Making its first appearance on this blog, this creepy story was originally featured in The Sirens Call eZine, Issue 22.
The terrain was trickier than he’d anticipated. From the foot of the hill, it appeared a straightforward climb. Now that he was up there, the slope was determined to thwart him at every opportunity.
“Ow! God dammit!” Sean sucked at his hand where the gorse had scored a thin red line. He didn’t have anything to bind it with. Deciding it would stop bleeding on its own, he surveyed his progress.
The guys were out of sight. He had left them leaning against the tombstones, cracking open their beers. He was already regretting his decision to come along. It was bad enough when he found himself in the graveyard – but he’d heard that the local kids hung out there at night. He’d wanted to fit in. So he’d acted nonchalant; smoked a few cigarettes and laughed at the scary stories they were telling. Then they dared him to climb the Witches’ Craig.
He had tried to laugh it off; make out he had been in lots of spooky places before and he wasn’t impressed with this one. They were having none of it. Jerry had been particularly vocal.
“You’re chicken, aren’t ya? You hang with us, you gotta climb the Craig.” Jerry had sneered in his faux-American accent, flicking his Zippo lighter on, then off, then on again, until Sean wanted to scream. He had marched off before giving himself time to think about it.
“No such thing as witches, no such thing as witches,” he chanted under his breath, scrambling up through the springy heather. At least it was a cloudless night, the moon lighting his way. The guys’ chatter had long since receded, replaced by – nothing. No wind, no insects buzzing, no night birds calling. Only the rasp of his own breathing as his legs worked harder. Maybe he should give up smoking. He stopped for a few minutes, getting himself together for the last stretch. He tried to take deeper breaths, enjoy the sweet smells of the plants all around him. Although the smell was a bit too sweet. Rotting meat sweet. Ugh. His throat tightened, but he kept going.
His hand throbbed. There was enough light to see that it was still bleeding. Why wouldn’t it stop? Blood and sweat ran in tiny rivulets on the back of his hand. Well, of course he was sweating, he’d been climbing. There was nothing to worry about. He wiped it on his jeans, then pressed his other hand over it. He was nearly at the top. He was supposed to stand on the craggy outcrop that overlooked the graveyard, and wave his phone so they could see him.
The bracken rustled. So what? He thought. There were bound to be loads of small animals and birds on the hill. But that’s the first sound you’ve heard, his brain whispered treacherously. Pulling himself up the last few metres, he stood alone on the summit of the Craig.
“Made it! Oh God…” Pain lanced through his hand and he clutched it tighter. What the f…? Had he touched something poisonous?
He was so preoccupied that he barely registered the snuffling. When he did, he gasped – then forced out a laugh. Of course, it had to be.
“Guys! Stop arsing about.” He hoped only he could hear the tremble in his voice. One of the idiots had even brought a torch. A faint bluish glow flickered behind him.
At the low growl that followed, his bowels turned inside out. Gut instinct told him it wasn’t the guys. The blue light brightened. It wouldn’t even be a Rottweiler or German Shepherd.
He jerked as the bushes in front of him shook. God, he was surrounded. By what kind of animal? His brain screamed. But his shock at what stepped out was not at the sight of some giant hairy monster.
A girl, no more than eight or nine, clambered out of the undergrowth and glared at him.
“What are you doing here?” Her voice was wrong; it was world-weary, too old for her years. The voice of a woman, not a child.
“I…I…” He found himself stammering, and all the while the rumbling growl behind him continued. Look! Look! The voice in his head yelled. Just get it over with!
“Don’t look,” the girl said casually, walking forward and holding out her hand. “He doesn’t like it. You don’t, do you?”
Sean realised that the hand she extended wasn’t for him. It was for whatever was behind him.
She pushed up her sleeves, and reached into the patched and stained satchel she had slung across her skinny body. Her dress was a shapeless thing, the material patterned but faded. As she drew closer, Sean saw bruises on her arms. Finger-marks. Before he could comment on this, she pulled something out of her bag and threw it past him.
The growling changed to happy snuffling, then munching, then a horrible grinding and snapping. The little girl bared her teeth in what would have been a lovely smile, except for the circumstances.
He was on a haunted hill, with some kind of monster behind him and a – he didn’t know what – in front of him. Maybe it was simply a girl, but that girl had just thrown –
“A hand,” Sean croaked. “That was a hand.”
“He looked,” the child said calmly. “He shouldn’t have looked.”
“The one who sneaked up ahead of you. He was going to give you a fright at the top. He met us first.” She rummaged in her satchel again, and pulled out a Zippo lighter. “You want this?”
“Jesus God!” Sean stumbled backwards and almost fell. A low rumble brought him up short.
“I guess not.” She pocketed the lighter. Meanwhile, the crunching resumed, as the beast continued feasting.
Sean scrubbed at his eyes, half-hoping he would open them and find himself in bed. When he did, she was still there, gazing at him curiously.
“You don’t know what’s behind you, do you?” She asked. “You’re new.”
“I just moved here.” How strange, to be discussing this with a ghostly and ghastly waif on a moonlit hillside. “The guys were telling stories. About…witches…”
She waved a hand. “They didn’t say what runs with the witches?”
“Well…” He hadn’t been paying attention, thinking it was all nonsense. Until they dared him to climb the Craig.
“If you see the blue lights, you don’t look.”
Suddenly she was standing right in front of him. This time, she did take his hand. Before he knew what was happening, she spat on it; then licked the blood from the wound the gorse had inflicted. He pulled, away, nauseated.
“Good job he’d already fed. He was scenting this – hunting you. But I like you.”
Sean realised that the cut didn’t hurt anymore. The bleeding had stopped. He moved his hand this way and that, flexing his fingers.
The girl was smacking her lips, as though she’d just licked an ice cream.
“That should be fine now. You should go back down. They’ve gone, you know. They heard this one” – she rattled her bag – “get caught.”
God, did she have more bits of Jerry in there? Sean croaked, “Wait – how come – your pet – didn’t eat all of him?”
“My pet?!” She laughed. “Good thing he doesn’t understand you. Because I didn’t let him, of course. We were saving some for later, in case we needed it. Like now. It stopped him eating you.”
“We? Do you mean..?”
She seemed ashamed for a moment. “I…I don’t get much to eat at home.”
This was getting too weird. She had told him to go, and he would. But he had to know.
“What – what is it that’s behind me?”
She regarded him from under her lashes.
“Do some reading. You’ll find out.”
She held out her hand, and Sean flinched, before realising that she was offering a handshake. He took her small hand solemnly, and then hesitated.
She pointed behind her. “That’s the best way. Once you’re through the bushes, it’s easy.”
He nodded his thanks, and then stepped past her. Every nerve ending was screaming for him to turn and see what was there. Whatever it was, the little girl was now crooning to it, as it snuffled and yipped like an oversized puppy.
He realised something, half-turned, then thought better of it. “Hey!” He called.
“What?” Her voice was muffled, as though her mouth was full of something. No – he didn’t want to think about that.
“What’s your name?”
“I told you. Read your history. You’ll find out.”
Confused and chilled, he took a few more steps, then dashed back through the bushes. He couldn’t bear it. He had to know.
Silent emptiness greeted him. The summit was deserted. Only bones remained, some with ragged flesh still clinging, others picked clean by human teeth.
(Inspired by a local legend from Stirlingshire, Central Scotland. ‘Cù-seilge Dubh’ means ‘Black Hound’ in Gaelic.)