International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Dreamscapes
Castle: August 1957
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 shes goanie be deed" he thought. "No
way shes still breathin Oh my good God whit can
"Uncle John, Uncle John for Christs sake come doon an
git me fur ahm scared and Janice is gone fur sure."
The storm as is
the North Seas 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
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 boys
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 boys 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 were no here fur any a that my lad. Were
here tae huv ye climb the cliffs and groom ye and hone ye. Well
start wi a gentle first summer of walks up an doon tae Stonnie an some
prowls among the rocks and shore at the seas edge. Thatll
dae ye fur this year, but next year well 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 ahll walk this castle and its building
and ahll 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.
"Cmon noo laddie. Git yer feet movin and well
go doon this path here and climb the other side up in through the gates.
Well sit fur a while and Ill gie ye the history o
the place and let ye see a view on the other side that yell 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. "Yell
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 mairn
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
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 yer 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
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. Yell no be dyin the day. Ye ken whit tae
dae and yeve jist got tae dae it. Theres nae way fur me
tae git near ye. Yer on the point rock face and jist roon the point
theres 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 Johnll 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.
"Ahll 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 Janices chest in a double knot and the other
he gripped firmly in his hand wrapping it again and again around his
So absorbed in accomplishing this that he hadnt 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
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
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 shes 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 Janices 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 thered 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.
Hed been too much in shock to consciously consider the implications
of his grandchilds 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 hed 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 boys 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
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 couldnt speak, he could barely
think. Standing right there in the glorious sunshine were Janice and
Bill, grinning like hyenas and enjoying the big mans discomfort.
"Whi, wha, whit t fucks goin oan here? Hoo, hoo in
Gods name ye git up here? Yes 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
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
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.
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 Gods 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 mans brain twisting it at the last moment to
make it easier to withdraw. "Thatll 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 Douglass 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, "Ahm
keepin ye alive tae witness this nights events fur yersel, an
Yell be let go free soon enough. Yell 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 yell be the only wan tae survive
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
lets be gone afore aw Hell lets 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 hell 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
Gods 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.
"Ahll be seein ye again William Wallace" thought
William Douglas as his boat took him and his master masons down the
East Coast to Edinburgh. "Well overnight in Roslyn Glen"
he told his men. Douglasdale would see them home in a couple of days
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
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
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. "Cmon 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, Cmon
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
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 Gods name the boy had the presence of mind to
find and take advantage of this unnatural phenomenon. Bill Douglass
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 ahll be letting
ye aff," and he ran off before he got the inevitable kick up the
© Doug Brownie November 2009
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