As part of our new project, we challenged the good folk of Greenock Writers Club to come up with some new scary stories for us. There were some real crackers, and a few dark twists on local tales that we'll share with you in a future podcast or on the blog. We thought though, that we would share the winner with you first. Moonlight Over Inverkip is a really excellent take on the legends surrounding Mary Lamont. It was written by Mark Jones, who loves writing so much, he is also a professional proofreader. Hats off to Mark, and a big thank-you to the writers club for getting involved and helping us out.
Moonlight Over Inverkip by Mark Jones
Woozily, the world oozes across her eyes. A kaleidoscope of oil-on-water colours, these high Inverclyde hills collide and contract, expand and diffuse, images filtered through a mind befogged by Valium and whisky. Spellbound, she stumbles over fields, glides by the loch, slides through familiar places, past curious fleeting faces and out, out, out along the wrong roads, a long way from home, a long way beyond the areas she and her dog usually roam. Cauldron Hill, Blood Moss, Rotten Craig, Back o’ the World disappear behind her.
He stands in the storm, observes her approach, with eyes so dark you could think their sockets hollow. Long hair whipped by the wind, he might almost have horns. When finally she arrives, he pulls up her dress and sinks teeth into her thigh. As he cries with delight, her spirit flies, borne on the breeze.
Valium and whisky have been mother’s little helpers for years. Father hasn’t known how much she steals to afford them, nor that six months ago she took from a man of the town a large loan she must now repay in ever-increasing increments of interest. A shark in the shadows of
Greenock’s undertow, he comes
pockmarked and parka-jacketed once a week to collect. Why the deal? Because although
hubby earns enough at Inverkip’s new power station for their needs, he can’t
afford her appetites. She struggles to scrape together repayments. Each evening
she walks the dog up in the woods of Crowhill and Leapmoor, searching for a
One evening she detours to a lonely telephone box and calls the pockmarked parka man, arranging a meeting in the forest itself. He knows wives require discretion, understands their need for secrecy. Two nights later he waits beneath a fir pregnant with autumnal raindrops. He expects her at seven. He doesn’t expect a brick in the nape, as high as she can reach, felling him. Prostrate, his skull is easily bludgeoned. A wild gust bursts the tree. Blood and rainwater run pink along the burn into which she rolls him, making it look like he – a stranger amid a perilous landscape – tripped and drowned. Breathless along the twilit track homeward, she feels surprisingly fearless. Leaves weave in the swirling smirry dusk, whispering:
She ignores them. She’ll burn his notebook containing the addresses of the indebted. She’s safe, elated. She’s murdered more than the man, but her past also – and with it all morality. She feels no remorse. She’s free. She cackles.
What tastes has she that make her so restless, so greedy? Their marriage a sham, neither she nor Davey are faithful but remain together for the sake of politeness and his promotion prospects. She loved her daughter when young. Now she merely tolerates the eight year-old. Sandra seeks solace instead in booze and pills and afternoons in hotel rooms with a dipsomaniac journalist called Daryll. He says he loves her; but she needs him, which is worse. They were to elope, but he won’t commit. That’s why she took the loan, but Daryll frittered it. That’s how she became stuck with the shark-in-a-parka. That’s why she’s killed him. She’s a murderess because each successive decision she makes to enliven her dull life leads to a worse one.
At home the staircase creaks:
At the back of her head hairs pull uneasily. But it’s only Angela, incanting to the moon the story she’s learning at school. The tale of Marie Lamont, the Inverkip witch. Why they teach this local history crap is beyond Sandra.
“Mrs Munro says Marie was mad, not bad.”
