Send it to them I did. It was accepted and published by an American print magazine called The Willows in December 2008.
Approximate reading time: 25 minutes.
Gary Jarman wondered what people found so intimidating about graveyards. He liked them. The one he was standing in lay some way removed from the small Highland community which it served and he felt quite at peace there. It was situated, along with the small church to which it was attached, on an isolated patch of moorland to the side of a narrow lane that climbed gently out of the village, having first crossed a deep ravine by way of an ancient stone bridge.
It was late afternoon in mid-October and the heavy grey sky had brought the onset of an early twilight. A profound sense of stillness held him enthralled. The Highland air was damp and unmoving. It carried the subtle and seductive scent that is peculiar to the mountains, where purity reigns and the paraphernalia of people pales into insignificance. He looked up at those mountains, forbidding in their scale and the harshness of their edges, yet somehow welcoming to the spirit that understands them.
He looked around at the scattered gravestones. He knew that each little plot held at least one body that was once a human life, but now lay as cold and impassive as the stone monument that carried its name. He recalled the dry, paper-thin husks of pupa cases. The butterflies they once imprisoned have long since flown to freedom in some spiritual sky, he thought.
And yet there was more. He took comfort from sharing this little piece of ground with so many people of the past, people whose energies had long since moved on but who were still there, in body if not in spirit. He decided that there was an atmosphere about graveyards that was essentially friendly. It might be only a community of empty husks, but that was a community of sorts and he felt content to be welcomed into their midst. He moved among the plots, reading the headstones and trying to piece together the relationships and the human dramas they hinted at.
The light fell further and he decided it was time to make his way back to the hotel in the village. As he approached the gate he noticed a small grave standing apart from the others. It looked lonely. The occupant, it seemed, was not welcome here. It had no headstone, just a small wooden cross like the kind you might find on a new grave; and yet the tangle of weeds colonising the plot testified to the fact that there was nothing new about it. Closer inspection revealed that there was no inscription either. And, oddest of all, it was aligned north-south. The other plots were all arranged unerringly in the traditional east-west manner, with the headstone at the western end so that the rising souls might face the coming Christ on Judgment Day. The occupant of this grave had been afforded no such hope.
He left and walked back down the lane towards the bridge. The premature twilight had already given way to deep dusk and a growing sense of sadness sank into his mind as he approached the old stone structure. He shivered, and another sensation entered at the same moment. There was somebody behind him. He turned to face the narrow lane winding its way up to the remote little graveyard. There was still enough light to be sure that he was quite alone on the road.
He turned again and walked onto the bridge. The water sang out loudly in the darkness of the gorge below, splashing and spluttering among the boulders. He looked over the parapet but could see little. His sadness deepened. He began to feel empty, his sense of self draining into the cold, clammy air. He became slightly dizzy, and the song of the water seemed to call to him. He felt an impulse to be down among it, dancing with it on its frenzied course among the rocks. He shook the feeling off, marvelling at the power that the elements and our brief encounters have to drive our moods to unusual extremes.
His spirits lifted as he moved among the lights of the village, and the walk into the warm and welcoming lobby of the hotel completed the transition to normality. He bathed, changed his clothes, read for a while and then went down to the bar for a meal and a drink.
He sat talking to the barman while he waited for his food to be prepared. The barman was a young Australian. He was working at the hotel for a couple of months to help pay for his backpacking trip around Europe. Among the plethora of idle chit chat, Gary mentioned the graveyard and the unmarked grave.
“Yeah, I noticed that,” offered the barman with some passing enthusiasm. “They reckon it’s a young woman. Used to work in this place ’til the stock-take didn’t add up, then she got fired. They found her body down by the river one day. The older folks reckoned she was a witch; that’s why they buried her the wrong way round. Old superstitions, eh?”
“How long ago was that?”
“Dunno mate. Few years, I think.”
Gary felt troubled as he ate his meal, but shrugged it off and had an undisturbed night’s sleep.
The following morning he set off for a planned hike over the mountain that rose to the west of the village. The weather was very different from the day before. The sky was partly clear, but a constant stream of grey and white clouds scudded busily across it. The wind had risen to a brisk north easterly and it was noticeably colder. It was dry, however, and he was well prepared in warm clothing.
He didn’t enjoy the day as much as he had hoped. The views were spectacular in places, and yet his heart wasn’t in it. Maybe it was due to the stinging wind, several degrees colder at the higher levels, which made his right ear ache for most of the walk. He felt relieved when his boots set foot on the lane about a mile north of the village. There was still some daylight left and the final fifteen minutes or so would see him settled in the warmth of the hotel before nightfall.
