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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Dreamscapes

Dunnottar Castle: August 1957
Doug Brownie

It was a cold day in Hell. The crack as her head hit the rocks 20 feet below seemed uncannily loud to the boy.
Even above the noise of the wind and the breaking waves, the sickening thud was all that his brain registered.
"My God she’s goanie be deed" he thought. "No way she’s still breathin’ – Oh my good God whit can ah dae.?
"Uncle John, Uncle John for Christ’s sake come doon an git me fur ah’m scared and Janice is gone fur sure."

The storm as is the North Sea’s curse had come from nowhere. A bright and sunny day had turned to near night in what seemed like a blink of an eye. It crept in as a dark and menacing whisper with black dense clouds from heaven to the sea and only at the last minute had it announced itself with the fierce downdraft and torrential drenching rain turning the granite cliffs to a surface as slick as ice.

These same 200 feet high cliffs rising sheer from the sea to the stunning Dunnottar Castle above had been climbed daily by Bill Douglas and his cousin Janice since they had arrived in Stonehaven with their Grand Uncle John. The climb was almost vertical but the cliffs did give many good hand and footholds to the experienced climber. The boy had been climbing almost since he could walk, and his Cousin Janice twice as long again. The weather until this very moment had been glorious, sunny and warm.

In mid morning they left the harbour at Stonehaven and walked the two miles South to the awesome old fortress that even in ruins had the boy’s blood racing in his veins. In honesty, ""walked" is making light of the two mile steady climb from sea level on a winding coastal road with breathtaking views over the sea and down into the picturesque harbour with its mix of wooden North Sea trawlers and the newer plastic based sailing craft of the caravaners and holiday makers.

The six year old simply loved these morning walks up to the Castle and his heart beat fast in anticipation of the first familiar but constantly inspiring glimpse of the ancient fortress.

The first time he had ever seen it the boy’s hairs had bristled down the back of his neck. It held some almost magical attraction for him and even on this first rainy day visit a year ago, the place spoke out to him (or was it just his imagination? – he was never quite sure which) in terms of its sometimes cruel but never dull history.
A year ago, his Uncle John had told him that there had been a fortress here in one form or another ever since the 12th Century. "Its been the site o’ ghastly and gory battles in aw the wars against the English for hundreds of years boy! It holds the ghosts of many brave sodjers and their loved ones on both sides of the various campaigns. But we’re no’ here fur any a’ that my lad. We’re here tae huv ye climb the cliffs and groom ye and hone ye. We’ll start wi a gentle first summer of walks up an doon tae Stonnie an some prowls among’ the rocks and shore at the sea’s edge. That’ll dae ye fur this year, but next year we’ll back in ernest!."

The boy would hold that thought in his head constantly during the next twelve months and the anticipation was palpable to him.
"Fur the now though ah’ll walk this castle and its building and ah’ll dream my dreams of its ghosts and battles."

As this thought had been running through his head, the sun had come out from behind a cloud, turning the walls of the castle golden in its light. He was rooted to the spot.

The steep pathway down into the deep but narrow valley beneath the Gatehouse was in darkness by contrast and it was as if the castle was floating there above the sea, suspended in the air alone.

In his minds eye the boy saw the castle as it once had been. The magnificent tower and keep the rugged but perfect walls topped by battlements and gun positions. He saw the gatehouse, so fearsome and difficult to reach from below. He shivered, once again. seeming to hear the cries of defiance and victory rising up from the misty and darkened valley beneath him. "C’mon noo laddie. Git yer feet movin’ and we’ll go doon this path here and climb the other side up in through the gates. We’ll sit fur a while and I’ll gie ye the history o’ the place and let ye see a view on the other side that ye’ll no see many mair magnificent in yer life ahead o’ ye."

The descent down into the dark valley was hampered by the muddy path and even more interesting on the rise up the other side towards the gate house. By the time they reached the entry point to the castle they were muddy from shoes to hair and the boy was soaked through.

