I’m cold, so cold.
I lie in the moor for warmth. The icy frost crystals cut and sting my skin like they always do but the ice is warmer than me.
I’ve been alone for so long, so many years. I’m only young. I think I’m young. When you’ve seen your father cut down, sabres though his guts and lungs; a boot stamped on his throat while he writhed on the ground – can you still count yourself young?
I’m hungry, so hungry.
I’m empty, thin, little more than a shadow. The girl of nothing. A wraith with a phantom of a body.
I love running. It doesn’t bring warmth. There’s no warmth for me. Running doesn’t take me to the town. I can’t go there as I am.
Thin ice cracks under my bare feet. Peat-stained water flies up around them, splashing red and brown, running in lines down my legs. I dance from one clump of frosty rushes to another. If I tread hard, crystals fly and skitter over ice.
No one knows Sanquhar Moor better than me. But who has spent seven whole years living in it day and night yet never needing to sleep?
Seven years, seven months, seven days … nearly seven hours too.
The moon is up. The full moon. It spangles light over bands of the highest, thinnest cloud.
The sun dipped behind the summit of Corsencon over three hours ago. Night is here.
I throw myself forwards – into the sucking mire. I can swim in it. No one wants to swim in liquid peat except those people … those terrified people who took a pace too far from solid ground … those who want to live a few moments longer.
I hear voices. I go towards them. I’m fast. The sheep don’t care; don’t panic even if my legs pass within an inch of their noses. A fox stops, sniffs the air, stares this way and that, not knowing where to look.
The ground is rougher now. Tall grass and rushes among tracks made by carts trying to avoid the muddy areas.
I’m over the first drystone wall, dash across frozen puddles and crouch behind the next stones. Rough piled stones, with ridges of frost at the edges, hide me from the people talking on the other side.
Low, murmuring voices reading from the true Bible come from the field beyond.
The real Bible, the King James Bible. Whenever I stand, sit, walk or run, my hand is still curled as if carrying it. But my own Bible rotted away with my clothes and body; my ghost of a hand holds only a wish and a memory.
In that field beyond, my father read from my copy of the true Bible. Nearly forty souls died with him in the massacre that night.
But I escaped; my father threw me over this wall. I ran across the moor. The horse dragoons thundering and shouting behind me.
I never let go of my Bible in the chase.
I’ll bet none of the heathen English dragoons carried one. They carry The Bible of King Charles. They think themselves superior, able to cut down the covenanters, man, woman and child. They think God is on their side.
The covenanter congregation under the towering Scots pines is small today. No children. I wonder why. I peer through gaps, try to recognise faces but it’s dark. Voices come and go, snatched by ragged gusts and squalls.
Lower voices today, quieter than usual, tinged with fear.
Men shout to the sound of swords drawn. Locks snap, muskets roar, red and orange flashes on the bark of the trees.
Screams and the thud of heavy boots. If only I could help. I’d tear limbs off the dragoons. They’d die of fear as soon as look at me.
But I can’t show myself. I can’t be seen like this, not by my people.
A man crashes against the wall, tumbles over, a discharged pistol falling from his hand. I smell blood. Fresh and warm.
John Geddes, just a boy when I died, falls among the rushes, crashes on frozen ground. Frost crystals burst into a cloud around him. The scarf round his neck didn’t stop the blade that slew him. His eyes are dull already.
I touch his forehead. ‘Bless you, John Geddes. May you go with God as you went with him.’
Shouts from the field, an order, ‘MacMahon, pursue that woman.’
MacMahon? Is this how this is to be played out? The very same man that rode me down those seven years ago? The man who killed my father.
Thank you, angels: I am ready.
Since I was slashed to death by swords I have rarely uttered a single word but now they fly to my tongue.
‘Death to the ungodly, the bastard Antichrist. King Charles is already in Hell. Death to Cromwell and his fellow demons. Death and damnation to you all.’
Throwing myself from the wall I head over the next and into the deeper shadows, into my dark and secret hollows of the moor.
Three horses jump the walls, hooves clattering on the topmost stones, striking sparks in the dark. Rocks thud around the body of John Geddes.
I shout again, leading the riders on.
The man in front shouts, ‘It’s a girl. Cut the heathen bitch down.’
High above, near God, the silvered cloud drifts aside. The moon throws shadows of my limbs and flying hair on the glittering ground.
I’m too fast. I stop to let the thundering of hooves gain on me. The three men are young, almost boys. So, not the man that killed me after all.
My pact with the angels stops soon. They will know how this ends, how their will be done.
But first I must run again, draw the horses’ snorts and the clatter of metal towards me. My, how silent the dragoons were before they fell upon my people, how noisy they are now.