He quickened his step, only slowing it as he approached the churchyard. He stopped for a few minutes and wondered whether to pay another visit to the mysterious grave. He decided against it and hurried on.
As he approached the bridge he felt again the onset of a deep sadness. He was surprised, since there was nothing to explain it this time. The sense of being followed came with it too, sending a prickly sensation up his spine. He swung around to face the empty road. It brought the wind full into his face, and he thought he heard an incongruous sound carried on it. It was the sound of gentle sobbing. A woman’s voice, it seemed, although he knew it could have no human source. It was just some odd acoustic illusion.
Nevertheless, he felt even more disturbed than the day before and was reluctant to set foot on the bridge. He looked along its length and could see no hazard of any kind. He told himself he was just being fanciful. The wind seemed to be offering him encouragement; it was at his back now and was trying to push him gently onwards. He took a deep breath and strode forward.
He started walking quickly, but found his pace slowing as the sadness deepened to something approaching desolation. He stopped and listened to the rushing water again. Such a song it sang: incessant, tuneless, and yet profoundly beautiful. He walked over to the parapet and looked down into the gorge. He could see the tumbling river clearly in the daylight. The way the greys and greens of the static rocks contrasted with the white foam of the ever-moving water filled him with a deep understanding. How permanent is the state of being, and yet how temporal the life that constantly moves through it. And does that life ever die? Of course it doesn’t; it simply changes into a different form before returning to run the cycle all over again. How terrible it must be, he thought, to be the water in a stagnant pool.
The longing to fall down into the abyss grew stronger and he stood there for several minutes, wracked with conflict. More dizziness came with it and he felt himself growing weak. The wind began to rise and fall, rhythmically it seemed, and each time it rose he thought he heard an airy voice whispering in his ear. “Jump, jump, jump,” it commanded.
A car came down the road and hooted a loud warning, since the way was narrow and there was no footpath. The sound jerked him abruptly out of his dark reverie. He looked at the blue Land Rover as it drove slowly past. The instinct for survival gained ground and he followed the vehicle quickly off the bridge.
His mood in the bar that night was sombre. Any thought of leaping headlong into the gorge had gone, but the bridge itself was ever in his mind. He’d heard that folk tales from Scandinavia told of creatures that lived under bridges and lured travellers to their deaths; and this one was in the Scottish Highlands where elemental forces seem to have closer communion with the physical world than they do elsewhere. He wondered whether the place might be haunted by some dark, destructive spirit. Maybe that was what had lured the young woman to her death. Maybe now it wanted another victim. The thought ran constantly through his mind as he sipped his drink.
There was a young couple on the other side of the room, appearing relaxed in one another’s company. He glanced in their direction a few times, but paid them scant attention. Apart from them, he was the only occupant of the bar.
His metaphysical speculations stopped abruptly when the woman shrieked with laughter at something her companion had said. Gary laughed inwardly at himself. Such fanciful notions could be nothing more than a source of amusement in the modern world. He made a vow to himself, too: he would cross the bridge again tomorrow to lay this troublesome ghost stirred up by his own imagination. He would even go into the graveyard to make the job complete.
The following day dawned wet. Gary ate his breakfast at a table placed by the window in the upstairs dining room. He watched the dull mass of unbroken grey drift slowly across the sky. He looked at the tiny, jewelled raindrops standing precariously on the outside of the glass. Occasionally one of them would capitulate under its own weight and slither downwards, expending itself before it reached the bottom of the frame. He thought of the cycles of life again, of permanence, mutability and finality. He decided not to walk that day, but to drive instead to a craft centre he had heard about. Before he did anything else, though, he intended to deal with his ghost.
He took his time over breakfast. He felt relaxed and in true holiday mood. Nothing needed to be hurried and he finished his meal with two cups of rich coffee. He collected his anorak and went out to make the short walk up the hill.
The rain was modest, but manageable. He zipped the coat up to his chest, pulled on the capacious hood and began the shallow climb. He crossed the bridge without breaking his stride. The singing of the river was deeper and more powerful than the previous day. He knew it would be in spate from the water running off the hills. No doubt its course would be faster and more aggressive than usual. He didn’t bother to look; the urge to do so had disappeared. The bridge had lost its power it seemed, now that he had decided to exorcise it.
