The last clan chief has died. Therefore my parents, with myself in tow, have been called back to Scotland… It sounds strange like that, clan politics in this day in age. It sounds strange like that, no matter how many times I replay it in my head; I mean, the sterile nature of those short sentences. Saying: “my grandfather, whom I haven’t seen since childhood, has died,” is slightly more painful though. So here we are, packed in to the Manor, sleeping on couches, spare mattresses; the elderly and young get beds, top and tailing. Lucky me, forced into close proximity of family members I may have only met once or twice before, my nerves are understandably frayed, aren’t they? Most don’t engage me in any form of conversation, to an almost malicious degree. Not like I have anything to say to them. Rapidly shortening days pass me by, the meeting punctually starts at lunch, the yelling around afternoon tea, spurred on by booze; all the older men are arguing in the hall of the old estate, others are just as bored of the political bullying and half-arsed Machiavellian machinations as myself and have begun sneaking off. I’ve followed their lead, slipping out of the hall, bracing myself against the crisp northern weather. Awkwardly rearranging my hardly-worn kilt, I decided to explore the grounds I haven’t seen since my childhood.
Heather. Moor. A bit more heather. The manor’s still out of bounds, lest I be asked to actually provide an opinion on who’d be a better Laird; the succession is still being contested, not that I particularly care. Having nought else better to do I decided to trump deeper through the heather, I’m embarrassed to admit to a girlish shriek or two whenever something slipped inside my kilt, brushing things that needn’t be brushed.
Grouse hen, pheasant and fowl explode out of the heather behind me, wings struggling for lift.
Huh. That’s strange. I turn to the sound and face the Manor. A whip crack rolls over the gentle heather-covered curves.
A hard shock and all I can see is powder blue Scottish sky, as birdshot destroys my poor hat and a heavy tweed and tartan mass occupies a space in my abdomen, franticly firing messages to the pain receptors of my brain. A pheasant takes flight just behind my head, another flat crack rings out across the moor and a puff of feathers drifts down and settles in my hair. Gross.
Gears finally start to turn inside my head, adrenaline forcing a fight or flight response to try and drown out everything else.
Reflexively I try to raise up to my elbows, instead a growl and a strong slam forces my shoulder back to ground level. A sweet, sing song, lilting brogue greets my ears.
“Oh fuck indeed ye wee fool! What’re ye thinking of doin’, trampin’ through the heather when they’re thinkin’ of shooting some of the poor, wee birds!”
“I-I-I just wanted to get out of the hall, ya know? Who are you?!”
“Who am I? I’m the damn groundskeeper, MacConall, who’re ye? I’ve nay seen ye like before, boyo!”
I-Is she sniffing me? “She” right? Her voice’s too sweet.
“I’m the Chief’s goddamn grandson! Or, the ex-chief anyhow, now enough with this ‘boyo’ crap!”
Her fluffy greyish black ears dip a second before resuming the offensive. Wait. Fluffy ears?
“Ooooooh, it’s the prodigal grandson, fiiiiinally back to the homeland, couldn’t see your grand-da when he was alive ‘n kickin’, could yee? I’ll call you what I damn well like after savin’ your hide! Or were you tryin’ to have ye daft ‘ead blown ta bits, eh? Where’s me thanks?
She was combative, gruff, and apparently instantly angry that I had the audacity to exist, but she was right, I should probably thank her.
“I don’t want, nor do I need, to be admonished by the damn groundskeeper, along with everyone else, but… Thank you very much for keeping my head where it happily is MacConall.”
Something quickly wagged, barely noticeable, past the girl whom was currently pinning me to the ground, nonchalantly resting her head upon my chest. Her hand on the ground behind my right shoulder brooked no conversation about getting up and having a closer look for fluffy appendages anytime soon. Seemingly to punctuate my thought another crack rang out and echoed across the moor, met with a wet smack and a puff of feathers. I could smell the cordite wafting towards my cover in the growth. The girl’s gone quiet now, she’s apparently right comfortable where she is, even though her ears are flat to her head. EARS!
“MacConall, I don’t mean to be rude-”
“So ye probably are goin’ to be.”
