Nessie And The Moon Shadows
Although the trees grew close together and the underbrush was thick with shadow, the full moon still cast myriad circles of light on the forest floor where its silvery rays broke through the canopy above. The dappled patterns seemed to dance as they brightened and swirled with the movement of the breeze through the foliage. As the woman ran on through the woods, catching herself from stumbling often over exposed roots and reaching vines, she tried not to cry out or breathe too heavily, though her chest heaved with effort. She could hear him following not far behind, snapping branches and cursing loudly, uncaring if he were heard, knowing she was the only other soul out here so far from the village. Keeping her eyes on the patches of moonlight blurring with speed underneath her stride, she hurried for the brighter clearing she glimpsed ahead. Soon she’d break through the forest edge and be able to break into a proper run. He’d never be able to catch her then.
She almost betrayed her position immediately upon clearing the tree line; a gasp partly escaped her lips before she clasped both hands over her mouth. The ancient ruins spread out below never failed to fill her with awe. Now, under the bright light of the full moon, the stones seemed alive with ethereal magic; the shadows cast by the crumbling walls were stark and sinister. Fearing to be caught by him more than she was afraid of any ghosts conjured by children’s tales, she scrambled down the rocky slope toward the remains of Castle Urquhart. The soaring keep rose to tower over her as she came closer, until it swallowed her in the depths of shadowy darkness as she sought to hide within the ruins. She finally dared to slow her pace in the gloom between the stony ramparts, taking deep breaths, inhaling the cool night air. She listened for footsteps or gravel crunching, but heard only leaves rustling distantly, and the waters of Loch Ness gently lapping the shoreline beyond the castle walls. Perhaps he’d be of the mind that she would flee far from this place, and not look for her near the castle. A slim hope, but she didn’t have many at this point.
A sudden faraway cry out over the water seemed to still even the wind and sent a chill into the very soul of the woman hiding in the moon shadows. She froze, fine hairs standing on end, then peered around a crumbling wall to look toward the source of the otherworldly sound. It had sounded like the trumpeting of some nightmarish exotic bird of prey. Surely that could have been no doing of his. What other creatures dared to hunt these highlands under the full moon? None as terrifying as the man who chased her as his quarry now. She’d take her chances with the denizens of the night. She was about to step from the cloak of darkness when the sound came again, closer this time, more menacing. She pressed herself against the cold stone of a doorframe and searched out over the loch.
Not far from shore, a dark shape undulated through the waters, creating ripples sparkling with moonlit reflections. The swimming silhouette stretched high above the surface, then curved to display an arched hump glinting with iridescent scales before disappearing into the depths with barely a splash from the flicked tail.
She couldn’t believe her luck. Out here at the castle, alone in the darkness, the devil on her tail, and of course a legendary monster appears to fulfill her adventure. As if taunting her to question her sanity, a huge reptilian head rose above the choppy surface close enough for her to see the yellow of its preternatural eyes. A serpentine neck followed, and massive oar-like fins wavered under the illuminated waters. The woman stood transfixed, not daring to twitch and attract any unwanted attention. It hardly mattered that her teeth chattered and she was unknowingly emitting a high-pitched squeak, the Loch Ness Monster glided toward her, bleating its horrifying call as it seemed to slither toward her standing ashore. It had seen her. It was coming.
Cursing silently, she looked about, wondering if the hunter had been alerted by the aquatic beast. She spotted him at once, up on the tower, looking out over the water, watching the myth become reality. He turned his gaze and his eyes landed directly on her; he smiled coldly and seemed to wink, but that could only be her imagination this far away. Not bothering to commit the details of the scene to memory, she turned and fled along the rugged shoreline, conscious of the sounds of tinkling water as the creature kept pace in the water alongside her. She looked back every so often, but her human pursuer was not to be seen. When she felt like her lungs may burst, she tumbled to the ground in the shadow of a stand of trees, trying to catch her breath, and looking all around for brute or beast. The water was still, and the shoreline deserted. She crawled to the edge of the loch, eager for a sip of water. As she cupped her hands to her lips, she glanced up - blinking in surprise along with the yellow eyes watching her from just a broomstick’s length away.
The monster’s head sat half-submerged, and as it let out a soft sigh, bubbles formed and popped and swirled toward the astounded woman. The head cocked at an angle inquiringly, and it occurred to her that its eyes looked intelligent and curious. Half wondering what madness had hold of her, she saw herself stretching a hand toward the terrifying legend. The long neck hesitated and then came to meet her touch. She gasped as she made contact with the cold nose of the tall tale the storytellers call “Nessie”. This was no monster. This was a creation of nature, beautiful and free, but misunderstood and abominated - a plight not unlike her own. She stroked Nessie’s jaw, her neck, her strange scaly protrusions. A throaty purring sound issued from deep within the blue-hued chest. The woman smiled, despite her predicament. In another lifetime, she would have liked to befriend her strange companion. But in this one, she had to keep running.
She didn’t need to spin around at the sound of a twig snapping behind her. It was no accident of misstep. He was announcing his arrival to the festivities, and she had been expecting him, sooner or later; things must come to pass as foretold. Instead of turning she watched as the creature of Loch Ness gathered herself into a pillar of hissing malevolence, curving her powerful neck overtop of the woman to glower at the threat to her newfound friend. She bellowed and gnashed her teeth. The hunter laughed, continuing toward them at the water’s edge.
“My luck is nothing short of miraculous tonight. The Witch, and The Loch Ness Monster, together! They’ll be singing songs about me for generations. The greatest hunter this land has ever known.” His laugh held no mirth. “I can’t decide which one of you loathsome fiends makes the better trophy”, he marvelled sickeningly. He drew his sword; it blazed as it caught the light.
The woman turned to face her would-be executioner. “We can’t decide which one of us gets to eat your heart,” she bluffed, chin held high.
His smile faltered, his advance halted.
The three adversaries remained still, no one daring to move. The moon hung low in the sky, casting long shadows across the windswept highlands. The woman’s hair billowed in a halo around her. Nessie hissed and twisted.
The time had come.
Every so often I am going to publish these "penny dreadful" stories on my blog here, and also on my Facebook page. They will be small snippets of a tale, meant to be unfinished. A picture will accompany each to set the scene and portray the character(s). I often get asked if there will be a second part to any of the stories, and it's possible, but unlikely. I only ever meant for them to be cliffhangers. But strange things can occur.