He arrived at the graveyard and pushed open the rusty, wrought iron gate. He was surprised to see that somebody else was in there, tending a plot over to his left. He stood and watched her for a few seconds, and she turned to look at him. A woman in her mid forties, he judged, dressed in an all-enveloping sou’wester like the sort he associated with fishermen. The shiny black cowl framed her face, but failed to hide the few strands of red hair that hung down her forehead. And, even at the ten yards of distance that separated them, he could see that her eyes were coloured the light blue of an early morning sky. She turned back to her work, and Gary walked over to the solitary, unmarked grave.
It looked even more desolate in the rain. Not only was the plot itself soiled by the browning detritus of summer weed growth, but the area around it was less well husbanded than the rest of the graveyard. The boundaries of this final resting place were becoming lost in the general babble of untended ground. Who was this young woman, he thought. What had she done that the locals continued to shun her even now, when she was clearly beyond being able to cause them any concern? He looked closely at the wooden cross, seeking some indication that somebody cared. There was none, and he stood back to gaze in sadness at the sorry sight.
“Her name is Glenda McMurdo.”
Gary swung around to face the red haired woman. She was standing almost at his shoulder, her blue Highland eyes burning into his and her hands thrust deep into the pockets of her coat. Her head was set at a slight angle.
“You should be careful not to tarry here too long. She is watching you.”
“Yes, watching you. She is The Watcher, you see. She was the last one to be buried in this graveyard, and the last one buried has to be The Watcher until someone else is brought in to take over.”
“Oh, right.” Gary struggled to know what the proper reaction to such a statement might be, but at least he would be able to get some answers to his questions. “I was told she was a witch.”
The woman’s eyes continued to hold his for what seemed like a long time. There was power in them, but it was an honest power; he felt no threat or malice.
“No, she was not a witch. If she had been, she would have been a very good witch. She had a level of psychic energy that I have never encountered before, not even here in the Highlands. That is why you shouldn’t tarry too long. She might – what should we say – take an interest in you.”
The final sentence made Gary’s skin creep. Ordinarily he would have found such a statement mildly amusing. But there was something about the woman’s sincerity, and something about the power of her eyes, that persuaded him to take her seriously.
“What sort of an interest?”
The woman regarded him intensely again for several long seconds. Her brow furrowed slightly, as though she were questioning the rightness of something. She looked around the graveyard, and then said suddenly
“There is an old sheiling a few steps across the moor. We can shelter from the rain there and I’ll tell you a story.”
“Why not the church? It’s closer.”
“That’s the problem. Come with me.”
Gary felt that no option was being offered. The woman walked quickly to the gate and he followed. She crossed the road and struck out across the moor which sloped downwards, before rising again to meet the side of a majestic mountain. They strode briskly, and soon the ramshackle roof of a stone building came into view. It was only a hundred yards ahead and his companion made straight for the opening where a door had once hung.
“Come into the body of the kirk,” she joked as she crossed to the far corner.
A little of the roof remained intact there and provided some shelter from the rain. She removed her hood and Gary followed suit. Then she reached inside her coat and pulled a thermos flask from an inner pocket.
“Would you like some tea? There is no sugar, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, thanks. I don’t take sugar.”
They sat on the damp ground and the woman poured two cups of steaming tea, handing the larger of the plastic receptacles to Gary. They both sipped their brew enthusiastically. Gary felt surprisingly comfortable, despite the smell of damp earth that assailed his nostrils and the chill air that made his fingers tingle. The hot tea helped.
“I thought it better that I shouldn’t tell you this story in front of Glenda,” the woman began.
“You really believe she’s there then, in the graveyard?”
His companion gave him that look again. Of course she was sure. Gary nodded apologetically. The woman began the tale.
“Glenda McMurdo was born twenty years ago, the daughter of an honest farmer and a mother whose reputation was nothing to be proud of. When she was three years old her father died in an accident. Her mother took the child to her brother, Glenda’s uncle you understand, and then disappeared. It was said that she’d gone to seek her ‘fortune,’ if you’ll excuse the euphemism, in one of the cities down south.
“Glenda was such a bonny child. Long black hair that hung like a horse’s main, clear complexion, beautiful, haunting, dark blue eyes... There was some talk of her not being her father’s daughter at all, but the child of an Irish labourer who had worked on the farm during the appropriate spring. And she had spirit. She was proud and independent, even at that age.
“Her upbringing at the hands of her uncle does not bear description. No one knew what was going on at the time. Or, if they did, they kept it quiet. Such is the way in close communities.