Going through the cavern of the entrance though just made the hair rise on the back of his neck. The place felt threatening and formidable with the walls rising above and falling below in a treacherous rock face which would be a tough climb unfettered by weapons and armour. It must have been completely unassailable for attacking forces laden with the necessities of battle.
"Y’ell see noo why this place is still standing pretty much as it was," said John. Apart fae the bits torn doon by the victors o’ the last siege it hasnae changed much at aw. Some final rebellion mair’n 200 year’ ago saw the end of its glory."

Once inside the boy was taken aback by how well laid out and preserved the grounds were, and he trekked further inside towards the Keep which still stood over 50ft Tall.

"The Crown Jewels o’ Scoatland were kep’ safe here against the thieving English under Oliver Cromwell," continued John, "an when he did finally take the castle after starving the folk inside, the treasure had mysteriously "vanished" as if by magic. The English were afraid and superstitious wi the previous history o the place and they coudnae wait to git their erses oot o here as quick as they could."

By now Bill Douglas was deep into the old castle church and he was looking up and down, eyes wide and his face rapt by the thoughts of the history beneath his feet. He was tingling all over. He did not know what Déjà vu was, but he was feeling that there was a familiar touch to this place.

He kept quiet though because his Uncle John was an unrelenting tormentor who if not teaching him to climb, shoot swim or fight was not averse to poking fun at the boy. "Wher’ ye’r staunin the noo lad is where yer hero William Wallace burned an entire English garrison. Right in this very church!" shouted John over the sound of the wind and waves. Ah think oor kinsmen had a hand in it tae, back then in 1297 or so. Ah cannie be sure though, but some say a Douglas as if by magic opened the castle fae the inside."

Bill Douglas was by now mesmerized by it all. He had wandered off again over to the external wall where he climbed up onto the soldiers walk overlooking the 200ft drop to the North Sea. His mind was filled with thoughts of glory and hatred for the English so ancient in his veins.

His uncle Tommy Miller lived in England. The boy could never understand this and would refuse to contemplate even going to visit with his cousin Douglas Miller.

They spent another hour just wandering and exploring and as the sun began to drift downwards they made their way back through the gates and took the high road again back down to the safe haven of Stonehaven and the River Cowie.

Now here he was a year or so later. Scared out of his wits and looking down on what must surely be the dead body of his cousin Janice. Over the noise he heard his Uncle scream, "Dinnae ye go and gie me this scared shit Bill. Ye’ll no be dyin’ the day. Ye ken whit tae dae and ye’ve jist got tae dae it. There’s nae way fur me tae git near ye. Yer on the point rock face and jist roon the point there’s a wee beach. Ye can mak it there, I ken ye can."

The boy saw the beach in his minds eye. They had looked down on it many times on their walks and explorations of the castle. It looked like a beautiful location, secluded as it was by cliff outcrops rising on either side, but it appeared to be unreachable by any other route than from the sea. Indeed the cliff top extended out way beyond where the base of the cliff met the golden sand. To climb either down or up would have required ropes and tackle. "Big Bad John’ll look after that side of things," he thought.

Now, looking down from his own precarious foothold, Bill was astonished to see that the tide had come in substantially and was now lapping at the rock where Janice lay unconscious. More significant for him though was the fact that the beach beneath him was now covered in what must be at least 10 feet of North Sea water. No thinking required on his part, just instinctive reaction, he leapt off the sheer cliff and plunged down into the waves below. Surfacing with coughs and spitting salt water he recovered quickly. With all fear gone, he kicked hard over to his cousin and her apparently lifeless body.

"Ah’ll no be leavin’ her here," was all he was thinking as he hauled himself out of the water onto the slippery treacherous sliver of rock barely remaining above the water.

He was acutely aware that in moments the water would overcome the rock and Janice would be adrift, so he stripped off his windbreaker and tied one arm of it round Janice’s chest in a double knot and the other he gripped firmly in his hand wrapping it again and again around his wrist.

So absorbed in accomplishing this that he hadn’t noticed that Janice was still breathing. He also failed to notice that there was no visible blood or wound on her scalp. As a huge wave broke over them, he slipped down the other side of the rock into the water once more, taking Janice with him.