“Couldn’t be any more rude than you! Stop interrupting; don’t grin at me like that! What’s with your ears?”
A green tweed sleeve brushed past my left flank, the grey paw within smooths her fluffy ears into her shock of red hair.
“You certainly put it as rudely as ye could, didn’t ye? Have ye forgotten that too? I’m a damn werewolf boyo, your family’s groundskeepers have been werewolves for generation upon generation.”
“Ha! Yee should see ye daft face,” a light but hearty laugh broke out, and just as quickly smothered back down, “ye’ve totally forgotten huh? I can wag me tail for ya s’more, but I won’t bark nor beg, I draw the line there, ya ken? I guess it has been a long time since ye were last here.”
“You seem to have me at a disadvantage Miss MacConall.”
“Pfft, the boy’s found his manners, don’t be tryin’ them on meself, I’m just a simple country lass, like to be swept off her dainty paws by a kind gentleman.”
I could feel her girlish laughter, her warm breath on my chest. I’ve probably gotten much too comfortable; lying in the heather with an employee of my family, and a werewolf at that. Another flat crack reminded me exactly why I was taking cover in the fragrant, tall, plant-growth. Sure, I’ve met girls… of a monstruous persuasion, but one has yet to attach herself to my chest. A sniffle brought me back to the actual entity using my body as a picnic rug. Her nose crinkled cutely as she sniffled again, sweet freckles shifted with her expression, standing out from her pure white skin, complimenting her pony-tail bound red-hair, her fluffy ears down once more, messy fringe partly obscuring up swept eyebrows and her pale blue/grey eyes as they met my own, a slight blush rising to the graceful line of her cheek.
Oh. Well everything’s so much less awkward now, that’s beautiful.
“Pfft hehe, y’were always quiet, even when you were just a wee thing.”
“Oh? Were you quiet too?”
“So? What’s wrong MacConall?”
Choose. Either grin at me or don’t look so sad.
“I’ll try my best not to.”
“If ye do, I’ll whallop ye one!”
“You’ll whallop your young master? Whom signs your cheques?”
“Ye don’t sign me damn cheques!”
“Christ! Spit it out girl!”
“I don’t like it when they shoot the poor, wee, defenceless, critters!”
I tried not to laugh, but I failed, “ouch! Jesus! Not so hard! You’re a groundskeeper, that comes part and parcel doesn’t it?”
“…Y’not wrong, it’s just… I think the moors are s’pretty, the animals too. It’s all… Really sad. Usually I just make meself scarce when the men want to shoot; I’m no one’s gun dog.”
“So why’re you out here today then?”
“I thought I smelled somethin’ familiar.”
“Did you find whatever it was?”
“I cannae say. By the by, are you happy t’just keep scratchin’ m’ears?”
“W-wha? Oh, MacConall! I’m so sorry, that was really inappr-”
“Did I say I hated it? Don’t worry ye daft head about it.”
I’ll keep scratching her ears, but I’m going to get a bit of revenge on the smartass wolf in the process. Turnabout is fair play after all.
“It’s just that, it felt like I had a big dog in my lap and I couldn’t help myself!”
Grey wolfish ears perked up, despite the continued scritches; righteous Scottish anger flared as well and a large paw boxed my ear in response. Both wolfgirl and I rested there, laughing in the heather. Closing my eyes, I shut out the endless blue vault above, the throbbing of my ear, enjoying the scents of the heather, the musty smell of tweed and tartan; still laughing the girl shifted above me, moving a bit further up my body. I didn’t get a chance to feel any of her womanly curves, not when she just dropped herself onto me, forcing the air from my lungs, her ears twitching as my breath rushed past them. She was awkwardly close; her ears could brush my chin, her scent definitely filling my senses. The girl snuggled into me, more as if I were an intractable mattress rather than a lover. Yet, I didn’t necessarily mind when she started murmuring to me in her soft brogue, I couldn’t muster any response more complex than a murmur myself; comfiness nirvana had been attained, lying under the fluffy tail I had found enlightenment. Or something close enough, something far enough away from the Manor.
“Ye’ar’a lucky boyo, y’ken? The last man to treat me like a dog dinnae get off so lightly…”
I murmured appreciatively.