“Glenda was forever running away from home, forever having to be taken back, kicking and screaming, to that torture chamber and that appalling man whose depravity knew no bounds. I only came to know the truth many years later.
“All through her childhood she used to come into my shop – I have kept the newsagents by the crossroads for seventeen years now. She seemed to trust me and tell me things, even though she had a reputation for being quiet and withdrawn. She used to tell me about the conversations she had with the kelpies out on the moor, and down by the old bridge. She was often found under the bridge when she ran away from home. She said that she had a friend there, of whom she was very fond.
“And I believed her. I couldn’t disbelieve her. The power of her presence forced it upon me. Besides, she never told lies. She was forever taking punishments at school because she always told the truth when questioned about her misdemeanours. And there were plenty of those. The older she got, the more rebellious and mischievous she became.
“She left school at sixteen without a piece of paper to her name. She was bright enough, of course. She had natural intelligence in abundance. She’d just never bothered. The view of life that the education system teaches is all about conforming. Glenda was not a conformist. And there was no way she could subscribe to the rigid and mundane attitudes they tried to foist upon her. She had no time for the treadmill that convention says we should walk. She wanted to know why she was here, what her dreams meant, where the dead go. She wanted to be out among the wind, the wild heather and the denizens of the deeper places. She wanted to know about the things that have no place in the school curriculum.
“One afternoon, about a week after she left school, she walked into my shop carrying a large bag. She asked if she could move into my spare room. I was doubtful at first, until she told me a few things about her uncle. She’d never mentioned such things before. That clinched it; I had a lodger. The problem was that I could only offer to house and feed her, she would need to get an income for everything else. I couldn’t give her a job because that would have meant sacking my part time assistant, which wouldn’t have been fair.
“She didn’t mind that. She wanted to be independent anyway, she said. She was proficient enough in the three R’s and felt she’d be able to get something, somewhere. The following day she announced that she’d been to see Hamish at the hotel and he’d given her some bar work, at least until the tourist season wound down at the end of October.
“I think that was her undoing. I said she was a bonny child, didn’t I? By the age of sixteen she’d grown into a woman to be reckoned with. She was tall, graceful, ethereal, and had the kind of beauty that draws men like bears to a honey pot. She had a wonderful singing voice too. I suggested once that she might try using it to make a living. She declined, saying that her voice had been given to her by nature and she would only ever sing to herself and the natural world. And her eyes! There’s an expression the Irish have: ‘her eyes would tickle a daisy.’ Glenda’s eyes could tickle a daisy one minute and blow the moon out of its orbit the next.
“Within a month she was gaining a reputation. Nobody spoke openly to me about it; they knew how close to her I was – just lots of hints, sly glances and tutting. But the impression I got was that several men were thought to have been the recipients of Glenda’s favours – itinerant barmen, tourists, possibly even Hamish himself, heaven forbid! There was no proof, of course, and Glenda said nothing.
“And I heard that there was talk of her being a witch. Only the most diehard of sceptics – and there are not many of those in this part of the world – could fail to recognise her psychic gifts. Combine that with her independent spirit, her enviable physical attributes, and her presumed ability to seduce men effortlessly, and I suppose it should come as no surprise that the local puritans would draw the darkest of conclusions.
“Glenda didn’t quite make it to the end of October. She came home one day and said that Hamish had fired her. He’d accused her of stealing from the till. She denied it and that was good enough for me. I wanted to go and confront him, but she forbade it vehemently. I knew there was something else going on, but she stayed silent when I questioned her. I never did find out – not for certain, anyway.
“And she never got another job. She spent the days walking in the hills - pretty much whatever the weather - and the nights sitting by my old range talking to me about life and the never-ending questions it throws up. And she still claimed she had friends among the fairy folk up on the moor. It was during those couple of months that I really came to understand just how powerful a spirit she was. Sometimes the look in her eyes was so far away that she could have been on another planet.
“In the middle of December, shortly after her seventeenth birthday, she said she was going to make the trip to Inverness. She hadn’t spent much of the money she’d earned at the hotel and said she needed to get a few things. I never saw her alive again.
“When she didn’t come home that night I naturally felt anxious, but not unduly concerned. Expecting the unexpected was the norm with Glenda. Over the next few days I scoured the hills myself, half expecting to find her talking to an empty piece of ground. I didn’t. I asked my regulars whether anybody had seen her. They shook their heads. I think they were hoping they’d seen the last of her.