Back in another of his elements, he felt his confidence rising, and the point was but a short swim away. The tide was surprisingly his friend as it continued to flow inwards and pushed him relentlessly towards the safety of the leeward beach on the other side.

In what seemed to have been hours to him, but had been a mere twenty minutes, he dragged and hauled Janice onto the beach, where when he rolled her onto her back, her eyes opened, her mouth opened and she vomited right into his face.
"Good God yer alive" he yelled, "Good God yer no deed efter aw."
He hugged her, he squashed her he kissed her head. He was so happy the tears were running down his face.
"Uncle John, Uncle John she’s still kickin," he shouted as loud as his lungs would allow, all the time looking down at the cousin he had thought was a gonner for sure.

For her part Janice ripped off the remains of her backpack and rummaged for a drink. The cans inside were crushed together and flattened. No liquid remained. The cousins looked at each other and slowly the reality of Janice’s survival dawned on them.

Seeing the boy take the plunge down into the sea and successfully uplift the girl from the rocks galvanized John into motion and he trudged his way back through the castle and up to the gatehouse where he knew the coastguard kept a locked shed. He was sure there’d be ropes and pulleys in there "but no damn telephone" he thought.

The door gave him five minutes bother before he lost his temper and split it open with a massive kick followed by a full body charge. His reward was great though and for the first time since the accident he felt his spirits lift a bit.
He’d been too much in shock to consciously consider the implications of his grandchild’s fall onto the rocks, but his unsympathetic subconscious had laid into him for his stupidity and callous disregard for two of the people he cared about most in the world.

He only realized he’d been crying when looked into the mirror of the HMCG medical cabinet and saw the red eyes staring back at him. He shuddered to think what the final outcome of this debacle would be. Never a man to shirk responsibility, duty or guilt, he had never felt so bad in his entire life.

With two full 200 ft ropes and pulleys across his back and shoulders he ran into the wind and over the castle grounds. He made it in minutes to the battlement overlooking the "wee beach."
As he reached the overhanging turret, the storm passed through as quickly as it had come, and the sun struck his back like a warm fire. He turned to face it and thanked God for his grace in providing a kinder scenario for his own rescue attempt.
"William, William, are ye ther," he yelled and yelled again, but silence and the cry of the seagulls was the only response. He had never, never ever used the boy’s given name in full before this moment. It felt strange on his lips and it echoed back at him several times before it faded. "William, William are ye ther? William William are ye ther?"
It spooked him the Hell out! And he turned around to see if anyone was there.

180 feet below, Janice and Bill did not see the sun come out, but they felt the storm evaporate with a sucking updraft that seemed to dry their clothing on their bodies. It sucked up the very air out of their lungs and left them gasping in its wake.
As if this were not strange enough, Bill could hear an odd whistling sound and it was coming from behind a huge rock further up the beach that was standing tall, like a guardian right at the foot of the cliff. Janice was still a bit groggy but he pulled her with him to see what the noise could be?

Big John Douglas was starting to feel the tears welling up again. He had been yelling for near on twenty minutes or more now. He had taken his life in his hands by stretching ever further over the side to try and see down into the shadows under the cliffs. He tied his ankles to the gun railing and stretched over even further yelling at the top of his voice. "William, Janice" fur the love o’ God answer me ye fiends."

He knelt down to prepare the ropes and attach them for his descent. He was totally absorbed in this task. So focused he was aware of nothing. When his mind reacted to the two quick digs to his ribs and simultaneous BOOOOOOOOOO! yell from none other than William Douglas, his bladder released itself and he pissed himself with fright. A once in a lifetime experience for him.

He just could not get his head around it. He was so shocked, angry, embarrassed and full of joy, his intestines were like water and he felt he was going to shit himself. He couldn’t speak, he could barely think. Standing right there in the glorious sunshine were Janice and Bill, grinning like hyenas and enjoying the big man’s discomfort.
"Whi, wha, whit t’ fuck’s goin oan here? Hoo, hoo in God’s name ye git up here? Ye’s grew wings did yes? Oh ma God a jist cannae believe it! Time fur bear hugs ah think," he said, and grabbed them both in his big arms. John and Janice were so wired on adrenalin and love that they both forgot how lucky they had been.

