As The Crow Flies
a story by
Midnight had long passed. It rained 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, Iain, the man in the brand new Hillman Imp knew intimately this single-track road from Torrin to Broadford. He had no idea he was getting sloppy, but he did concede that he felt tired. He welcomed the thought of his warm bed.
Just as his eyes got heavier, Iain became aware that he was about to pass the old haunted graveyard. The realization 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. Iain squinted at the timepiece he pulled from his coat pocket.
Two o’clock. Was that the time?
The witching hour. His grip on the steering wheel became tighter.
Had Iain still been in a stupor, he might 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. They pierced the rain and headed straight for him.
Iain slammed his brakes, veering to the other side of the road to avoid lurching forward and flying through the windscreen. When his car finally screeched to a halt, he sat for what seemed to him an eternity, his fingers and forehead glued to the steering wheel. It was only when he lifted his head that he realized he had no idea which direction he was facing. Whatever that thing was, it had pulled up and over just in time.
But even though the danger appeared to be over, his 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. At this moment he wondered if she was right. He reached for the glove compartment and pulled out the leather-bound Bible that his mother insisted he keep with him at all times. Without his spectacles, he drew comfort just from holding it. He recited the Lord’s Prayer until his heartbeat settled. Then 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 his car to investigate, Iain 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 his house, his parents were asleep. He imagined himself to be as quiet as a mouse.
It was breakfast and an hour past sunrise. Iain’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’s fixation on Iain through rings of pipe smoke from the opposite end of the table made the ticking of the grandmother clock on the back wall seem unnaturally loud. He felt nervous. His mother muttered some inaudible excuse and headed outside with a basket of clean washing. Once certain that she was no longer in earshot, Iain’s father leaned over the table.
“Is there anything you would like to tell me?”
Iain scanned his memory. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Well, how do I put it? His father emitted a long puff as he tried to find the right words. “Have you done anything?”
Now Iain’s heart beat faster. Something was clearly not right.
“Done anything? I still don’t know what you mean.”
“Did you do anything you shouldn’t have? Last night to be exact.”
Murky half-faded images from the night before sought form in Iain’s 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. His look of guilt was unmistakable. “Will you please tell me what you’re talking about?”
“You really don’t know?”
“No! Now will you please tell me! I don’t want to be late for work.”
Iain’s father drew long and hard on his pipe. He was clearly going to stretch this out. “Well, Iain, you must have done something. Not long after you came back to the house, your room window rattled mightily.”
“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 black bird trying to get in. It made one godalmighty commotion, flapping its wings and pecking at the glass.” He lowered his voice to a near whisper. “It was trying to break the window.”
Iain’s fingers trembled, his face ashen, when he stubbed out his last cigarette of the morning. “Really?”
M.K. MacInnes is a writer from the Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands who now lives in the south of Edinburgh. She has enjoyed a long and muddled career path that has seen her also living in Glasgow, Cumbria, and France. It has only taken thirty-odd (yes, very odd!) years to be reunited with her lost love—writing. Her specialty is writing stories that explore the phenomenon of synchronicity and the relationship between belief, perception, and reality, and drawing on the real-life experiences of herself and others. As such, her penchant is to blur the lines between memoir and fiction. Her first short story collection, Close Call: Short and Bittersweet is currently available on Amazon.