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The Banff Rectory

I am about to tell you a true story. Mind, I first heard it when I was … oh let’s see, seventeen years old? No, correction, I was just entering double-figures when she told me the bare basics. I don’t know precisely why she left out the finer details until later; maybe she just didn’t want to scare me.

Hence I got her to repeat the same story to me again and again until I nearly exhausted the poor woman; not merely because I wanted to hear it: rather because, and this is the remarkable thing, she was not a believer herself. However, I cannot stress enough that though my mother may not have been the sharpest tool in the box, I know this much – she was not a liar. That’s the thing, you see; whatever the real cause behind the weird goings on at Banff Rectory, she was telling me the truth, which in itself makes this so intriguing. So you’ll permit me to say one more time before I go on, to whomever’s  reading this, that my late mother, Samantha Hill, was no liar.

Right, now that I’ve emphasised that to death, I’ll put you out of your misery.

It’s damn near impossible for anyone to pinpoint their earliest memory. I personally have a couple to pick from; being chucked out of the Wendy house at nursery; tossing my toys out of our apartment  window as a joke (and getting Hell for it. Sorry, Mum). Yet, I do remember the first time I was really, truly happy. And that was up at Banff.

The memory is too scant for particulars, and sadly the more I try to remember, the more distant it feels. All I truly recall is the wonderful feeling of freedom. Of fresh sea air on my face. Of a seemingly endless expanse of green, green, green everywhere, and infinite blue sky. I’d never known that kind of happiness before, but I must say I instinctively felt in my true element, even for a baby. Wow, how happy I was. The liberty; the freedom and sweet taste of fresh air; a healthy thing for a small child, don’t you think? Therefore my recollection is mainly a feeling of utter bliss during that holiday, so very long ago. Maybe it was something deep-rooted in my genes, telling me this is how people really ought to live. Or, perhaps, as I should live.  Ah well, I was three years old or thereabouts, I didn’t know any better, nor why we were there; only that it was an interval I never wanted to end.

For Mum, it was different.

The three of us, Mum, Granny and myself, travelled up to that rectory on the northeast Scottish coast in the summer of 1983. I have the photos to prove it. I don’t know how Mum knew the owners of the big house, but they were abroad, and Mum’s task was to stay and water their tomato plants. Simple enough. I remember she told me the interior of that big eighteenth-century stone house was draped in large dust sheets, every single item covered like a morgue of furniture: ornaments, sofas, desks, lamps; everything canvassed in a uniform cream of drab, nameless, ominous shapes. No touchy, touchy, missus! If a breeze blew in through the window, I’ll bet those sheets fluttered ever so slightly, teasing you for the briefest second that a restless body stirred underneath, disturbed in its slumber. Go on, lift it, I dare you …

About the umpteenth time I got her to tell me the full story, she sat back in her chair, took a blank sheet of paper and actually drew the whole layout for me. Basically this was an old rectory-cum-farmhouse, I think, surrounded by a very large, walled-in garden not far from the deserted main road: on one side of this road, the house; on the other side – cliffs, stretching for miles. Just cliffs and sea, ma’ dear.

Next to the rectory were two things: a graveyard and what was left of the old church (don’t ask me the date; I’ve no idea). The church was nothing much, apparently. A hollow ruin. Its bell tower nothing but a triangular outline of grey sandstone bricks covered in moss, pointing to the sky. Where the bell itself used to hang and clang day in, day out … was an empty window. Nothing more, nothing less. Not particularly exciting, you’ll agree.

So we were having this holiday, Granny doing I don’t know what, Mum taking me for walks here and there. But there was something that bothered her.

The graveyard was too quiet. 

We were in the countryside for goodness sake; there were plenty birds and wildlife on the way up, so what was wrong with this place? No birdsong. Not a thing. None around the house, the graveyard nor anywhere else. Despite an abrasive sea breeze reddening your cheeks and the crushing of waves a hundred feet below, everything seemed dead here. Like an artificial movie set where nobody lived. It was real, too real, yet somehow dreadfully fake.

‘A place can have gusts and greenery,’ she’d told me, ‘and be too lifeless.’

