Andrew Slessor braces himself against the driving wind and snow and presses on in search of shelter. The blizzard roars. His eyelashes freeze. His lungs hurt. He fears he’ll die unless he finds shelter soon. His memory of the OS map is vivid. He reckons he’s near the ruined Crofters’ village where the tragedy unfolded. He stumbles and trips over a low wall of fallen stones. Struggling to his feet in the blizzard, he glimpses the small building that’s his final destination. On arrival, all is as he expected: the door is locked and letters in red paint announce, DANGER KEEP OUT! He takes a key hanging from a nail beside the door. Ignoring the warning, he enters and shuts the door behind him; it immediately blows open in the storm. He forces the door shut against the wind and locks it tight.
There are no windows. Despite the storm roaring beyond the thick stone walls, the Bothy is eerily still. Using his phone torch, he explores. Finding kindling, logs and dry matches in a tin box, he lights a fire in the hearth. No going back now, he thinks, as the room fills with warmth and flickering light.
For years, Andrew has been haunted by his family’s history. In1841, the inhabitants of a Crofters’ village, near Loch Roag, had been ‘cleared’ from the land. The word ‘cleared’ is a euphemism: all the crofters, including children, were massacred. Andrew’s ancestor and namesake, Andrew Slessor, led the men who committed this genocide. The only building left standing is where Andrew now sits on a rickety chair by the fire. The building was unharmed because it was the home of the village matriarch – Una, who was imprisoned there to starve to death to prove resistance futile. Over time, Andrew’s obsessive guilt has been fuelled by a voice, he believes, calling him to Scotland.
Andrew stares into the fire. Una, I’ve come to beg forgiveness.
The fire roars with purple flames and a burning woman steps out of the fire. I know you. Are you back to gloat? Una asks.
I may have the same name as my ancestor, Andrew Slessor, but I’m not him.
Una’s cloak bursts into flames but remains whole. Do you think over two hundred years of rage is enough for what he did to my people here? Una demands. What he did to me?
No, but maybe forgiveness could make you free?
Free? Free? Her banshee laughter freezes Andrew’s every nerve. No one is ever free. You heard my voice. You came. Una wraps Andrew in her burning cloak. His skin blisters. He smells his own flesh burning. His lungs fill with smoke.
He screams, Why?
Una answers, No one escapes the sins of their forebears unto the third and fourth generations. Expect no mercy from me.
Weeks later, walkers come upon the Bothy. The wooden door with its warning has gone. Venturing inside the building, they are horrified to find Andrew’s cremated corpse lying on the hearth.
© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.