November story - complete

In the pitch black of the night, only the stars provided light. Innumerable pinpricks of light, some faint, some bright, of all colours visible to the human eye. Some clumped together, others far apart. Below the pivotal point, around which they appeared to rotate, a curtain of green arose. Fading, brightening. Gradually changing hue, changing colour. Mesmerising. Outlined in black against the green of the aurora were two figures, entranced by the display which continued soundlessly. Far below them, at the bottom of the cliff where they were watching, the Atlantic surf broke against the ancient coastline. Jagged rocks peeked out from the sea, becoming submerged every few moments as another wave broke. The spray nearly reached the top of the cliff and the two watching took a step back, to stay safe. A faint light began to paint the eastern horizon grey, then white as the decrescent moon rose. As it cleared the horizon, a beam of reflections led across the water. The aurora began to fade from the north, leaving only a glow of green on the far horizon.

The waning moon rose, casting an eerie light. The wind rose too, fragmenting the beam of reflections across the miles of sea as the water began to ripple. A hint of greater darkness on the eastern horizon intimated the presence of another landmass. Row upon row of fence posts could just be made out either side of the roadway, held together by straggling lengths of barbed wire. Shadows of white moved slowly, but unseen by human eyes. At the road junction, a smell of burning peats wafted from nearby houses. The lateness of the hour meant that few lights were on, just the security lights - although many in the northern townships would chuckle at the concept of such a thing being needed. A dog barked. A car's security system beeped, indicator lights flashed twice, then two doors banged shut. The engine started, the headlights went on. The vehicle moved ahead, away from the junction and followed the road as it curved left. From the darkness of the bus shelter, a figure stepped into the roadway.

In the darkness of the night, the beams of the headlights roved across the landscape. The road wound its way across the flat landscape, indiscernible, even in the faint light of the moon to the east. Buildings flashed by, and presently, a row of lights, indicating the next village loomed up ahead. The streetlights were switched off as it was well past midnight. Only outside lights in the houses provided some illumination. The vehicle stopped, and the engine was switched off. A door opened, and the driver stepped out, holding a torch. A stile appeared in its beam, and the man stepped up and sat on the top step. Darkness enveloped him, but sounds carry further when there is no light - perhaps because other senses become more acute when one is inactive. Nocturnal sounds of birds in the near distance, beyond the next field. A small bird reserve. Looking east, a few birds could be seen against the light of the moon, now rising clear of nearby houses. After a few minutes, the car drove off again, into the next village. The road signs at the junction reflected brightly in its headlights, pointing left to the end of the road - and right towards the main town, more than 25 miles away to the south. Silence fell again as the night started to grow old. Soon, dawn would break.

Nobody stirred abroad along the village street. The streetlights were out, and only the moon provided illumination. Shadowy figures presently made their way past the darkened houses, following the gentle curve of the street. A large modern building marked the end of the built-up area, with a few lights showing a sign for a restaurant. In the near distance, the surf could be heard, making a dull thud as each wave rolled ashore. The village, at the top of a steep escarpment, slept through the sound, as it had done for centuries. A boat slowly made its way past the end of a pier, a search light briefly flashing to guide it to a mooring. The three figures made their way from the roadway onto the pier, taking care on the slippery slope. A particularly large wave thrashed ashore on the beach nearby. The boat turned round after taking its passengers ashore and headed out to sea. Cealagbhal slept.
Beyond the sea in the east, the sun climbed over the horizon, flooding the empty moorland with colour. The colour was brown. The land was broken, broken by the hand of man. For many generations, the top layer had been stripped away for fuel, to heat the homes of the villages to the north. And still, many miles of untouched moorland awaited the generations to come. The last village had been left behind an hour before and the straight track continued south. Gently, the landscape changed as another valley merged in from the south and some habitation crept into view. Houses - except they were only half-sized. Scattered over a sward of green, along the line of a small stream that gabbled its way to the sea. The track ended abruptly at a stone bridge across the stream; a path climbed up the far side. Far out at sea, a small boat could be seen, making its way towards the small bay which welcomed the stream to the bosom of the sea. It had taken its time to cover the four miles from Cealagbhal.