Silence is suspicious. Why would anywhere need silence unless something is watching you? Silent enough to wrap your fist around. Mum shivered. No birds visited this Banff coast.

Now, I don’t know how long we resided there or for how many nights, but – shall we say – ‘one night’, my mother was in bed reading (quite the bookworm she was) and it was late, nearly midnight. She heard a noise.

Her window in the small arched attic room overlooked the ruined church. It was a bell tolling.

The nearest town was about ten miles away. Yet she heard it, loud and clear, sure as I could hear her own voice.

‘I don’t believe in ghosts,’ she told me, ‘but I heard it. I fucking heard it!’

Dong … Dong. Too close, resonating from where the vacant bell tower rose out of the ground.

Mum didn’t know what to do, except obey her primary instinct, and that was to sink deeper under her covers. Not for anything would she draw open her curtain. It went on for several minutes before stopping, then nothing. I wonder how well she slept.

The next night, she heard it again, same as before. Right on time too.

Here I hesitate before going on, chiefly because I … eh … am worried you’ll laugh at me. Cos I realise how this is going to sound. I’d better ask you again to please remember my mother was no liar; she didn’t know how to put what happened next into any simpler words, so I’m going to quote exactly what she said.

After the disembodied bell finished tolling:

‘I heard stone moving upon stone.’

Outside. From the deserted cemetery. Not far beneath her window.

Try to imagine a slab of flat sandstone, somewhat weathered and gravelly, slowly sliding along an identical base. This is what my mother heard.

There were no disturbances after that. Deeper, deeper she sank once more under her covers, forgotten book in hand, her face fixed on the feather-light curtains of her tiny attic window an arm’s reach away. It would be so easy to draw them back! So easy to stretch out your arm and tickle aside the curtain fabric with your fingertips, knowing the view beyond is nothing but pitch black.

My mother couldn’t move. I guess nobody can judge how they’ll behave in that situation. What would you do? What would I have done? What can you do if you hear what cannot be heard, what you think no one will believe, when you don’t know what you’ll see waiting for you behind that tiny curtain, its portrait window the perfect fit for a face? No, my mum hunkered down and drew the blankets about her. I don’t know if she turned off the light.

The next morning, to the best of my knowledge, we hadn’t long to go until we left, just a day or two to bid the tomato plants and morgue of furniture farewell. But today, despite her fears, broad daylight suddenly emboldened my mother with a burning sense of curiosity. She wanted to get to the bottom of this, to at least tap some clue, to investigate, poke or prod something somewhere that might own up and explain her tingling blood these previous two nights. Taking my hand, she marched my oblivious, skipping little self into the cemetery.

I was being your basic three-year-old, running and dancing about, not a care in the world, in my wee heaven. Mum left me to it; she was investigating the gravestones. Nothing untoward to write home about. I gather most of these graves were of the frustratingly weathered type, especially in salty sea air. You could hardly read the dates for lichen and chipped sandstone. About Mum wandered, meandering around graves of multiple shapes and sizes, arranged in no specific order, no flowers or shiny surfaces … and no birdsong.

I remember her telling me the sky that day was grey, soulless and unfriendly.

Then Mum found something, in the centre of the graveyard. Bear in mind, it wasn’t particularly unusual; to me though, the way she explained it seemed fantastical. What’s the name for those things? Crypts? Either way, in the middle of all this grass a narrow set of stone steps led down into an open hollow, a few feet in the ground. The steps ended in a gnarled, rusty old iron gate, barring the way into an underground hovel. An open-air crypt is the only way I can describe it.

It was locked, naturally. Nevertheless, Mum put her two hands on the vertical bars and peered through.

Cold. Earthy. Not a thing to see, even in daylight. Not a wink of sun penetrated. Mum peered closer, squinting.

Suddenly! –

– A bird exploded from the darkness and flew in her face. The beating of muscled wings must have been thunder in her ears as dirty feathers brushed her lips.

What was I saying about no birdsong in the cemetery?

Whatever bird flew past her, a seagull, pigeon or what, she didn’t say. Nor do I think she could have told you herself, because she got such a shock that she cried out, grabbed my arm and marched us right back out the way we’d come.


