Our story begins, in a fishing cabin in North West Scotland, on the banks of Loch Maree.
Our story begins, in a fishing cabin in North West Scotland, on the banks of Loch Maree.
Nestled into the trees along the banks of Loch Maree, sat the cabin. It was a grand affair from the outside, modern with jaunty angles and an aluminium roof, even from across the great Loch you could see the dull sunlight shimmering off the rooftop. It hid quite well in it's surroundings and was a good 5 minute drive from the nearest road, down a rough dirt track, weaving through the trees to the water's edge. Evening was approaching and it was starting to get dark. There were rain clouds sweeping low over the shimmering water's surface, the tiny licks of light at the windows of the cabin glowed gently against the darkness of the dense trees behind.
The heat from the log burner flushed the cold out of the room and sealed it against draughts. The low, orange light from the window on the stove's front danced across the room and cast long strange shadows. This cabin was starting to look like a home, Graham thought as he leant on the broom he had been using to expel the dust from the floors. Graham glanced around at the cabin's main area, with fond memories of his childhood rushing back, he yanked the sheet off the sofa and coughed as dust was thrown up into the air. The sofa was old, it had been moved here when his parents had redone the living room when he was a child. It was now a dingy cream colour, a far cry from it's original bright white.
He slumped into a chair at the oak table, it was a a bit notched and scuffed now but he remembered watching his Father labour over refurbishing it for hours and hours, he smiled and stroked it's hard, warm surface, feeling the initials scratched into the underside, G.S and R.S. Graham and Robert Stone, his brother.
Speaking of which, Robert had been gone a long time now, longer than expected. When they had reached the cabin earlier that day they had found the gas bottles in the cooker empty and the diesel generator that provided all the electric dangerously low. So, whilst Graham had lit a fire, tidied up and scrubbed the surfaces, Robert had taken the old Ford pick-up truck he loved so much, to the fuel station they had passed on the way here. He'd been gone near 2 hours now and it wasn't that far, he must be enjoying a cruise around. Robert adored his truck, he had got it on his 18th birthday from their Grandfather. A 1980 F-250 truck, it was near un-drivable when he'd received it, but now it was in showroom condition, brought back to life by Robert's countless hours and love that had gone into it and it was now a thing of beauty, midnight blue and silver with plush leather seats.
Graham picked himself up and stashed the broom back in the cupboard by the back door, next to the coat rack and decided he would go and have a look at the little wooden dinghy in the old boat house, to give it a once over. As he bent for the tool box he heard the crunch of the Ford's big tires on the gravelled driveway.
"About time". He muttered, stepping toward the door.
The truck rocked on it's suspension as Robert pulled himself up into the driver's seat and pulled the door shut behind him. He set his phone and wallet down on the dashboard before adjusting the mirrors, his brother was a bit taller than he was, and reaching around the steering wheel to turn the keys in the ignition. The engine roared into motion and punctuated the silence that settled over the loch. A silence that was unfamiliar to a city boy. His hand dropped against the lever on the side of the steering wheel, turning the headlights on and revealing Slattadale house against the darkness that surrounded it, a thick canvas of clouds in the evening sky kept what was left of the sunlight from making an impression on the thick woodland and loch that the house looked out on to. He swung his arm over the back of the passenger seat and used it to support his weight as he turned to see out of the rear window, shifted into reverse and released the clutch. The gravel, dimly lit by the reverse lights, scattered from under the wheels as the truck backed out of the driveway and on to the dirt track. The truck came to a halt and he flicked the cabin lights on, illuminating the tidy interior of the F-250 upon which Robert prided himself, before pulling a metal case from his jeans pockets. He opened the case and pulled out a poach of tobacco, there was no traffic to speak of in these parts as they were in the middle of nowhere so he wasn't in any hurry to move the car from the middle of the track. He rolled a cigarette and, after winding down the window, lit it with a silver Zippo lighter that Graham had given him for his birthday last year. He took a deep breathe and slowly exhaled, savoring the experience as Graham wouldn't let him smoke when he was in the truck too, releasing a plume of smoke that lingered for a short while before drifting away in the wind.