Bill Douglas though had a message for his Uncle and it had waited all the afternoon to be said.
"Uncle John" he said quietly, "Uncle John, listen tae me. It wisnae the dyin that I wis afraid o’ doon there. It wis the fear o’ no miby seein’ ye fur another thousand years! Ah need ye to ken that!"

The big man was jerked back to reality as he took the words in. He stared down at his Great Nephew with renewed admiration and awe. The wee boy – for that was surely all he was, had indeed pulled off a miraculous feat.
He forced himself to forget for the time being that some kind of miracle had surely just occurred, but that thought would come to him later and questions would be asked.

Dunnottar Castle: May 1297
It was a cold day in hell.
The cold steel against his neck brought the guard instantly awake. His gaze took in the blackened face and dark eyes freezing him forever in the moment. This moment that would be the final moment of his life.

Strange as it may seem, that moment seemed like an eternity to him and he mused on who in God’s name this Vision from Hell was, and more, how had he appeared from nowhere in HIS gatehouse high atop the most fearsome cliff he had ever perched upon. No life flashing before his eyes or thoughts of family. Just this incredible desire to know how this trickery had been accomplished. William Douglas drove the dagger upwards into the man’s brain twisting it at the last moment to make it easier to withdraw. "That’ll answer aw yer questions," he thought to himself, as if he had known the last fleeting thoughts of his victim.

The gate house guard had been dosing, but his sidekick was passed out in a drunken stupor on the cot in the back corner of the cavern. One of Douglas’s men threw a bucket of water over him and dragged him to his knees before his leader.

"William, William are ye ther’? William, William are ye ther’?" The voice came from far below the gatehouse, but Sir William Douglas knew the brogue and its owner automatically without needing to move his attention away from the Englishman on his knees at his feet. It was also unnecessary to reply for it was a rhetorical question. Of course he was there!!

He looked down at the English soldier and whispered, "Ah’m keepin ye alive tae witness this night’s events fur yersel, an Ye’ll be let go free soon enough. Ye’ll be given a horse and set lose te carry the news of my appearance and yer demise tae Longshanks and yer middens. Thank yer God fur ye’ll be the only wan tae survive this night."

This said, Sir William gave a nod and his men released the great chains holding he drawbridge in place, and raised the metal framed gate itself up into the cliff face above.
"Tie this bastard to the gate post," he ordered. ‘An let’s be gone afore aw Hell let’s lose."

With that Sir William Douglas the Hardy and his men vanished into the night the way they had come and left nothing but the ghostly impression that they had been there at all.

When William Wallace entered the Castle some 10 minutes later he was astonished to see only one Englishman in his way – and that that man was shackled to the gate with a note around his neck. The note read -
'Let this bastard go free. Give him a swift horse an he’ll be our legend in the makin’ It had no signature, but Wallace knew the author and would take the advice.

Wallace shook his head though and thought to himself, "Where in God’s Kingdom does this Douglas reside that gives him the ability to come and go as if he were a ghost?"

From that moment all Hell did indeed break lose. The English Garrison asleep to the man woman and child were dragged from their beds. Women and children were herded to the front gates and driven out into the countryside to fend for themselves.

For the Men at Arms however their fate had been sealed in the Scottish borders where mass genocide had been perpetrated on Scottish families this last year by the armies of Edward Longshanks.
They were herded, dragged and driven into the Church where the doors were locked the roof and walls drenched in pitch and the entire structure set alight and raised to the ground.

News of this massacre was swift in its journey to London and beyond. The mystery surrounding the "opening of the gate" caused rumour of witchcraft and sorcery and the reputation of the Douglas clan as assassins spread in the ranks of the English forces.

"Ah’ll be seein’ ye again William Wallace" thought William Douglas as his boat took him and his master masons down the East Coast to Edinburgh. "We’ll overnight in Roslyn Glen" he told his men. Douglasdale would see them home in a couple of days more.

