I’m smiling as I’m drawn to the same hole in the same fence all these years later. Well, probably not the same hole or the same fence, but a hole in a fence which is all that matters. This is how she’d want respects paid to her, I think with a grin as I squeeze myself through. Forget all that sitting about in a church listening to a priest who never even met her drone on about how she was a good person. Aside from anything else, that’s a bloody low bar in our family.
The rain is a fine mist now, that peculiar Glasgow weather where it’s less that it’s actually raining and more just that the air is wet. I hiked a bit of the Amazon a few years back, and the entire group fell about laughing when I told them that the thick tropical air reminded me of Glasgow. ‘Ours is colder,’ I admitted, as I wiped sweat from the back of my neck and monkeys screeched from somewhere just out of sight.
The weeds are every bit as intent on flinging me at gravel as I wander across the cobblestones. There’s no sign of the paddleboarders. They’re probably warming up with artisan coffee and vegan sandwiches in the West End, somewhere. I’d even eat a vegan sandwich right now, I think as my stomach grumbles mournfully. A single packet of stale crisps doesn’t keep a person going as long as you’d hope. A yawn grabs me, a huge one that just about swallows me whole. My kitchen table is calling me.
The moment of weakness is down to hunger as much as anything. An image of my wee gran marching over these cobblestones searching for ghosties and pirates flickers to life in my mind and a wave of grief crashes over me, so strong it takes my breath away. I clamp my hand over my mouth, choking back the hard, aching sobs because this isn’t the time. I’m going to cry at the funeral. That’s what it’s bloody well for. It’s the whole point of funerals.
That’s when I hear it.I wipe my face with the back of my hand as I frown, trying to place the noise. Something metallic and echoey. There must be some construction going on somewhere beyond the high redbrick wall that surrounds the vast yard. Roadworks, probably. But the weird thing is, it sounds near. I stand still and listen, goosebumps prickling over me as the air fills with clangs of hammers on metal, the whine of welders’ torches, songs and laughter and angry shouts of foremen who lost half a leg in the Blitz and have been in a bad mood ever since.
I’m facing the wall now, and I don’t want to turn around. I don’t want to see —
I thought I was done with all this nonsense. It’s been years.
Exactly, I tell myself firmly.
It’s been years, because I was a child then and I am an adult now, or so my passport tells me, at least. It’s broad daylight for goodness sake. There’ll be dozens of people just on the other side of that wall, queueing at the bus stop, wrangling small children in the direction of nursery, praying that the car will start one more time because they can neither afford to be late for work or to take it to a garage. And here’s me on the other side, a grown woman, trespassing and getting her knickers in a twist over things that go bump in the night.
I grit my teeth and turn around, and there’s
No ghostie shipyard workers. I’m all alone. The clouds are low and nearly black, casting a heavy shadow that’s almost as dark as night. I roll my eyes at myself as I shiver.
There will be cafes open by now. A cooked Scottish breakfast will set my world to rights. Square sausages and potato scones and baked beans that never taste quite the same anywhere else in the world. Fried tomato and black pudding. Thick toast and a chunky mug of builders’ tea so strong the spoon will stand up in it.
I turn to head in the direction of such a café and a group of people crowded around by the water’s edge catch my eye. I can barely make them out in the gloom. Teenagers mucking about, I tell myself. Early on a Wednesday morning is a odd time for it, but unless teenagers have changed a lot since I was one, there’s no end to the weird shit they will do.
Except they’re not teenagers. Almost without realising, I’ve moved closer, and I can see now that they are men. Tall, broad shouldered men. Wee Glasgow guys have developed in the years I’ve been away, I think, they must be putting steroids in the lager. That bodes well for keeping me occupied for the couple more days I’m stuck here, but what on earth are they all doing here at this hour? Standing about in a circle, wearing cloaks, no less? There is no breadth of shoulders that makes up for the level of fannyness suggested by a Wednesday Morning Cloak-Wearing club.
A strange, woozy sensation hits me, as though I’m in a lift that has stopped too fast. I’ve come closer than I meant to, creeping through the jungle of weeds and wildflowers and discarded cans. I smell fire now, sharp and acrid.
Then one of the men stands aside and ice cold horror sweeps over me. It’s not a campfire they’re standing around, but a long bed of burning coals. It’s glowing red and black, snapping and sizzling with heat.
A man lies across it.
He’s naked, his body a mass of scars and crudely drawn tattoos. He’s alive. I can see him writhe and jerk in agony, sweat pouring down his brow as his skin blisters and burns.
There’s another man standing over him, dark beard and hair tumbling to his shoulders. I want to yell, to stop them, but I’m frozen with terror, my voice caught in my throat. A Wednesday Morning, Cloak-Wearing-Murdering club is significantly more than I bargained for. The dark haired man raises his arms above his head and an axe glints and I scream.
The men turn as I come howling from the undergrowth like some kind of manic banshee. Everything I’ve ever learned in Thai boxing classes about using an opponent’s superior size against against them flashes through my head, and right back out again. I lunge for Axey Man and kick him in the balls.
(published Friday 4 June at 5pm)
Password: what is the name of the pub in Still Game?
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(Don’t worry about the release date, it will come out much earlier but you’re only allowed to move release dates up not back so I set it with loads of spare time to begin with then will update when we’re into the swing of it!!)