Robert and Graham had passed a petrol station on the way to their parents house earlier that day so he drove the way he came. He made his way down the dirt track until he got to the main road, the A832, and followed it eastwards. The road ran parallel to Loch Maree and despite the overcast weather the views were spectacular. After roughly twenty minutes he could see the petrol station.
Robert pushed down on the indicator, signalling his motive despite there being no other cars on the road, and slowed down to turn into the petrol station. It wasn't the same as the ones he was used to, no brightly lit forecourt or colourful signs, just a couple of fuel pumps sat in front of a small building that doubled up as convenience store for the few people that lived near the loch. He brought the truck to a stop beside one of the pumps and removed the keys, the engine simmered to silence as he swung open the door, stopping as he was half way out of the truck. It was unusually quiet. He shrugged and continued to get out of the truck, slamming the door as a means of alerting anybody who might be around that he was there. Robert made his way around the back of the truck and looked inside the pickup bed, he reached across and unfastened the bungie rope that secured the two large red canisters for the diesel to the side of the pit, placed them on the ground and pulled out a torch which he kept in case of emergencies. The torch was only small but it was more than enough for what he was trying to do. He placed it on top of the truck, pointing towards the fuel pump, so that he could see what he was doing.
"Why are there no lights here?" It seemed stupid to Robert.
The canisters held a gallon each which, Robert thought, should last them for the week. He picked one of them up and moved towards the pump, grabbed the diesel handle and went to fill the canister. Nothing happened. He pressed the trigger again and when the same thing happened he let out a sigh and dropped it back into it's cradle. He assumed it must just be a faulty pump so walked over to the other one and started to fill the canister. This one worked. The light from the torch didn't make it as far as the second pump but the dim light from the station window was enough to make the task manageable. All Robert wanted to do was get the diesel and the gas and get back to the house, the darkness of the countryside and the quiet petrol station were beginning to play tricks on him. He wasn't afraid of the dark, he just didn't like the idea of not knowing what was in it. There was a cough from the pipe and the diesel spluttered until nothing more came out. The canister wasn't even half full.
"For fuck's sake!"
Robert dropped the canister and stood up. He looked in through the window of the petrol station hoping to catch someones eye and get some help with the pumps but there didn't look as though anyone was there. He walked towards the door and pushed against it, letting out a creak that made him stop in his tracks before he dismissed it, the strip lighting in the ceiling flickered as he stepped inside. The shop looked as though it had been deserted, shelves lay strewn across the floor along with their contents, the fridge doors towards the back of the shop were open with puddles of water at their bases and the television that was behind the counter hissed with white noise.
"Hello?" Nobody replied. "What the fuck? HELLO? IS ANYBODY THERE?" Silence.
Robert wasn't prepared to stay any longer but as he turned on his heels to make for the truck his conscience got the better of him; what if the place had been robbed? He had to make sure that nobody was hurt, it didn't make sense for the shopkeeper to run off too, even if he had been robbed. He called out again, hoping for a belated response from behind the door on the other side of the counter, but there was no answer. Robert's hands curled into tight fists, blood dispersing away from his knuckles, as he stepped over the newspaper stand that lay on the shop floor. As he made his way behind the counter his heart started to thud against the inside of his chest and he felt the blood pump through his neck. He stopped in front of the closed door and closed his eyes, concentrating on the sounds behind the door. The wind hit the front windows of the shop, shaking the glass in its frame, sending Robert to floor as he tried to protect himself from the sound. He cursed under his breath and pulled himself back up. He grabbed the door handle and, forcing himself to move, opened the door only to reveal a small staff room. There was nothing inside, apart from the desk and chair that occupied one end of the room, and there were no other rooms.
The door creaked as Robert made his way out on to the forecourt and picked up the canisters, one of which was almost half full of diesel, he almost tripped over himself in his hurry to get back to the truck. He opened the truck door and threw the canisters on to the passenger seat before starting the engine and driving off as fast as he could. It was really dark outside now but Robert felt safe inside the truck and allowed himself to relax. 'Should I call the police?' he thought to himself but thought better of it when he realised he didn't know where on earth he was. 'Graham will know what to do'. He wanted a cigarette but wasn't going to stop driving so that he could roll one, he would have one when he got back to the house.
