The Carraig Man

Earlier this year, I entered the Fearie Tales competition for “Winter Words” at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. The brief was to write a short horror story of between 2250 and 3250 words. The story also had to have roots in Scotland.

I was really pleased to find out that I had won, and that my story was to be read out at the theatre, which my wife and I went to hear. Now that the competition is over, I can publish that short story here for everyone to read (though Word to WordPress has ruined the formatting and I’ve spent an hour trying to make it look only marginally better…).

Carraig_Man

The Carraig Man

A winter’s evening, perhaps in the Highlands, or perhaps in the Lowlands. You’re in the grassy fields with the standing stones, nearby the village. Just before the sun becomes dull enough to look at, a flash of light on the horizon makes you blink. As you clear away the spots in your vision, you’ll swear that the old man standing by the stones wasn’t there a second ago. After all, that’s just ridiculous: old men don’t just appear out of thin air.

Only that is what just happened.

The Carraig Man is here.

The Carraig Man isn’t a person, like you, or like me. The Carraig Man is something different. The Carraig Man is something else.

The night begins to fall, and you soon forget the sudden appearance of the old man in the field with the standing stones. Much like the many others who behold the Carraig Man, you return to your business and make your way home before the night blankets the village.

The night is dark. The night is cold. Most importantly, the night is long. The Carraig Man has work to do, and it doesn’t like to be rushed.

The Carraig Man makes its way through the village, noting its route as it stops to rest on all of the benches positioned away from the streetlights. The Carraig Man doesn’t visit the same village every night, but that’s not to say that it hasn’t visited yours recently, or that it won’t visit yours again. The Carraig Man has been around for a very long time. Streetlights are something that the Carraig Man is still getting used to.

The Carraig Man finds a place that folk like to gather, hiding in plain sight. A place with low light and secluded corners. A place that the Carraig Man can watch you all, undisturbed.

~

The Carraig Man finds a pub. A gathering where folk can join in with one another, or spend some time alone. The Carraig Man always manages to find a dark corner by itself. The Carraig Man isn’t particularly fond of the light we insist on placing everywhere. The Carraig Man may look like an old fellow at a glance, but if you chance upon spending any amount of time really looking at it, you’ll see that not everything is what you might expect. The Carraig Man’s lips are too thin and too wide, housing a mouth that is larger than you or I would need. Its ears are ever-so-slightly pointed at the top, and the lobes dangle like jelly. The Carraig Man smiles, but it never reveals its teeth, or licks its lips. At least not where everyone can see. The Carraig Man has no eyebrows, but it does have a wiry mass of thick, grey hair, with a double crown. The Carraig Man cannot stand straight, but this is not a frailty.

These are all the features that you should be looking out for on strangers you might meet on the winter nights, but these aren’t features that you’ll be able to see as the Carraig Man watches you from its dimly-lit spot in the hum of the pub at night. If you find yourself in the company of an old man that matches this description, you have met the Carraig Man. It is probably already too late for you.

The Carraig Man nurses a single drink for the entire time it watches you all. The Carraig Man doesn’t much care for alcohol, for it gives him nothing desirable. It drinks only water, and will only begin to sip it when it has thoroughly warmed up from the chill of the tap. The Carraig Man may appear to be nothing more than a lonely old man that drinks alone, but you won’t feel sorry for it unless it wants you to. The Carraig Man works slowly, and it may have been among you all for several hours before it decides which of you it wants.

Eventually, the Carraig Man strikes.

The Carraig Man doesn’t rush in like some ferocious beast or starved animal. The Carraig Man can go for weeks without feeding. The Carraig Man is slow. The Carraig Man is careful. It fixes its gaze upon the one or two of you that it wants. It is never clear what causes the Carraig Man to make its decision, but its decision is always correct. The Carraig Man always gets what it chooses.

It casts quick glances at you with sad-looking eyes. At first they drop away, whenever you happen to meet them. You will feel its eyes on you. It isn’t altogether unpleasant, but it isn’t altogether nice. If you ever happen to notice an old man watching you, face hidden mostly by shadow, circling its long fingers around the rim of a half-full glass of water, as a winter’s night wears on outside, know now that this is the time you should leave, should you wish to avoid meeting with the Carraig Man.

But…

You don’t leave. The old man may be strange, but he is just an old man, and old men aren’t anything to be worried about. Certainly not a decrepit and lonely man, such as the one that sits and drinks alone in a pub. You look back at it, and this time, it meets your gaze. The Carraig Man smiles. The Carraig Man gently waves.

The Carraig Man ignores you for the rest of your evening. Whether you are alone or with friends, the Carraig Man has marked you, and you are now his.

For you, the night begins to draw to an end. For the Carraig Man, its work is just beginning.

As the patrons order their last drinks, and others head off out into the night, the Carraig Man gulps down the last mouthful of its water. For some reason, you notice this act specifically, and you feel that it too, is time for you to leave. As you finish your own drink and begin to say goodbye to those you know, you realise that the old man is no longer sat in the corner. Only an empty glass remains on the table or windowsill. As an inexplicable wave of relief washes over your tired body, a thin but strong hand grabs you by the elbow. Others around you smile and laugh as you realise the old man from the corner has come to see you. The Carraig Man is about to begin its work.