My feet smash the ice from the first big puddle, moon and starlight glimmering on the tumbling shards. I am so close to where I was cut to death; so close to the place I shouted to MacMahon that I would bring down the wroth of Heaven to destroy him.
I cry out, pretend to fall. The dragoons are nearly upon me.
I’m up again. I want to laugh and dance. Instead I play scared, stiff limbs, head turning this way and that, wet hair flying out and slapping my face.
Turning, I run the last few paces.
One man is ahead of the others. They will be safe if they stop but one is all I need. I’m standing, unmoving, watching destruction.
His sword rises, a flash of broad steel. Mud explodes from the bog. The horse throws its head back, plants all four hooves on hope but not substance. It turns, legs flailing, and crashes to its side. The liquid peat rises in a wave and patters down, drumming on the ice and water.
Time for me to dive, to swim, to find the man’s legs and pull him down. But not too deep. I want my moment to last.
He’s struggling, kicking, churning up the peat and mud, making it thick and strong. It grips him, sucks him down.
My nails grow to talons, teeth to slashing fangs. I haul my way up his chest.
What must he see? A shadow-girl, white fangs and glowing eyes. How must he feel?
What do I see? He looks just like his father … and I am God’s wroth.
He’s screaming. The men behind hold back. They’re shouting, asking if he’s all right, saying they’ll go back and break up a gate, crawl out and rescue him.
His arms flail trying to keep his head above the surface. I grip his elbows; he shrieks at my unearthly power and his pain.
I slide my hands up and break both his arms below the shoulders.
He howls in torment and calls out, ‘Shamus, the very devil is here.’
More shouts and calls from the dragoons but I’m not heeding just looking at the son of MacMahon.
I slide sodden hair from my face, stroke his jaw, my talons hissing over stubble.
‘MacMahon. You lie on the very spot your father cut me down.’
He shouts, ‘A she-demon has me. Please, God, help me.’
I whisper, ‘Oh, MacMahon, you forsook God when you defied the Scots covenant, took the blasphemous Bible and allied with the shades of Hell.’
He slips lower but I’m strong. I lift him so his end won’t be too quick.
I rip the clothes from his chest, lie my cheek against the warmth there.
‘MacMahon, I lost my flesh to birds and beasts a long time ago, yours will become mine.’
I lick his hot skin. My faery fangs tear a strip from collarbone to navel. His shuddering screams and whimpers rip across the moor.
I press my face into the bubbling wound, crush ribs with my fangs and tear at flesh.
‘Your blood will be my warmth…’
Bites of hot lung slide down my throat.
‘And your beating heart will be my life.’
Exposed, his slippery heart pounds against my forehead, my cheek, my lips…
‘Goodbye, damned MacMahon, son of a godless murderer.’
I must run or I’ll freeze, naked in the biting cold. Cold on my flesh – not in my soul. Run past the Black Loch, past Anderson’s farm. Dogs bark, struggle against their chains.
My numbing feet slap on the chilled mud and straw of streets I’ve not seen in so long. There’s no one about. Fear of the dragoons keeps people by their smoking hearths. A pistol, a sword, a cudgel to hand.
Their fear I will snatch away and exchange for hope.
The church tower blots out the moon. The iron ring of the door rattles as I grasp it, hinges creak like branches in a storm. I stumble in. I can hardly walk.
There, the secret panel on the altar opens to my touch. I hold the book again. The book of life, of hope, of truth.
Water, half-frozen holy water from the font. Clean, cold, full of God’s love and purity. It runs down my throat.
So I made a pact truly with angels not demons. No burning, no agony scalds me as I drink.
All is well.
I roll myself in the altar cloth, lie on a wooden pew, rub life into my feet, my new flesh. As blood returns the agony makes me want to scream in pain and cry with joy.
I’m alive again. I’m home. In the morning I’ll be among my people. I can smell their perfume, their sweat in the wood under my head.
They’ll say it’s a miracle, talk about how the faery-folk snatched a seven-year-old and returned her seven years later.
I’ve nothing to fear: I am blessed.
Only the angels and I know what I have been, what I can become. Oh yes, I am deadly. The angels gave me their blessing.
The dragoons will soon fear this area, learn never to approach. I’m the curse they laid on themselves.
No more can the elderly, the pregnant, the children be slaughtered… But now I will sleep. Sleep! I’ve been awake seven years.
Angels; thy will be done.
Everything is perfect: the townsfolk won’t fear me when they realise I am but a frightened helpless girl.
In the morning I’ll be found wrapped in consecrated cloth, holy water beside me, the true Bible in my hands, true love in my heart.
© Gary Bonn: 2012