Short story

The white owl quartered the river valley. Alighting on the fence post, the bird surveyed its domain, which was bordered in the distance by the sea. The blazing sunset was lost on the owl, which was more interested in the voles and other small creatures that scurried in the field. But the colours were noticed by the people in the village down below. Two lights started to wink in the distance out at sea, not quite synchronously, as darkness descended from the east. The hills faded into the night around, with only the distant thunder of the Atlantic swell a sign of continuity. A shadow emerged from the heights above, striding rapidly towards the houses. Their homely lights were beckoning, and it would not be long before the walker would reach theirs...

The falling darkness hid the features of the walker, who had appeared out of the moorland beyond. As the moon rose from behind the hill, it illuminated the patterns of the land, and reflected from the freshwater lakes that scattered inland from the coast. Jumping across one rivulet after another, from heathery tussock to rocky outcrop, progress was surprisingly quick. A quick clattering of hooves indicated a group of sheep dispersing in quick terror across the rocks of the falling land. To the right of the downward slope, evening windows lit up in a lone homestead, and it was there that the walker now veered his course. His passage through the upland moors, with its sandy soils, heather and spaghnum mosses was evident on him. Too evident. Although the sheep had run off, the occasional clattering of hooves that had marked their flight remained in close proximity...

The house beneath the hill was quiet, its occupants preparing to close the day. Their animals too were settling down for the night, with the sheep grazing in the fields and adjacent moorland. The stream gurgled softly as it ran down the hill in amongst rocks and pools. An occasional bleat from a sheep broke the silence from time to time, as did the soft cackling from the chickens by their coop. The door opened, allowing a beam of light to stream out for a second, before it was cut off as the girl strode out to the enclosure that held the chickens. For a moment, she looked around, at the familiar sight of the lighthouses and the villages near the shore. The moon, now floating above the hill, illuminated the tranquil scene. A pencil stripe of crimson red faded to the west as a cool breeze sighed in amongst the bulrushes. It was to be the last time she would behold that scene in life.

The white owl quartered over the slopes adjoining the river valley. Its silent flight was only noticeable in the faint light of the moon, as it scanned for the slightest motion in the grass below. It swooped low over fields near the house where the girl was tending to her chickens. Their low chuckles and sounds indicating they were ready to go into their coop for the night, into safety. As the girl closed the latch, she became aware of a movement under the moon. At first, she thought it was a sheep, with its hooves clattering slightly on the rocks nearby. But then, a shadow larger than a sheep loomed up beside the chickens' enclosure.

The house door opened, to let a stream of light fall out, streaming across the yard to the chicken coop and enclosures for other animals. There was absolute silence, but a white owl swooped low, only to immediately disappear from view. For a split second, the girl could be seen, in the arms of a handsome youth. She gazed admiringly, hypnotised into his eyes. Failing to notice - the sand, seaweed and spaghnum moss in his hair. Failing to notice - his malformed feet, like hooves. Another split second later and the image was gone. The clatter of hooves quickly faded into the distance. The owl screeched from its fence post, but the screech was taken over from a distance and took on a harrowing, blood curdling aspect as it rose in pitch to an unbelievable height, beyond the range of human hearing. The silence returned, assuming a deafening aspect.

The lighthouses blinked, now synchronously for a moment. Nothing stirred, and no response could be obtained from outside the house. The moon shone brightly, but revealed nothing. The darkness was pervasive.

"It is now six minutes to one, this is the news for the Highlands and Islands, good afternoon. Emergency services are continuing to comb the countryside in the area of the Western Isles where a teenage girl inexplicably went missing at around 9 o'clock last night. Local inquiries have yielded nothing, and neither was she spotted on any of the early morning ferries to the mainland..."

Well, if the good folks on the Atlantic shores had kept their eyes peeled, they would have found what they were looking for. I can't remember the name of the specific loch, but the kelpie and his girl can be seen every evening, in the water there, when the two lighthouses coincide and the owl swoops the river valley...

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