As Robert neared the junction that would lead him on to the dirt track up to Slattadale house, he thought it better to continue driving to see if he could find another petrol station. He couldn't return without the gas or diesel, they needed it to keep the electricity running and it wasn't going to last much longer than the night. He continued westward along the A832 for another fifteen minutes before arriving at another petrol station, this one was lit properly and another car had just pulled out and driven past him in the opposite direction. It looked promising. As he approached the petrol station, which was brightly lit, he noticed it wasn't too dissimilar from the previous one; there were only a handful of pumps out the front and there was a small building with the word, 'shop', above the doorway. The only real difference was the lighting.
Robert parked the truck next to the first pump and, without getting out, looked through the window of the shop to see whether he could see the shopkeeper. To his delight there was a middle-aged man with a greying beard sat behind the counter reading a newspaper. Robert grabbed the two canisters and proceded to fill both of them with diesel. After securing the filled canisters in to the back of the truck, he made his way into the shop making sure to pick up some gas bottles.
"Pump one" Robert said to the shopkeeper, "and these", he placed the gas bottles on the counter.
The shopkeeper put his paper down and smiled at Robert before saying, "That will be eighty seven pounds please..." His scottish accent was thick and his voice was very low.
"Thanks", Robert pulled out his debit card, paid and went to leave the shop before stopping and adding, "I don't suppose you know of a small petrol station about 40 minutes drive east along this road do you?"
"Kinlochewe service station?" the shopkeeper replied.
"I'm not sure, it could be", Robert paused, "Anyway, I went there before coming here and the place was deserted, it looked like the place had been robbed".
"Really? I know the guy that owns it, I'll give him a call", Robert thought it typical that people in the country knew everyone and smiled to himself. The shopkeeper picked up the phone and, after punching in a series of numbers, waited for an answer. "No answer, have you called the police?"
"No, I didn't really know where I was so thought I would find out before calling the police..." Robert was aware that the shopkeeper could be thinking that it was him who robbed the petrol station so added, "I don't suppose you could call the police could you? I'll leave you my number in case they need to ask me anything. I'm staying at Slattadale house".
"Of course, I'll do it now, I'm sure it's nothing though so I wouldn't worry. Now, get along".
The gravel crunched under the tyres as he pulled on to the driveway, the glow from the fireplace inside escaped out through the windows and cast strange shadows amongst the trees. Before getting out he reached into his pocket and pulled out the metal case. He needed a cigarette.
Stepping out of the cabin, Graham glanced over at the truck, he could see his brother sat in the cab, smoking.
"Lazy sod." He thought to himself as he strolled toward the boat house, the sun was almost completely down at this point and he blinked a few times in the darkness until he could see the outline of the rocking gently on the water.
Flicking the switch inside the door he waited for the old lights to come on, nothing happened... He flicked it on and off a few times before sighing and heading back outside just as Robert hopped down from his truck and trod on his now finished cigarette.
"Power's out in the boathouse, generators still running though, in the morning we should check the cables."
Robert shrugged, "That's your department man, I went and got supplies."
Graham exhaled long and deep, smiled and walked back toward the cabin, it was fine, he could fix whatever was wrong, probably be quicker without his ham fisted brother stumbling around anyway.
"What took so long, anyway?" He said over his shoulder as he threw another log into the burner.
"You've got no idea..." Robert then went on to describe the last two hours, with his strange encounter, or lack of at the first garage and then his calling the police and leaving his name and number.
Graham listened to all of this with a frown on his face.
"We passed that station on the way here, just maybe an hour and a half before you went, we must have just missed whatever happened."
They sat in silence for a while, as the slightly damp logs started to dry out and crackle as the flames leapt up, throwing warmth out into the small living area, soon Graham stood and headed over toward his bedroom, bidding goodnight to Robert he stepped inside and fell down on to the soft, downy bed, it had been a long day of driving and putting up with Rob. He loved his brother dearly but that long in the confined space of a vehicle had maddened him slightly.
Tomorrow he would sort the lights and boat out then they'd head out onto the Loch for a spot of fishing and all would be okay again... Just then he felt his pocket vibrate and he pulled his phone out, the screen said one text from his girlfriend, telling him to try not to kill Rob and to have fun, the woman could still read his mind this far away. He smiled and put his phone on the night stand after setting an alarm for an early start.