And that’s the story.

It never varied and she didn’t ad lib or exaggerate, always retelling it with the same sober solemnity.

Since cancer claimed her several years ago, I’ve often turned it over and over in my mind. Being a hard-headed sceptic, the best explanation I can offer is she must have heard a bell from the nearest town or buoy, and sound travels farther at night. As for the stone moving upon stone thing, well, there could be many explanations.

There is one thing though, a certain detail that stands out to me. And though funnily enough it serves no solid part of the story itself, coming from my mother this was the only thing that genuinely unnerved me. I mentioned earlier she sketched the layout of the place for me, i.e. where the car was parked, the road, cliffs, house and church, etc. Well, I watched her. She sat there, drew it, showed me, paused, looked at it … then unceremoniously tore the lot up and threw it in the bin, startling me! I’d never seen that withdrawn look on her face before. The sudden cold distance. Childlike fear in her averted eyes. Her; this reasonable, level-headed woman who didn’t believe in ghosts. Not like her in the slightest.

She didn’t want to know. She didn’t ever want to see the place again. Not even as a measly pen drawing. My God. I’d had no idea it affected her that way.

Later I would secretly recovered the torn pieces from the bin. Here they are:


Anyway, here’s the exciting news. Today I booked my annual leave from work, and guess where I’m headed off to on Monday? Guess who’s finally tracked down that Banff rectory, since converted into a self-catering holiday home? Yay! Happy face. I was worried I wouldn’t get it; it’s a five-bedroom residence and these places book up fast, but I’m lucky because it’s off-season in February, annnnd I got it for four days. It’ll be cold but I’m packing extra jumpers.


I won’t mind the solitude. A break away from Edinburgh to be near cliffs and illegible gravestones sounds peachy to me. You know, it’s funny, I can almost taste the sweet sea air in my mouth again just thinking of it. I’ll update this journal as I travel and when I get there, see if my phone can record a distant church bell on the night wind, lol.

Can’t wait!



13th February 2017, 12:10


Whew! That was a rush! Wouldn’t you know, traffic jam in town, accident in Princes Street diverting every vehicle, my taxi included. Ye cannae defeat me, lousy Mr Fate, here I am! Snug and comfy in my train passenger seat, F9. Gonna get a good view from this window, me hopes. Isn’t that a great feeling, to park your backside safe and sound into the cosy fabric and rest your head, knowing you’re in the train’s hands now and don’t have to move another muscle for hours. Let’s get going, whisk me away! 





Dozed off. Glad I woke up in time to snatch some views on my phone before the drizzle takes over. Wouldn’t ya know? The rain turns on like a tap in guid auld Scotland soon as you near your destination.

Out of this window– sea. Sea, sea and more sea. Wish I could say it was blue. This is as grey as it gets. I see mini white waves breaking off little jutting black rocks out there. An alien, inhospitable, unsurvivable plane. It beats me how anything could live in there. And further out, line upon line of undulating waves spilling in sudsy foam like a trail of Tipp-Ex. Freezing water. Fall in and you die within seconds. Brrr …  

And there’s the rain spattering diagonally on the window now. Almost sleet; big fat splodges of water trying get at me through the glass. Never mind, it’s warm in here with my cuppa tea. I guess storm showers always seem more aggressive when you’re ploughing through on a fast-moving train.

I don’t like that sky. Christ look how low the clouds are. A gauzy frizz of grey is drooping down from that navy storm front like a sinister fingernail; it could practically stroke the top of this carriage.

I can hardly see outside anymore. In the time I’ve written this entry the rain’s battered a series of rivers, washing the entire window. I could be looking at the outside world from under an ocean. I know this train is well insulated, but there are goose pimples rising on my forearm. I swear the cold’s getting in.

I wish it felt like I was going home to a childhood paradise I loved. The truth is I seem a stranger here on the precipice of a barren Earth. Something to be said for Mum’s perception of isolation. Am looking around me like an idiot in case I’m suddenly the only human being this far north and the train driver turns out to be a phantom who drives us off the cliff into the North Sea. I used to have dreams like that as a child: a car or train trundling, then tipping over, the dizziness of falling, air speeding past your ears, gone vertical, gravity, the sea plunging towards you …

Ah, passenger announcement. Coming up for Aberdeen pretty soon. Good.