“After a week I called the police. They put their routines into operation and I just had to wait. It was a tough time, and yet I was never as worried as I felt I should have been. I just knew, somehow, that she was still alive and fending for herself somewhere. The police drew a blank and there were no reported sightings, but that didn’t surprise me. I swear Glenda could have made herself literally invisible if she’d wanted to.
“The winter passed, the spring came on, and then summer arrived. The place was full of tourists as usual and Glenda began to feel like a distant memory. Until one night in July.
“I woke up suddenly in the early hours of the morning. The sky was just beginning to lighten and I was sure I’d heard her calling my name. I got up and looked out of the window, expecting her to be looking up at me, wanting to be let in. My heart was pounding, but the street was empty. And this is the bit that’s difficult to explain. I realised that she wasn’t out in the street. I could feel her standing behind me, putting her hands on my shoulders. I felt a deep sense of sorrow and knew that something was terribly wrong. I turned around and, needless to say, I was alone in the room. At least, there was nothing to see or touch physically.
“I didn’t even try to go back to sleep. I was so full of sadness and anxiety that I was at a loss to know what to do with myself. A few hours later there was a knock at the door. I knew before I opened it what I was going to be told. A policewoman was standing there. She asked if she could come in. ‘Do you need to?’ I asked her. ‘You’ve found a body, haven’t you?’
“She told me that the body of a young woman had been spotted by an early walker that morning, lying at the foot of the bridge. The description fitted Glenda and they wanted me to go and identify her.
“She was lying under a sheet by the side of the river. They pulled it back and I nodded. They didn’t show me anything else, but the policewoman came back to the house and told me the fuller story.
“They’d found her with no apparent injuries. It seems she hadn’t jumped or fallen. But she had a newborn baby cradled in her arms, with the placenta still attached. He was dead too. The pathologist later said he’d been born alive.”
The woman halted her tale and brought the tea up to her lips. The pain of remembering showed in the red rims around her damp eyes. Gary said nothing. He understood that the moment needed silence. And then she continued.
“The post mortem revealed that the baby had died of asphyxiation – naturally, it seems, from a blockage of mucous in his windpipe. But they were unable to positively identify the cause of Glenda’s death. It seems she’d just stopped living. Some of the locals made much of that fact, of course. They said she’d been struck down by the wrath of God. My theory is that the baby died first and her spirit just wanted to go with him. If that is the case, it was a terrible mistake to make.
“But there it was. Glenda was gone and there was a funeral to be taken care of. I could have left it to the state to give her a pauper’s burial, but I felt it only right that somebody should take proper responsibility for her. I rifled my own savings and paid for everything.
“When I got to the church for the funeral I was shocked. Apart from the undertakers’ staff, there were only three people in attendance: the minister and the two gravediggers. What really astonished me, though, was that they had dug the plot north-south. I asked the minister why he would do such a thing. He looked embarrassed and told me he’d been approached by some of the local dignitaries – good Presbyterians all - who had insisted that Glenda was a witch and it was only proper that she be buried that way. Having less backbone than an earthworm, he had approached his superiors and been granted the necessary sanction. ‘But the baby is to be buried in the same plot,’ I pointed out. ‘Is he to be treated as a witch too?’ What did the minister do? He shrugged.
“And then I saw the irony in it, and laughed. Glenda had always been out of step with the world anyway, and she had never believed in any day of judgment. She would probably have been more than content to be buried a different way round to everybody else. I asked the minister to lay her head at the southern end, so she could sit up and watch the Aurora when it splashed the northern sky. At least he agreed to do that for her.
“He and I went into the church and the service was performed quickly. The undertakers’ men did their job, and then I left to allow the gravediggers to do theirs. I walked home and felt very lonely sitting on my own that night. I hoped I would feel Glenda’s presence again, but of course that was no longer possible. She had become The Watcher. Local tradition has it that The Watcher can only walk abroad as far as the bridge. They say the water is a barrier to keep the village folk safe from the lonely spirit’s desire to be among them.
“So that is the story of Glenda McMurdo.”
The woman sipped her tea again. Gary had finished his. He felt the need to say something, but could only muster “poor girl” by way of a meagre attempt to demonstrate understanding. They sat in silence for a few minutes, and then Gary asked a question.
“Why is there no headstone?”
“She wouldn’t have wanted one. It smacks too much of a sense of belonging. Glenda never belonged to any place or anybody.”
“So who put the cross there?”
