepared to use it as a weapon if necessary. Stepping up into the doorway, he paused, his silhouette framed in the doorway. It took only a few moments for the sight that met his eyes to cause him to step back out of the doorway, fall to his knees, and vomit.
Copyright 2013 - Michael Bradley