I’m here.

I’ll get round to waxing lyrical about the atmosphere once I get myself settled in. Shit, my hair’s dripping onto this page as it is! Crap day, crap weather, new boots soaked through, shaking out my drenched overcoat!

Made a puddle on the house’s welcome mat. It’s still there, look! A lovely transparent pool of liquid surface tension clinging to the floorboards, great. Think I see a tadpole from here. Must mop it up. Nah, later, later, get the kettle brewing first, Charlie. That’s it boiling in the background while I sit writing at this round kitchen table. No tablecloth. It has a plastic covering decorated in a zillion miniature rainbows, cracked and frilled at the edges like some seventies kiddies’ nursery. Yuck. It’s obvious the place has been tarted up for tourists. Somehow that makes me sad.

I didn’t realise how badly the chill had gotten to me. I hired the pre-booked car in the main town of Banff to drive up here, stood waiting for it in the rain then drove up in the downpour only to learn said car has a broken heater. My fingers were locked around the freezing steering wheel like a crab in rigor mortis. Then it took me ages on the doorstep to locate the house keys, in rain and gale force winds! Am blown to smithereens; didn’t even get a chance to glance at the church ruin and cemetery nearby, if it is nearby.

To be honest I was so drookit and windswept to the point of hypothermia, I didn’t give a shit. Not that I’d have seen the all-important bell tower; anywhere beyond ten feet was about as clear as the train window earlier. The shower’s dense as mist. Is this what being inside a rain cloud feels like? When I was nine or ten, I kept chickening out of girl scouts hiking trips to the Pentland Hills: the lowering clouds frightened me because I was convinced that if we climbed high enough and got caught in a rain cloud, I’d drown. I’m still not entirely convinced I wouldn’t.

Weatherman on the radio says the storm should clear up by tonight. I’d cross my fingers but they haven’t thawed out either. Creepy the way you can’t even unzip your coat when your hands are so cold; my knuckles look like a solid claw gripping this pen.

Toot-toot – thank you, kettle. Here comes the cuppa cavalry! And the trusty hot chocolate I had the foresight to pack with me.





Going by Mum’s 1983 photos, the house was your typical brown Scottish sandstone and mortar, that quaint shade which so defines buildings the way they used to be, and should remain so in my opinion. It’s been painted, white as bird shit, spanking and glistening in the rain like a clam from the beach.

The greenhouse where the late owners kept their tomato plants has been turned into a spotless conservatory with wicker chairs and, ludicrously, bamboo plants. It must catch the sun perfectly in July. For the present I may as well chill my beer in there.

Sitting by the bay window now. No views of the graveyard or fields from this side, just my car parked on lilac gravel by the main gate. I’d see the sea on the horizon beyond if not for the weather. I’d better give this place a chance. I knew it’d be changed; I’d have been an arse to expect otherwise. And much as my selfish subconscious can’t help being disappointed, there is something, I dunno, some deep-rooted scent I can’t place. That earthen, organic mix of wood and stone you find in old houses that have known many a soul come and go; that withstood being buffered by the elements a few dozen yards from cliffs until mutually entwined with the landscape in an intimate relationship only inanimate objects can understand. I wonder, who were the very first people to live here? Were they happy? … Odd question, Charlie; why ask that?

Yawn. Long day, knackered. I need a kip.





Wow, didn’t intend to sleep so long.

The weatherman didn’t lie. Clear skies outside, if stark and wintry. Not surprised, on the way here I passed snow on the hills and there’s a layer of frost everywhere. My shoes make these satisfying crinkly crunches in the grass, and it’s so bewitching when the driveway gravel shimmers like a bunch of gemstones.

Been hunting for a torch under the sink and in the cupboards, no luck so far. I didn’t think to bring a torch with me cos, well, I wasn’t really planning to investigate the area by night. Sigh. It’ll have to wait till tomorrow.

