Short story XI

The loch stretched out in front of the carpenter, surrounded by hills on either side. The setting sun painted it gold, even more so now that the wind had died down. The eastfacing slopes of the hills were hidden in shadow, as he walked down the last few hundred yards of the track. A few houses, that was all the settlement comprised of. The people had sent for him to make repairs to their abodes, after a month of storms. It was not his first time to Luachair, in fact it had been there that he had met his wife. He smiled as he remembered their final embrace, earlier that day, as they parted company for a day or two. Tomorrow, he would be working on the houses and the day after, he would retrace his steps the dozen miles or so across the hills to Bogha Ghlas. The sun dipped behind the horizon as he stepped through the door of his father-in-law's house. A roaring fire and a pan of stew over it awaited him, as did the equally warm welcome of his relatives.

Shadows lengthened over the hamlet of Bogha Ghlas, as night stretched its velvet fingers from across Loch Seaforth. A little later, the lights in one of the cottages were extinguished for the end of the day, the mountains across the water having dissolved into darkness. No further sound was to be heard from the cottage. Not that night. Nor the next.

"Now, that should stop that roof from leaking", the carpenter said to his father-in-law. "I wasn't surprised that things had started to shift, what with all those storms." The older man nodded. "I wonder if you could come out with me in the boat this afternoon", he continued. "Catch some fish down the loch, and you could join us for supper again tonight. It's now too late return?" The carpenter agreed. "I told her that I'd be back in two days, so I'll be quite happy to come along". Not long after, the wee boat was bobbing on the waters of the loch, a couple of miles to the west. The southeasterly breeze had driven them a bit further down Loch Reasort than usual, but the older man had reassured the carpenter that it would soon veer southwest, and they could tack for home. What he did not realise was that the windshift would also herald a very sudden shift in weather.

Dark clouds raced up from the Atlantic and fell over the precipice of Taran Mor into Loch Reasort, past Lamadail and into the bay of Diriscal. The southeasterly wind veered sharply southwest and rose a rapid crescendo to galeforce. The small craft was tacking round to return to Luachair, a few miles to the east, but it proved impossible to lower the sail before it pulled the boat over. Hidden by the bluff to the east of their village, the people in the houses of Diriscal did not see what was happening out in the loch. The light had become quite dull, and squalls of heavy rain limited visibility.

The family in one of the cottages at Dirascal was commenting on the bad squall that had struck earlier that afternoon, when there was a knock at the door. An older man, clothing soaked, held on to the boulders that made up the blackhouse. "Help", he rasped. "My boat overturned in the loch. My son-in-law..." and he broke down. The family helped him inside, put a blanket round his shoulder and sat him close to the fire. Others rushed down to the shore, where they found another man, lying face down and motionless. He too was carried into the house, but the spirits of life had already departed his sodden frame. Wracked by sobs, the old man managed to tell the story of their disastrous fishing trip. Darkness had by now fallen, and conditions were deemed to be too severe to venture the two mile trip over the hill to Luachair. That night, lights remained on in that house. They never come on in the cottage at Bogha Ghlas.

"Take his planks with you." The words echoed in the mind of the carpenter's brother-in-law, at midday the next day. "I can't begin to imagine how my sister is going to take this", the man was thinking. His footsteps on the rough track came regularly, but what was that strange echo? Intermittent echoes of the footfalls? No, couldn't be. A double take on each footstep? Not either. Tap tap. Tap tap. The man shifted the planks on his shoulder to adjust for balance and continued. The dark face of Stulabhal reared up ever closer, and he thought the tapping sound was an echo of his footsteps from that great rockface. He had not experienced that before, having made the journey many times before. But his mind was in such turmoil that he could not remember that. The great empty valley of Langadale stretched before him, but his descent to the river, nor the crossing, nor the ascent to Vigadale remained with him. All he heard was tap-tap, tap-tap.

The sun was once more setting by the time the carpenter's brother-in-law reached the bridge at Bogha Ghlas. He saw his sister's cottage ahead, but there was no light inside, nor any sign of motion outside. The approach of any passer-by was usually sufficient to bring his sister outside, but not that day. The 'tap-tap' that had been haunting the man since leaving Luachair had gradually ceased. He threw the planks off his shoulder, and they fell to the ground in a loudly clattering heap. He called for his sister, but heard nothing. Opening the door, the cottage was dark, the fire cold. The bed was occupied, but there was not a living soul about.

Tap tap. Tap tap. The next morning, the carpenter's brother-in-law was hammering a coffin for his sister. And he suddenly remembered what the noise was he had been hearing all the way from Luachair the day before. Tap tap. Tap tap. The noise of his hammer, building a coffin. The noise of the carpenter's hammer, over in Luachair, as it too built a coffin for its master.

Out to play

The wind is out to play
come if you dare
I'll blow you down
the street

The rain is out to play
tapping on the window
come if you dare
I'll be all over you

The wind laughs out wild
buffeting the houses
roaring in the chimneys
whipping up the sea

The rain is running
hand in hand
with today's
southerly gale

Oh, it's but February
we're on Average Street today
the light comes at a premium
but the days are longer nonetheless

A sailor from the Great War

Do we know
who you are
that was found
along the shore?

Co leis thu
Who are you with
Where are you from
None now know

Many like you
the sea took
your identity

You were missed
you were found
but none
knew who you were

We know who you are
you were one of the brave
one of the six thousand
setting forth to war

From one of the hundred
townships in Leodhas
or perhaps old Steornabhagh
None now know

A bed waited for you
a warm embrace
from those waiting
to welcome you home

You never came
were you one of those
that was forever lost
to the arms of the sea?

A question unanswered
those that cared know
it could have been you
albeit unconfirmed

Their agony endures
as does that of the island
Iolaire will never die
The shadow of the eagle still looms

But a Promise was made
that the time will come
At the Breaking of the Day
when the Shadows flee away

When your name will be read
you will answer the Call
and proudly step forward
until then - Rest in Peace.


The hailstones clatter
playfully scatter
chased along the road
by that cold cold wind

Towers of grey
fringed by ice cold ramparts
ponderous move south
closing off the February sun

Gunship metal grey
the sea tosses its manes
like the cumulonimbus
in the wintry skies

Colour washed out
the moors dully cower
as winter persists
over our ancient isles

Spring's coming

the clouds
along the horizon

Higher up
wisps of ice
are outlyers
of distant storms

The English Riviera
has our weather
The islands bask
in winter calm

The days now lengthen
snow drops nod to us
spring is now coming
't won't be that long


The moon
is dark
this weekend

It pulls
with the sun
at our seas

the sea rises
up and over

The harbour walls
without a fight

at our futile
attempts to stem

The supertide
round our streets

and washes

Until it is
called away
leaving us dry

Where many feet of water
flowed around earlier
we now walk on dry land

Only to return
in six hours'
time and tide