“I don’t know. It appeared mysteriously a couple of weeks after the funeral. I have my suspicions. I think it might have something to do with the reason Hamish fired her.”
“I see.” Gary nodded knowingly. “Presumably, the verger doesn’t tend the plot because of Glenda’s reputation.”
“No one but me will go near the plot. They’re afraid of her.”
“Couldn’t you tend it?”
“I could, but therein lies another irony. Glenda wouldn’t want her plot tending. She’d be happier lying among the tangle of wild growth, gradually becoming one with nature. Her grave will disappear altogether one day.”
There was more silence as they both regarded the damp ground surrounding them. Gary had a final question.
“You said she might show an interest in me. What sort of an interest did you mean?”
A troubled expression came into the woman’s eyes. She leaned forward and looked earnestly into his.
“Glenda has been bound to the earth for three years now. I see her sometimes, when the light is low in the evening and the mist hugs the moor around the graveyard. She is always indistinct, of course, but it’s her all right. Sometimes she is pacing to and fro, wringing her hands. Sometimes she is sitting on the ground, sobbing. She is desperate to be set free, and there is only one way that can happen. Someone else must die and be buried in the graveyard. I told you how powerful she was, psychically I mean. I have little doubt that she still has that power, possibly even more so. She won’t do anything to me, I’m almost family, but she might work her power on a stranger’s mind. Scoff if you like. You didn’t know Glenda.”
Gary wasn’t scoffing. He was remembering his experiences on the bridge.
“Would she really do such a thing? She doesn’t sound like a vindictive sort.”
“Ordinarily, probably not; but there is one fact that could make all the difference. Glenda and her baby were buried together, but not in the same coffin. The minister insisted that they had separate ones. He also insisted that the child be buried first. He might pretend not to believe in the old superstitions, but he paid due heed to that one. He made sure that Glenda was the last one buried. And so, you see, she doesn’t only have the earth to escape, she has her son to go to as well. How strong do you think such a need is to a young mother?”
“But even if I – or any other stranger – died here, I wouldn’t be buried in the churchyard. They’d take my body home.”
“I doubt she would know that. Such procedures are not something she would ever have thought about.”
Gary decided he should tell his companion about his experiences on the bridge. She listened with mounting interest. When he finished, she looked away for a few seconds and shook her head.
“Then you must not visit Glenda’s grave again. And you must not walk over the bridge alone. I’ve done all I need to do for today. I’ll walk back to the village with you.”
They retraced their steps across the moor, deviating slightly to arrive at the road a little way below the graveyard. The rain had turned to a heavy drizzle, and the mist that covered the moor obscured the peaks of the surrounding mountains. As they began to walk towards the village, Gary felt the familiar tingle and looked back. His companion folded her arm into his.
“I know,” she said. “Come on.”
They walked steadily and silently down the wet road. Gary felt nervous, and the woman glanced at him a couple of times. And then, as they were within yards of setting foot on the bridge, they both stopped and turned. Whatever there was to be felt had entered both of them.
“Do you see her?” whispered the woman. Gary nodded.
The outline of the church was but a grey facsimile in the mist, and the landscape beyond it faded into emptiness. But there, standing proud among the bland canvas, was a glowing, golden shimmer. The woman half raised her hand and waved. There was no response. She turned to Gary.
“You’re safe now,” she said.
Even before they reached the front door of the hotel, Gary had decided to check out and move on. He offered his earnest thanks to the woman and asked whether she would do him a favour. Would she take a note of his address and let him know when the graveyard received a new arrival? Having heard the story of Glenda, he felt that the knowledge of her terrible predicament would always haunt him until he learned of her release. The woman agreed and promised to keep the scrap of paper safe.
* * *
Gary’s release was to come quickly. Only a month after his trip to Scotland he received a letter. It sought to inform him that a funeral had taken place in the village graveyard. The deceased was none other than Hamish, the hotel owner. Further, his informant thought he might be interested to hear the circumstances of the man’s death, as reported by his wife in the days that followed.
It seems he had sat up in bed one night, sweating and babbling incoherently. His eyes had carried a look of stark terror and all attempts by his wife to calm him had failed. Eventually he had gripped his chest, emitted the most terrible roar of pain and fallen back onto his pillow, dead. The post mortem had revealed evidence of a massive coronary thrombosis.
The letter continued with the opinion that Glenda might finally have got her priorities right, and it seemed she might have overcome the barrier that was meant to keep her safely beyond the pale. Glenda had never been the sort to be constrained by barriers, it concluded.