The Carraig Man beckons with a finger that seems to be one knuckle too long, inviting you to step closer. The Carraig Man’s wide lips barely move, but the corners of its eyes curl in a manner that makes you instinctively draw in to listen. You feel its lips brush the edge of your ear. You can’t remember the words that the Carraig Man whispers, but you know that the Carraig Man is old and far from home.

You know that the Carraig Man wants help.

You’re not quite sure where the Carraig Man wants you to take it, but you don’t feel worried and you don’t feel scared. After all, you’re only being asked to get an old man to his home, and good deeds never go unrewarded. Friends might raise their eyebrows, and you might think of your warm, cosy bed. It seems so easy to say no and let the old man find somebody else to take him home. But you don’t say no. You nod your head and agree to help. Everybody does after the Carraig Man whispers to them.

The Carraig Man leads you outside.

The night is dark, and the night is cold. Most importantly for the Carraig Man, the night is long, and it has work to do. Your breath mists around your face, and your journey begins.

The Carraig Man takes your hand. It doesn’t feel strange that you are the one following and it is the one leading. Despite the chill of the night, you feel warmth as the ancient figure leads you by the hand. The Carraig Man takes you through the darkest streets and along the narrowest of alleys. Away from the buzz and glow of the bustling areas of the village. The Carraig Man prefers the shadow. The Carraig Man doesn’t want to be seen. Yet.

You begin to leave the houses behind, via paths you probably never knew existed. The Carraig Man comes to know all of the available routes before he chooses you. The night loses the artificial glow from the windows, replaced with the cold light of the moon and stars. The dark shadows of munros loom to your sides as the Carraig Man carries you away from any house you may have thought it was heading to. It picks up speed. It knows where it is going, and you’re happy to follow along. You think of that warm bed waiting for you after you reach the old man’s destination.

After all, it is just an old man.

The Carraig Man leads you into the field with the standing stones. There is nobody around. There is never anybody around when the Carraig Man is ready to do what he came to do.

You find yourself standing between the stones. You notice the small, circular holes in the top of the stones as the Carraig Man begins to dance around you, all gangly limbs and strands of hair bouncing as they catch the moonlight. He moves slowly, like in a dream.

The Carraig Man stops and looks directly into your eyes.

And the spell is broken.

Fear drenches you. The night feels colder, and that fuzzy kindliness you felt on your walk from the pub vanishes. You are frozen to the spot as the Carraig Man stares. You try to think, but you can’t work out where you are. You don’t remember how to call out, or get attention. You are silent. This is how all of the Carraig Man’s victims behave as its eyes bore into yours.

The Carraig Man shows its teeth.

It lets its tongue slither out of its cavern. The tongue is so long that it makes you shiver, but that tongue is the least of your worries now.

The Carraig Man draws in. You are so terrified that you feel like your heart will explode in your chest. But you don’t run. You can’t run. The Carraig Man has you transfixed.

The Carraig Man drapes a long and slender arm around your neck, fingers brushing the edges of your ears. Its legs straddle yours, and its waist closes in to touch against your belly. The Carraig Man sighs, revelling in the moment, delighted in its success.

For a moment, there is only silence, and depths of the black, liquid eyes that drill into the back of your mind.

The Carraig Man no longer looks like an old man. The Carraig Man looks like what it is. Something different. Something else.

You feel it first in the pit of your stomach. A gentle sucking, of your insides moving upwards. Your stomach is drawn inwards, and the back of your throat tightens. The fingers around the back of your head slide down and grip more firmly around your neck. The other hand caresses gently up and down the length of your spine. Its misshapen face is the single most terrifying and beautiful thing you have ever seen, or will see ever again. The pain begins, but the fingers on your back somehow calm you. They stop you from screaming out. The air disappears from your lungs and won’t return. You see your hands pushing against the chest of the Carraig Man. They appear pale and thin. Veins protrude. Your legs begin to shake, and you start to feel less… there, than you were a moment ago. Your head falls back into the Carraig Man’s hands as it draws out the very essence of your being. Your eyes slide back and stare up into the night sky above. You watch the moon as it charts its long journey across the night sky.

The Carraig Man doesn’t like to be rushed.

You feel smaller. Lower. The Carraig Man towers over you. The pain is gone. You are almost gone. You linger on the cold precipice of nothingness. You think of your nice, warm bed. It is still there, whether or not you will be joining it.

You realise that you are looking up at the blades of grass, at the underside of the Carraig Man’s chin as it stares out into the remainder of the night. You feel a momentary pang of sadness and loss as you realise that this is the end and you were powerless to stop it. You close your eyes for the last time as the red light of the morning creeps over.

~

The Carraig Man stands between the standing stones in the field and looks down at the empty pile of clothes its victim once wore. As it stares at them, the grass and dirt claim them, dragging them below and out of sight.

The Carraig Man places a hand on one of the standing stones. Two fingers, one knuckle too long on each, push through the hole in the stone as the two either side press up against the lichen-covered roughness. The tip of the orb that is the sun crests the horizon, and for the briefest of moments there is a flash. As the flash fades, and early passers-by rub their eyes, they wonder where the old man has gone that they saw in the field, among the standing stones. After all, that’s just ridiculous: old men don’t just vanish out of thin air.

Only that is what just happened.

The Carraig Man was here.

The Carraig Man isn’t a person, like you, or like me. The Carraig Man is something different. The Carraig Man is something else.

The Carraig Man will appear again. Perhaps in the Highlands, or perhaps in the Lowlands. The Carraig Man will return. There is always work to be done.