The sky is a shroud of stars, gazillions, I spotted Jupiter and Saturn too. What I’d give for my binoculars. …Now there’s something I should’ve packed! Twit.

It’s so quiet. There hasn’t been a passing car or a plane flying overhead since I arrived. If I go outside I’ll hear the sea, always eerily louder at night, and not for want of traffic. What is it makes the waves crash louder as if pummelling your doorstep?

I’ll stretch my legs if the rain had stopped. Why not?



I didn’t last much longer than ten minutes outdoors. It’s one hundred percent black out there. I had to use my phone as a makeshift torch, crunching my way across the gravel to the single-track road, following my nose to within (I hoped) a safe distance of the cliff edge. There’s an outline of weak fencing where it drops off, not much else to protect you. I shudder to guess how close I was.

Other than the sea, the silence deafens. Once I stopped and took it in the concrete stillness – as if waiting patiently – hovered above my head and settled down on my skin like a shroud. I didn’t want to make a sound, not even a rustle in the grass; some instinct warned it’d be blasphemy. Just stand there, keep still, and listen.

The cold has a way of piercing your skin in sinistrous coils that come out of nowhere, snaking under your scarf. So I broke the sacred peace, about-turned and here I am warming my palms on my hot chocolate mug in front of the fireplace, which will die out soon if I don’t track down more logs.

Oh by the way, found the wee attic room where Mum slept! Sorry to say it’s a storeroom for junk now. Rusty deck chairs, paint pots, ancient ladders with several screws missing. Bugger-all room to move about in. Mum couldn’t have been able to stand up straight in that room. What stingy pricks the tomato-growing owners were, so possessive of their precious abode they shove her in there with the draughts and diagonal ceiling. Looks like I’m getting the posh master bedroom either way. Hey, it’s directly below the attic room, my window will have the same view. Hell, I’m awake now, that naughty nap has me set for the night. How about it, Charlie, tuck in with a book and wait … Who knows?


In master bedroom by the window.

Okay, I’ve turned the lights out and can’t see anything from here except the constellations, and ironically, that’s the reason I sort of can see something. There’s a shitload of stars tonight, you’d be blind to miss them, and about fifty or sixty yards off, to the right … there, yes, I see it – a blank space, roughly rectangular, like a tall ink blot. There are no stars there.

Hello, bell tower.



14th February, 00:30


Boy do I feel silly. Church bells and stony surfaces, you’ve stood me up! Haha.

Frankly I’d prefer a bit of noise to this tomblike quietude all around me that never shuts the hell up. What is it about such tangible quietness? It’s a lame question, but why would anything be so quiet without the building up to a bang? The tension stretches out like an elastic band, and we all know what happens if you keep doing that.

Looking forward to exploring tomorrow, so I’ll get some shuteye, don’t want to screw up my sleeping patterns when my holiday’s barely started.




It woke me. It wasn’t a bell. Can’t say as I wasn’t fully awake. Possibly my phone buzzing.

Tossing and turning for an hour and can’t get back to sleep.




Morning, 7-ish


Breaking a rule: smoking in the house. Swore I wouldn’t. I’ll worry about that later, it can wait. I’ve just woken up from probably the worst nightmare of my life.