The men were elated, but tired and looking forward to some peaceful time at home in Lanarkshire, if such a thing could be possible. Three full months had passed since they began their work of magic on Dunnottar Castle and the subsequent victory there. Unbeknown to them their stronghold Douglas Castle had fallen to none other than Robert the Bruce from Carlisle

Dunnottar Castle: August 1957
The small fishing boat came ashore on the sands beneath the castle almost exactly where Bill Douglas had first dragged his cousin Janice ashore. On this day the sea was a brilliant deep navy blue and as calm as an inland loch. Not a cloud in the sky and even the seagulls were quiet and drifting leisurely on the surface of the sea. This little beach disturbed so recently by Bill Douglas had since then become once more the secluded, protected and ancient secret of the mysterious Castle.

The boy had been champing at the bit to take his Uncle back there, and when Janice was picked up by an irate Aunt Jenny and Uncle Arthur, the boy wasted zero time in cajoling his tormentor back to the scene of the crime. For that is what the family called it in their anger over the incident.

He had told his Uncle NOTHING of his miraculous ascent to the Castle floor, and he had a wide grin on his face as he leapt overboard and waded up onto the beach. "C’mon ye big slowcoach" he yelled back over his shoulder, and he continued plodding up the beach towards the big elliptical shaped rock at the base of the cliffs.

John dutifully jumped over the side, stumbled and drenched himself to the skin. Laughing out loud he looked up to retort and give the boy a dose of his own medicine. Problem was – there was no boy to be seen. He had simply vanished off the face of the Earth!

Now John, not one to feel fear very often, felt the first tingle of unease creep up his spine, for there was absolutely nowhere for the boy to be hiding, and unless he had sprouted wings indeed, there was no way for him to have simply vaporized.

Pragmatic and stoic by nature, there was nothing left for him to do but trudge up the beach and take a look at the damn big rock that stood there mocking him in its magnificence and majesty.
He crept towards it sure that the boy would leap out at him with a yell and a slap, but as he got closer, still there was no boy.

As he moved behind the offending obstacle – he had to suck his belly and chest in to squeeze behind the granite – he found nothing but solid cliff face to contemplate.

The unanticipated but somehow familiar double knife hand strikes to his kidneys once more took him completely by surprise and although he did not piss himself on this occasion, he was nonetheless given a fair old fright that his heart seemed to have come up through his throat and into his mouth! Behind him, standing there with hands on his hips was the wee scoundrel laughing like Hell inside the rock so menacing and invulnerable from the other side.

As the boy grabbed him and his rapidly beating heart returned to normal he began to consider the enormity of what the boy had achieved those short few days ago. Here was the most finely engineered doorway down into a stairwell going to God alone knew where and he watched as Bill turned and leapt downwards into the darkness shouting once again, C’mon ye old horse, git yer erse in motion and follow me."
"Lead on McDuff" he mouthed into the abyss and he descended more cautiously than was normal for him into an amazing and incredible cavern beneath the sea.
No rocket scientist by any means, it was now obvious to him that the boy had stumbled upon the solution to a mystery that had haunted Dunnottar for centuries.

The massacre of the English garrison by William Wallace in 1297. The "vanishing" of the Crown Jewels of Scotland together with the entire complement of castle dwellers at the time in the 16th Century. These mysteries were now solved as he followed the boy and began to ascend an orderly staircase which surfaced through another wonderfully crafted floor tile right into the vestry of what once had been the Church.

Now his own hair was standing up on the back of his head for he had to wonder how in God’s name the boy had the presence of mind to find and take advantage of this unnatural phenomenon. Bill Douglas’s words came back to him at that moment – "Its no dyin ah wis afraid o’ Uncle John. Ah wis afraid o’ no seein’ ye fur another thousand years."
What other mysteries had this boy running through his veins and in his soul? Big John was not sure he wanted to know.

The boy looked up at him with those dark black eyes, smiling with them alone and he said, "Ye owe me now ye ken, but ah’ll be letting ye aff," and he ran off before he got the inevitable kick up the backside.
© Doug Brownie November 2009

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