“She had an illness, didn’t understand what she was admitting,” Angela elaborates. It makes more sense, at least, than the charges brought against this real-life seventeenth century teenage witch: milk-stealing from neighbours, storm-raising to drown sailors, and bunk about meeting the devil at midnight to be marked on the body by his bite. Those were backward times when even the educated believed in magic. For lowly Marie Lamont, though, it wasn’t magic, but common sense: never weave widdershins, it’s bad luck: a superstition with logic because widdershins not only entailed defying the natural direction of the sun, but also, if you were right-handed it simply made the task harder. This – and a whole bunch of weird behaviours – seemed sensible to the likes of Lamont, and could be explained just as rationally as, say, the fear of walking under ladders for fear of what might fall from above. But to accusers, Lamont’s actions screamed irrationality: witchcraft. She was burned at the stake.
But if neither magic nor witchcraft exists, for what was the wretched woman slain? And why did she volunteer her confessions in the first place? Maybe Marie – a humble village girl – sought excitement, confessing such accursed acts because she was so restricted in life by poverty and by convention. Telling lies made her life seem more exciting. Lamont knew tales of witches – they were notorious. Notoriety was fame, and fame was enticing then just as now. Ok, Sandra thinks, so the story from the past has parallels with the present. But it’ll give Angela nightmares. She tells her daughter to hush and sleep
Next day, Angela begs to walk the dog at Leapmoor. Mum doesn’t want to return but has no excuse. They won’t walk anywhere near the body.
But Angela runs ahead. Where the moss grows green, Angela sees something and comes bounding back, enthusiastic as the puppy.
“Mummy! Mummy! I met a witch!”
But the girl persists: she’s spoken to a witch down within the darkness of trees.
“She says I’m a good girl. It’s not me but you she needs to see.”
As odd as these words are, Sandra shivers from other thoughts: she has recognised with horror the very spot at which she smashed in the parka man’s skull. How can Angela have stood in that same spot and not spotted the corpse?
They depart quickly, Angela reviewing aloud all she knows of Lamont – the satanic transformation of Marie and her accomplices into animals; wild journeys by moonlight; demonic deeds.
Magic doesn’t exist, Sandra repeats. Marie must’ve been mad to have admitted crimes she couldn’t have committed. The words catch in her throat. She sighs to see the Morris 1100 again, clambers inside, turns the engine, drowns Angela’s voice.
Bewildered curiosity piqued and fortified with Valium and whisky, Sandra returns to Leapmoor next afternoon. Where’s the body gone? If someone’s found it, why aren’t the woods blue with policemen? Did she hide it too well? Again she frets – why did she kill him? To save herself – from bankruptcy, divorce, disgrace. She worries not for the man or his family but herself. Her remorse died with him. But fear lives on. She didn’t foresee this.
In the trees, dreich and gloomy, Sandra’s not alone. Behind the branches, something lurks. Since it’s following her, she takes to her heels. But this creature is fleet. Sandra tumbles, wipes mud from her face, feels breath at her ear:
Sandra understands. This is her last chance. The witch Lamont looks terrified:
“I was mad, led by nightmares. You can still choose. Repent.”
But Sandra refuses, pushing past. She is called: she sees him in her mind’s eye, standing on the far side of the darkening forest. Pockmarked. Greasy hair. Hair whipped by the wind: he might almost have horns. She sees beyond the disguise, recognises his true identity. Neither man nor beast.
That she’d slay him he’d known all along. But dying is easy when you’re always reborn.
Rejuvenated, he beckons her. It’s unnecessary to take her forcibly. She volunteers. Marie Lamont may have been as innocent as the beasts in the fields – deluded, driven insane by a tough life, confessing to crimes she didn’t understand – but Sandra isn’t. No nightmare, she’s not mad, walks purposefully. Casting off the costume of her old life, she chooses death with relief.
He clutches covetously his latest concubine, pulls her cheek to his chest. The sensation pleases him and that’s really all that matters to her. This is the twist: she willed this, wanted it. She sold her soul long ago to a loveless marriage and the tedium of a life lived too leisurely. So bored and so desensitised did she become that she embraces the eternal, infernal alternative. Now, the storm and the Devil caress and carry her. By moonlight over Inverkip she travels, borne in his hirsute, musk-smelling arms.