Complete silence ruled, where many once congregated in summer. Paled charts adorned the walls, blackened kettles rested on rusted grates, and old photographes, slowly turning sepia through sheer old ages, hung above the fireplace. Many of the faces had gone from this world, now only living in others' memories. Cups stood on draining boards, where they had been left, one forgotten autumn ago. Their abandonment often confirmed by the state of the locks, holding the doors against the weather. Rusted shut, for good. The wind gently blew around the sheiling huts. Dozens would spend long forgotten summers there, fattening up their cattle for the harshness of winter. Merry voices echoed along the valley, games played and meals made. All gone with the winds of change. Six days they would tend their kyne and enjoy the open space of Cuidhsiadar. On the seventh day, their spiritual needs were tended to in the old chapel, high up on the clifftop, south of the sheilings. But that too now stood roofless, derelict and open to the mercies of the harsh Minch winds. The low sun cast shadows, but some moved. Filiscleitir had attracted attention, but attention whose intentions were diametrically opposed to the use of the chapel there.

The pale blue of the Hebridean sky deepened as the sun angled towards the southwestern horizon. Its last rays touched the old chapel and the ruinous house on the cliff edge, before disappearing behind the uncaring hills. A chill wafted across from the nearby sea as darkness fell. Nothing moved. Not even the seabirds, which had hurried to their cliffside roosts. A small boat made its way south, past the high cliffs of Filiscleitir, after leaving the nearby shoreline at Cuidhsiadar. Those on board did not care about what they had left behind, and even less about what the consequences of their actions would be. A late walker crossed the bridge from Cuidhsiadar and gained the heights near the chapel. Perhaps a good place to spend the night. Soon, a tent appeared near the end of the track, and flames joyfully leapt up into the gathering night sky. Their shadows only just touched the walls of the chapel. They only served to obscure what had been left there.

The wind sighed through the browned grasses of winter, now encrusted with a delicate selection of rime. The sun climbed over the eastern horizon, which showed a jagged outline of distant mountains. Slowly the icy gems melted into tiny drops of water, clinging on to the dead stems. The rigid surface of the moorland loch imperceptibly resumed its motion in the winter wind. Apart from the demure hues of brown, green, yellow and black, a garish blot of red and blue could be seen at the shore of the lake. Just some bits and pieces left behind from summertime. Out of place, though. The trail north towards Filiscleitir was a very rough affair, the traveller having to negotiate tall ridges of peat, and there was no shelter on the way. Who would want to leave their coat or whatever behind in such inhospitable terrain? A man slowly made his way south from Filiscleitir, the chapel walls now standing out white far behind him. Out at sea, a boat was making its way north, past Cellar Head, past the inlet of Cuidhsiadar and back towards Cealagbhal. Back to where it had started the previous night.

Another shieling hut, looking into the rising sun. Far below, the valley ambled down to the sea. Even further away the faint outlines of houses marched along the southern horizon. Wooden posts marked the way there, but the trail would remain empty that morning. The padlock on the hut's door was broken, not through rust but through force. The door itself was smashed in, and the hut's interior thrown around. No, it wasn't the result of strong winds. Dibidil's bothy had withstood far worse than what that year's gales had blown at it.

Darkness descended once more over the empty moors. Backlit by another display of the aurora, the Dibidil sheiling hut stood abandoned. The door was open, and creaked on the light night breeze. But nobody was around to hear it.

Some way south of Dibidil, a large expanse of sand glistened at the edge of the sea. Closed off to the south by a high promontory, the first beach stretched for over a mile. As customary in these parts, little rivers ran through the sands to their destination in the sea. Footprints padded through the sand, headed in a northerly direction, sometimes diverting towards the dunes, fringing the beach. Birds scurried along the tideline, which was inexorably moving up, in its eternal twice daily motion. From the little carpark at the northern end of the beach, a vehicle slowly climbed up the steep access road and made its way round the corner to the second beach. Smaller and adorned with tall stacks, sitting oddly in the sand. The road went imperiously past the beach, round the corner to an ancient concrete structure - which was the end of the road. The track beyond it came to an end at a small bridge. Wooden posts marked the way onward north.