I was lying in bed in this master bedroom, but the window by me was identical to the attic window upstairs. The blankets seemed to be melting like blobs of double cream. In fact the whole bedstead was caving inward with a bubbling squelch. To my horror I realised the bed was slowly sinking through the floor. I scrambled out, turned back and saw grass was growing around the bed frame, super-fast. My mother was sitting in it, a book in her hands, eyeing me with a savage, animal rage, not my mother anymore. Her face was brown and algal green with decay. Her glasses were hanging off, eyes wide and the whites were riddled with pink capillaries. Her false teeth were gone, shrivelling her mouth to a malicious prune. She wrinkled her nose like a wild dog, opened her toothless gummy mouth and closed it, again and again, faster and faster, smacking her slimy lips together as if trying to bite the air with some hideous sucking noise – sssssvphah! sssssvphah! sssssvphah! – leaning forward in bed, frustrated, trying to reach me, trying to bite me. I fled. Next, I was wandering this house, and then my flat in Edinburgh, and then in this house again, walking through rooms morphing into each other. I couldn’t tell where was home and where was Banff. There was this terrible awareness, the kind of awareness you only get in dreams, that I was running from something in the building, something looking for me, but I didn’t know where it was and every corner I turned was so dark I couldn’t find a light switch. There were no windows and doors to escape from. I kept searching for a way out and it kept getting darker. Then the walls took on this … (How do I put it?) voice. Deep and guttural, like a sound recording slowed down; I couldn’t make out what it said. Suddenly I heard a trampling of heavy feet over my head, running in some corridor above as if it could see me through the floorboards, coming at me hell for leather. I exhausted myself trying to outrun it down the longest, most desolate hallway you ever saw: the more I ran the longer it stretched, I was running in sticky gum, it wouldn’t let me move! I pushed myself like an Olympic sprinter and managed no more than inches at a time. Then the running above me became panting, breathing with the house, leaking hot sweat through cracks in the wallpaper. I got to the end of the hallway, ran out into pitch night and pelted down the road to I don’t know where, galloping. And here’s the bit I really, really want to forget: – Whatever was chasing me, it accelerated, and the rhythm of its rapid Ha-heh!-Ha-heh!-Ha-heh! pants became laughs. A liquid, breathless, gargling laugh like worms writhing around in its throat. I’ve never heard such a disgusting sound.

A giant sea wave washed over me and I opened my eyes, realising I had somehow knocked over a cup of forgotten tea at my bedside, splashing me.

So that’s me awake. I thought writing down your dreams was supposed to dispel them. Bollocks, it’s done anything but help.





Given myself the grand tour. A bit disillusioned if I’m honest. What did you think was going to happen, Charlie, a background orchestra accompanying your dramatic discoveries?

So, yes, I’ve found the graveyard. Actually I’m there, sat on a raised horizontal headstone at the moment, trying to see what the heck I’m writing through my hair blowing in my face. At least the sun’s out with patches of blue sky today. Dunno what Mum was on about the “no birdsong”; seagulls aplenty are calling, and I narrowly avoided being their toilet seat a few minutes ago. You can see their bird shit on the gravestones. The cemetery itself isn’t too extensive. It hugs the roadside and is bordered by a low wall, crumbling in places polka-dotted with weeds. Not very many graves either, quite spaced out and dates go from early 1700s to the late 1800s. As for this mysterious crypt in the ground that Mum talked about, I’ve decided she was confusing this spot with another graveyard elsewhere, because I’ve traipsed up and down this area grid-search style and found nothing of the sort. Flat as a pool table. Annoying. 

The church is pretty much the shell I expected. The outer walls are reduced to a couple of feet high and its former stone floor is indiscernible under a miniature jungle of dead bracken and nettles I waded through, earning stung wrists for my efforts. Strings of ivy have tried and failed to overcome the bell tower, which stands thirty-something feet high and narrows to a single top, glassless window, surprisingly undamaged by weathering. Minus its long-lost bell, I admit the tower window does make an impression against the clouds.

I won’t dwell on it, not when I’ve seen church ruins before, but I catch myself glancing behind me every now and then, like something tapping my shoulder with a bony finger. The empty bell tower hangs there, vacant and hollow as a watchful eye.

I’ve taken pictures with my phone, including panoramic views of the house, sea and church. May drive to the nearest village and grab myself some lunch.

It’s nice here. I like it.




15th February, 00:50


Right. Okay, Mum, I do hear something. 

I’m not going to jump to conclusions. I’ll say in fairness that, as a science graduate and rational human being, with no history of mental illness or neurological disorder, I record here that the sound I’m hearing cannot be described as anything other than a bell – but – that’s the initial impulse.  

Am checking internet maps for other churches nearby, but it’s most likely a buoy near the shoreline.




Someone stole my goddamn car! Gone! Vanished! Can’t believe it! How the fuck did they get it away? I was up all night and didn’t hear an engine starting! I can’t find any footsteps, prints, no tracks in the gravel driveway, nothing! Goddamn sons of bitches, what do I tell the bloody rental company? Fuck. FUCK!


