Short story XXV

Mol. Not an English word. It's Gaelic. You won't get much more of that language in this story, this writer is unfamiliar with it. But Mol means a shingly beach, something that's quite common in these parts. The one that this story is going to be about is not easily found, if you don't know about it. It's off the beaten track, and even the beaten track is a difficult proposition in inclement weather. But it's not about the track, or how to get to the beach overland. Because, it's about the headland as well. The heathery headland. The shingly beach of the heathery headland. Mol Linginis.

Mol Linginis is now quiet. One of those corners of the islands where nothing ever moves. Oh, the odd sheep may amble through, nibbling the grass. The surf sloshes ashore at regular intervals, a bit more fierce when the wind is up. Quite a sheltered little place, really. Above the shingle is a small valley, and in its heart sit the remains of a few homesteads. It's half a century now, a little more, since Mol Linginis was left behind, and the last of its people went to their final resting place. The rowans remain beside the walls, and remember them. The south wind rustles their leaves.

Can't you remember, the south wind whispered. The rowan leaves rustled, turning fitfully in the wind. They remembered alright, the houses intact, the people quietly going about their daily lives. Lives being born, lives lived, lives that ended. Their sorrows, their joys. Their dreams, their despairs. The ones that left, never to return. The ones who left, through compulsion, for other pastures. The rowan sighed in the wind. The little stream trickled down the valley floor, to disappear into the shingle below the heathery headland.

Murmuring in its overgrown channel, the little stream made its way through Mol Linginis. It did not need reminding of what was once there. It remembered the day the last ones left, and the empitness left behind. The times a roof fell in, leaving the wild winds a free reign all around. Quietly, the stream disappeared into the shingle, into the Mol. The waves lapped ashore from Loch Trollamaraig beyond. Evening fell.

The dark sea heaved in long swells. On one corner of land, a lighthouse blinked its unseeing warning. A few miles north, the waves petered out on an unlit shingley strand. Round the corner, pinpricks of light could be made out across the water. But there was no occupied habitation at Mol Linginis to emit light. Loch Trollamaraig lay in darkness at its feet, its waves crashing ashore unheard. What they carried ashore remained hidden as yet.

Impenetrable darkness blanketed Mol Linginis. Not a single pinprick of light was visible from the Mol. None of the habitable houses left in the township was occupied. The slow pulse of the throbbing swell washing ashore continued unabated. The song of the stream, trickling in its overgrown bed, never stopped. Inexorably, the eastern horizon turned from black to deepest red. The rough outlines of islands became visible against the light of the new day.

Jagged teeth emerged into the red dawn, which also painted Mol Linginis a blazing colour. The Rough and House Island stood out in the distance, where they previously had lain hidden in the darkness. The swell imperceptibly rose, until it was thundering on the Mol. What it carried ashore was seen by nobody. The insouciant sheep were not interested. The homesteads overlooked the shingle, but did not see. The path into the little valley lay untrodden. For now.

The sun painted the surface of the sea a cardinal red as it rose above the mainland mountains. Like a path stretching east to west, touching Mol Linginis. Only the birds on the Rough and House Islands had watched the boat drifting past on the current, in the dawning light of day. Slung low in the water, partly filled with water. Nobody could see what was in the boat. There was nobody on the Galtanach that could.

The lighthouse winked its final flash of light, from above the white and red bands on its tower. Grey Island light is just round the corner from Mol Linginis, and looks out towards the Rough and House Islands. The sun took over the lighting of the paths of mariners across the Minch. One craft drifted slowly westwards, away from the jagged teeth of the Galtanach. None were watching from the shores of the Empty Quarter.

Not all made it home, that night. Only a quarter of them did. Not all were found, that day. A third of them were not. At least those that were found did not have far to go. Perhaps fifty yards to come ashore. Fifty yards too far, in that dreadful night. Some swam ashore, or tried to. Some took to the boats, or tried to. One boat drifted away, on the turning tide. It was not spotted from the nearby shores, or by passing mariners. The Blue Men of the Minch carried it round Kebock, past Milead, and through the Sound of Shiant, at the breaking of the day. Mol Linginis waited, still, quiet, breathless. Smoke swirled from the demure thatched houses, from where none stirred. At the noon hour, the boat ground ashore on the Mol. When the villagers made their discovery, the sun’s light was fading on that winter’s day. News had reached from the north, of one of their number not coming back from the war. The sea had taken – but on this occasion gave back. History does not record where his final resting place was. The shadow of an eagle passed high overhead. They nest in those abandoned hills, just across the water from Mol Linginis. Eagle is the English word for that magnificent bird of prey. I said before that my knowledge of Gaelic was very limited. But I do know the Gaelic for eagle. Iolaire.

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