The low midday sun carried no warmth as it shone in the back of the lone walker. He only made slow progress through the tortured moorland landscape. Tough heather on the tops of low ridges, with spaghnum moss shrouding treacherous bogs only a few feet ahead and below. Deviations from the route were frequently necessary past the high cliffs of Dun Othail, and it took him a while before reaching the lip of the valley of Dibidil. Either go down more than three hundred feet to the valley bottom - and the same 300 feet back up to the bothy; or another deviation inland. The up and down route it was going to be. Upon reaching the bank of the little stream at the bottom, the walker took a break. Something caught his eye that glistened in the stream.

Something was wrong. The door creaked on its hinges, in the morning breeze. A trail of debris led from the door down to the valley bottom at Dibidil, the first item being a mobile phone left in the river. Beyond the river mouth, out at sea, a small craft could be seen, making its way north, towards Cellar Head and Cealagbhal. The walker picked up the mobile, which was dead. He quickly climbed up to the bothy, where a scene of horror awaited him.

No mobile phone signal. The walker could have retraced his steps south, but instead proceeded north, through the tortured landscape of the Maoim valley, with the white outline of Filiscleitir in the distance. Although caution was needed amidst the tall hummocks, runnels and ridges of the peatbanks, the walker fairly flew in a northerly direction. He finally caught his breath upon emerging into the benign grassy plain around Filiscleitir. Still no signal. The old chapel smiled in the afternoon sunshine, but that was a false reassurance. Upon entering through its ruined portal, another scene of horror met the walker's eyes, albeit different to the one he had encountered at Dibidil. Five miles to civilisation. Two hours on foot.

Darkness was falling as the bus negotiated the narrow road. Houses disappeared into the dusk which crept west across the nearby sea. As the driver came to the end of the route, he had to turn his bus around at a junction. Ahead, the road carried on for a few hundred yards, before disappearing into the moorland beyond. Just as the bus was about to set off, a man on foot approached from the moorland track, waving frantically. "Call the police", he panted at the driver as he boarded the vehicle. "Call 999. I don't know what's been going on between here and Tolsta, but they need to come down at once.” The driver had to proceed some distance in a northerly direction before his mobile got a signal. "Police are already in the area", he told his passenger. He pointed to his right, where blue flashing lights could be seen at Cealagbhal. One light sped south, then turned into the road where the bus was waiting.

Quietly, the waves flopped onto the beach, then ran out into the sand. Stars hung in the sky to the east, obscured as they were to the west by the bluff overlooking the sand and sea. A small boat lay tied up at the entrance to the harbour, giving anything but a restful appearance. The scene was illuminated by a flurry of flashing blue lights, which strobed the few houses nearby. Quite unusual. One of the local wags joked that the last time he had seen a flashing blue light at Cealagbhal was when someone had taken a guga that wasn't in their allocation.

What the walker had taken hours only took the helicopter a few minutes. The familiar shape of the red and white Coastguard chopper hugged the northeastern coastline of Lewis, leaving Tolsta behind. The cabin at Dibidil, the ruins at Filiscleitir and the cabins at Cuidhsiadar were all in view within moments. The craft touched down at Filiscleitir. Across the stream, beyond the bridge, a number of four-wheel drive vehicles were waiting. "The decoy in Port worked beautifully", the incident commander smirked. "They were fooled into a false sense of security, thinking they could complete their dirty work here". He gestured towards the remains of the chapel. "Good thing that eye witness got in touch with us when he did. We thought they were at Dibidil, but in fact, it was here, at Filiscleitir, that...". He broke off the sentence and his face clouded over. Several packets had been carried from behind the walls of the chapel. They had been identified as contraband, illicit drugs, shipped in a few nights before. The last packet did not match the others. The commander turned to the pilot, his face a picture of horror. "Take us to Dibidil", he said curtly. "Another lot could be over there".

The rotorblades of the helicopter slowly stopped turning as the pilot was sure his craft wasn't going to sink into a bog. The incident commander jumped out and walked the short distance to the old shieling hut, above the deep cleft at Dibidil. "Can somebody explain, please", he said, exasperated and angry. "Why would anybody want to do something like that??" He pointed into the hut. Piled up inside were what looked like bicycle saddles. Pungent. Fishy. Oily. All had been cut open, with bags of white powder visible inside. The smell was overwhelming, nauseating. "What a waste of good guga".

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