I have many stories in the cellars of my mind – each waits like a bottle of whisky for the right occasion – but my editor, James, has little time for these narratives, and I suspect that he would rather that they all remain unwritten. It seems that these stories often feature something or other which is, to his mind, “objectionable.” Yet at this time of year, with night after night of Christmas drinks, James is forced to put aside his academic concerns, and we end up having to submit something to the website which I have written.
The events of this story occurred a little while ago. It was my wife’s fourteenth birthday and I had invited James and Tori to celebrate with us in the Abbey pub.
In the morning, I had arrived at the breakfast table to find my wife, Polly, in a state of some distress. She described experiencing an incredibly lucid dream in which she had walked down a small, thin path, with deep thickets and nettles on either side, until she had reached a little clearing at the side of the path where a man lay face down. For some reason, the mind which Polly had been dealt in the dream was certain that this man was dead, but to her profound surprise, he had very quickly rolled over to face her – with a look of terrible significance – and Polly had been propelled into the morning as if fired out of a cannon.
I instructed my wife to ignore this dream. When one does not know what to say to the young, it is best to prescribe stoicism. Yet as I was preparing a little hair of the dog to steady my nerves for the day, I found myself suddenly absorbed in an item on the radio news. A young man who had eaten a small bag of plant feeder (apparently the mephedrone makes you high) had become separated from his friends on the road back to Pollock Halls, and he had wandered off into the great darkness of Holyrood park. Nothing had been seen of him since. The radio said that he had been wearing only lipstick and a jockstrap, and so there was a possibility that he had died of exposure.
I switched the radio off and decided against troubling my wife with this news. Yet later that morning, when we set off to the Abbey to meet James and Tori, Polly was still describing the power and horror of her dream. She was adamant that she would find it again out in the waking world, like a runaway dog.
In the Abbey, James was discoursing on the perils of plant feeder. It seems that, rather as with sherbet, one dips a moistened finger into a little foil bag of this substance, but after a few unsatisfactory sucks of his finger, James had crashed into a coma which had lasted for three whole days. “I went out on Thursday evening and woke up as fresh as a daisy on Monday morning. The entire weekend lying in Tori’s kitchen!”
“You looked so sweet,” Tori laughed. “I couldn’t bring myself to wake you up!”
“It doesn’t sound like you enjoyed the experience,” I remarked.
“I feel like a man who has crashed a sports car into a tree. I am the custodian of this beautiful body…” he gestured over his ribs, “and I was unable to meet such a grave responsibility.”
James went off to buy a round of drinks – with water for Polly, of course, as she was only fourteen – but ten minutes passed and he did not return. I then caught sight of him out of the window. He was waving at us sheepishly from across the street.
“Oh Biggy… Tori… I’m so sorry!” he wailed when we trooped out to meet him. “I was at the bar getting the drinks, and when I turned around I knocked a man’s elbow and his pint went all over his shoes. He was incandescent!”
“This has rather put a dampener on the party,” I complained. “James is always doing this sort of thing, and I know from experience that if we go back into that pub there will be some kind of punch up.”
“I know!” Tori said brightly. “It’s a beautiful day and just perfect for a picnic. Let’s buy something to drink and go to Arthur’s Seat.”
“I don’t think so,” I said very quickly. I had immediately remembered Polly’s dream and the odd coincidence of the student’s disappearance. I found myself filled with a terrible sense of foreboding. “My wife does not have a proper coat with her, and she may catch a cold.”
“Oh Biggy!” Tori laughed. “She’s wearing about four jumpers. And there’s not a cloud in the sky.”
I could see that my wife was now thinking about her dream, and that she was very eager to investigate it out in the greenery of Holyrood Park. I was forced to give a reluctant assent to the picnic, but I privately resolved that my wife would go nowhere near any small, thin paths which ran through thickets and nettles.
An hour later, we were at the top of Arthur’s Seat. On the way, we had dropped into the supermarket and bought a bottle of whisky, some mixer, and some water for my wife. We now lay in the short wiry grass and listened to the faraway sighs of the city.
“This is lovely,” Tori said. “We should do this more often. It’s such a privilege having Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh – it’s like a little domesticated bit of the Highlands, kennelled in the city’s backyard.”
“It’s a squat, unsightly lump,” I replied nastily, “…too small to provide a hearty walk, but too big to avoid spoiling every photograph of Edinburgh. It’s so characteristic of this petit-bourgeois city – a twee toy mountain!”
“Hey…?” James wondered. “Where is your wife going?”
I was up like a shot. “Polly!” I barked. “Come back here!”
But Polly was racing down the hill and destined straight for a levelling out in the terrain where the undergrowth was particularly copious, and no doubt full of paths, thickets, and nettles.
“There is something going on today,” Tori decided. “For a reason known only to yourself, you did not want her to come up here in the first place.”
“Look,” I snapped, “I can’t explain how or why, but I’m very afraid that she will find something in those thickets which will upset her horribly.”
James and I were running towards the thickets, leaving Tori gazing at us with bewilderment. As we caught up with Polly, I saw that she had stopped at the beginning of a small path, and that she was already advancing nervously into the undergrowth.
“Stop!” I commanded. “Come back here where it is safe!”
Polly mumbled back something to the effect that we had all arrived in her dream, and that it was now unfolding just as it had happened.
“We must remain stoical!” I warned.
With a little cry, Polly informed us that she knew where the body was, and that she could already see a bit of it. James and I were now at her heels, and I was trying to push ahead of her.
“Wow!” James said. “There really is a body there. I can see a man lying on the ground.”
“I’m in charge here!” I asserted. “I want my wife out of the thickets!”
Polly pleaded that we were almost at the end of the dream, and that the man was about to turn over. There was a stampede of horrors through my head – who should we phone about the corpse? Would I have to testify at an inquest? Would I need to take the day off work? – when James observed that the man could not be dead, as he was snoring. And then suddenly, with a horrible, surprising speed, the man turned over to look at us.
“It’s you!” James squealed.
“You’re the bastard who spilled my drink!” The man was scrambling unsteadily to his feet, his arms swinging wild punches, and James was already half way down the hill. My wife is now firmly persuaded that she has psychic powers. The kid in the jockstrap, incidentally, was found later that day asleep on a bus in Aberdeen.