“It’s true! The big, fat, bastard stomped up t’me, pointed the stock of his shotgun at me, then pointed it at the heather and told me ta fetch all ‘is killin’s!”
A murmur of offended disbelief this time.
“I know right? Y’nae what I di-did I mention he was some English wanker up for a business holiday? Well he was, anyhoo, y’nae what I did?”
A murmur to prod the story along,
“Well, I grabbed his damn fancy, expensive, shotgun and snapped its lock across me knee like it was a wee, dry twig, then threw both ‘alves clear into the heather and told him he can fetch ‘is own birds ‘n ‘is own gun. He coo’nae say 2 words ta me for the rest of the shoot! Hehe, y’should’ve seen ya grand-da, he thought it ’bout the funniest damn thing he ever did see…”
I wanted to murmur something to her surely amusing anecdote, but she had to add that to the end. Words tried to form on my lips, but as soon as I inhaled a paw tightened upon the shirt beneath my coat.
“I… I’m sorry, I dinnae mean to bring him up. B-But, y’nae, I just wanted t’say, y’grand-da was always very kind t’me when I was growin’ up, out on this lonely moor. He was like a da t’me… Sorry.”
I almost expected to feel some warm drops fall upon my shirt front, but if the wolf had any tears she didn’t let them fall.
Too comfortable to care much more, I simply petted the girl’s pretty red hair, rewarded by way of a happy sigh; eyelids growing heavy, I was slipping into sleep on a bed of heather.
Dreams came unbidden, threats of forgotten memories, preyed upon by the delicate scents that invaded my consciousness from the waking world. The heather of my childhood, that slight mix of old tweed and wet dog, the light scent of a slightly girlish shampoo and cloying woodsmoke, all whispered to me. I was brought back to the manor I had left many years before. If I could wryly laugh at it all I would, but the memories crushed down any trace of the man I had become. On I fell, headlong into the well of my life and memories came to meet me with outstretched claws.
A great flash lit up the doorway I stood in, for an instant a hairy beast was illuminated by the muzzleflash of a family shotgun, its claw barely able to pull the triggers, its great paw splintering the stock. By the time I noticed the darkness had crept back in, the shotgun had smashed against the doorframe beside my head and the giant beast was lost from the light.
Now outside in the heather, it seemed to be early morning. Crouching, hiding, blue lights revolved on the white police Land-Rovers, on the ambulance; blue uniformed men tramp in and out of the manor. Was I told to stay out of sight? I must’ve, why else would I be alone in the overcast grey of the early morning day. Alone? A puppy sat beside me, I must’ve been playing with it, perhaps it was a frequent playmate, that was the feeling that came; maybe I followed it outside today as well. A new car’s pulled up now. An old man steps out from the passenger side, straightens up his coat, nods at his younger female colleague to go in whilst he has a quick fag. He’s walking out towards the heather, he’s seen me, he’s calling his female peer over, the puppy’s gone, there’s questions, I’m being lead to a car, Grandfather’s shouting.
Kicking my feet, sitting in some sterile room, I wonder at the halogen lights, searing above. A large, warm hand rubs my shoulder; my Grandfather creases the sides of his mouth into an approximation of a smile. I’m being told to tell the nice people what I saw. I tell them. They don’t seem to like it. Now I tell people in lab coats, now people in cosy offices stuffed with too many second hand toys. At least these people seem content to leave me to my recollections.
I’m in black, playing at the hem of my kilt as the rain drizzles down. Father lightly smacks me across the back of the head and points towards the clergyman, at the head of the grave. Looking up, I scan the black clad people around me; if our eyes met they’d avert their gaze. When I looked up at Dad, he did naught but grind his teeth, his gaze lost in the hole at the crowd’s feet. Dirt was thrown on my Granduncle’s coffin, the rain washing it away: ashes to ashes, dust to dust, mud to mud.
Grandfather’s at the airport to wave my parents and I off, he’s the only family member there. It would be the last time I saw the man alive. Staring out of the tiny porthole, watching my native land rush by; it felt like it was leaving me, rather than the other way round. Tires left tarmac.