Police duly contacted. They’re on their way, blah-de-blah …




The plot thickens. The thugs didn’t even steal it. Guess where it is. Take a stroll over yonder, as near the cliff edge as you can get.

Uh-huh. There. See it?!

Trashed. Smashed. Crashed. Geronimo. Someone, somehow, moved it to the edge and pushed it right off the Banff cliffs directly opposite this house. It’s scrap metal now, it’s a trash heap, you could make freaky ornaments out of it. Nose-dived into the rocks. The tide’s in too. There’s probably fish swimming in and out of its shattered windows as I scribble. How in the name of living hell could this have happened? A crash like that would’ve been heard a mile away, there was no wind last night, I’d heard nothing, I … don’t understand, am tired and have to spend the remainder of my day on the phone with the fucking car rental company. After this I’ll be downing several whiskies and passing out – got no sleep last night.




You’re kidding me.


According to my maps the nearest church is sixteen kilometres away. The two self-catering homes next door are presently unoccupied.

People hear what they want to hear, the trouble is that applies whether you believe in something or not, and my hardcore scientific logic is telling me that buoy’s too close for its sound waves to have bounced off the cloud cover at right angles and landed here from ten miles away; such resonance would carry the faintest echo.

This isn’t echoing.

The coppery clang is too concentrated, too fresh. I have enough auditory experience from physics labs to pair short acoustic wavelengths with short distances.

I won’t accept that though, my senses are too heightened, I won’t trust them. I’ll ring the nearest town tomorrow to ask about their local church.



16th February, 00:15


It hasn’t restarted. It went on for ten minutes then stopped. I brewed the kettle to steady me.

The heating’s on. I shouldn’t be shivering like this.




There’s someone outside. THIS I hear crystal-fucking-clear, no bullshit; there’s somebody moving about outside, a dragging, a scrape. It’s not an animal.




Sleep out of the question. Twenty minutes ago someone knocked at the door again.


… Shhhhhhhhhhit they’re still there.


Dammit I can’t call the police! Left fucking mobile in the kitchen! House phone in living room. Don’t want to go down there.




What an awful, sleepless night. Exhausted.



Afternoon, sometime after 14:00

Woke to find it’s getting dark already. Worst weather yet, amber alert storm warning, risk of flooding, heavy sleet, gale force winds exceeding seventy miles an hour. No chance of escaping into town on foot or without the car.

Not a soul for miles. Am I the last person on Earth?

I’m alone here. I’m completely, utterly alone up here.



Dark outside, clock says 5.40PM but it stopped ticking a while ago

Kitchen drawers devoid of batteries for shitty clock. I’m not myself. I don’t recognise the person I passed in the mirror tonight. My own reflection gave me such a fright I screamed.



An hour or so later

That’s it. Enough!

A minute ago I went to check the central heating, walking towards the kitchen.

Behind me a voice said, ‘Charlotte’.

I spun around with a shriek, running backwards. I’m losing my mind – the living room was empty. 

But I’m not even surprised. I’m so ridiculously tired I’m suffering episodes of micro-sleep, practically dreaming while awake. My head’s swimming. Think this was my cue to lie down.



17th February, 04:00: Police station


Things have gone too far. I was wrong: seems I’m not alone up there. It’s the most sobering, surreal eye-opener, to literally fear for your life.

The bell was so loud this time it woke me with a start. After five minutes it stopped. Too drowsy to bother worrying until morning, I rolled over in bed. It took another couple of minutes before I realised a second, faint, scraping noise wasn’t coming from outside.

My body stiffened up. For ages I waited, paralysed in bed, no clue what to do except remain rigid.

Nothing. Silence. The silence went on until it seemed hours had passed, long enough for me to doubt my hearing, to put it down to crazy imaginings and my inexperience of rural surroundings at night. My muscles were slackening on the bed sheets, my forehead, hot and slick with sweat, began to cool, my palms started to unclench and the air let up a little, ceasing to smother me. I wanted so badly to laugh at myself, oh if I could have laughed; what medicine. That’s when a floorboard creaked on the stair.

My breath drew in like a knife. Every fear smashed back a million-fold, sharp, amplified! The stair was right outside my room. I couldn’t have breathed if I’d tried; my diaphragm was a flat sheet of immovable lead. My eyes frantically darted about the bedroom, seeking something to defend myself with, anything! Not a damn thing.

It creaked again, next step now. A small, ever so subtle, careful, creak.

My breathing returned with a vengeance, I sounded like a train speeding up.

Next – not a creak. …A shuffle. A shifting noise, like rough cloth on wood. I heard it with absolute, deafening clarity, clear enough to sense it was two steps from the landing. The next stop was my door.

I don’t know if I’d intended to scream or not, all I can say is it belted out of me like a giant slapping me in the spine; I couldn’t have stopped it, nothing could. The fear bubbled and exploded from me like champagne – I screamed my lungs out.

And I kept on screaming as I shoved every object in the room against the door: my suitcase, bookcase, desk, chair. The dignity terror takes away from you, the raging wreck it made of me, a grown woman. In the midst of panicking I must have phoned the police, because I’m writing this from their waiting room in town with their dispensing machine’s cheap cup of stale coffee in my other hand, which – I can see from the liquid – has nearly stopped trembling. I’m not going back there until morning.



Bright and cheery morning, what a difference!


Bags packed. Taxi booked for the train station. Keys happily dumped through the letterbox.

After a lot of pesky questions on whether I’d locked the doors and windows, did I consume any alcohol in the past ten hours, was I on any medication, and such nonsense, the coppers gave me a lift back. They had to grace to come in with me, saying they’d found no sign of intruders or tampered locks or footprints. It wasn’t until after they left me half an hour ago that I made a peculiar discovery: the room where I slept, plus the staircase, is covered with dust and tatty, abandoned cobwebs. You would think nobody had set foot in there for decades. 

I refuse to critically evaluate whatever the hell’s been going on until I’m comfortably sat in that train seat and well out of dodge. I don’t want to think rationally or irrationally, I just want to get away. Whom do I tell about all this? Who’ll believe me? How do I judge what to believe in myself? When I’m back in Edinburgh I’ll take some friends out for a drink and hope they’ll listen to me without laughing.

It’s amazing how innocent the house, church and graveyard seem on this surprisingly pleasant day. The sun is out, the sea is calm and the waterlogged soil is drying. Maybe it’s the knowledge of my leaving that gives me extra confidence; there are no shadows or dark corners for anything to hide in. Mum was right about one thing, I can’t hear any birds; the seagulls have gone quiet. I’m perched on the graveyard’s wall by the road, and don’t mind telling you that I happened to finally stumble across that silly wee underground crypt thing Mum mentioned. No small wonder I missed it last time, it’s tiny, four or five stone steps down in the earth, and if there is a gate in there somewhere it’s completely obscured by overgrown weeds, three decades worth I suppose. I took some parting pictures in there with my phone all the same. Wait, my phone –.

Bugger! It’s fallen from my pocket. Right, up I get, the cemetery isn’t vast and I have a quarter of an hour before the taxi comes.




Banffshire Record, 21st February 2017


Police Scotland have issued a public appeal for any information on the whereabouts of 36-year-old Charlotte Hill, reported missing from her home in Edinburgh.


Charlotte was last seen at a self-catering holiday home in Banffshire at approximately 8pm on Thursday, February 16. Following the theft and vandalism of her vehicle, Charlotte issued a complaint to local police of intruders in the area only hours before she was last seen.


She is described as 5 foot 6 inches tall, of slim build with brown hair, wearing a grey overcoat and blue jeans.


Friends claim that her failure to contact them is very out of character and ask that she please get in touch as soon as possible. Anyone with any helpful information on Charlotte is urged to call Police Scotland on 101.



Det. Inspector McCready states: “We have recovered a mobile phone and a handwritten journal from the site, which we believe belonged to Miss Hill. In the meantime we ask that anyone in the area who may have been in contact with Miss Hill, please call Police Scotland immediately.”

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