‘You’ve got a Book to Write, Remember...’

 ‘It’s a lonely house,’  Brian Foster glanced at his passenger.  ‘We only ever used it for holidays.’

Caro nodded.  ‘I know.  I’ve read the particulars.’

Brian had arranged to collect her from the station following her telephoned enquiry about the ad in the Sunday Times.

Isolated cottage.

Breathtaking views.

‘As I told you,’ he went on, ‘it’s just too far to come often enough to justify keeping  it.’  He shrugged, squinting through the windscreen at the single-track road ahead.   ‘Are you planning to go back south tonight?’ He glanced back  towards her. She was a striking woman.  Tall. In her early 40s at a guess,  she was staring straight ahead, seemingly uninterested in Brian or his  attempts at conversation.

He swung the car onto an even narrower road .  ‘I wish  the weather was brighter,’ he said with a sigh.  ‘But I suppose it’s better to see it at one of its less glamorous moments.’    Two other prospective buyers had already seen it at its less glamorous  moments and both had high-tailed it back to civilisation.

She put a hand out to the dashboard to steady herself as the old Land Rover lurched through a pothole.  He grimaced.  ‘We  -  I  - keep this car up here and fly to Inverness from London.’

‘How long have you had the cottage?’ She didn’t look across at him as she spoke.

‘Five years.’

‘And there is vacant possession?’

‘That’s right.  I’m staying up here long enough to sell it; then I’m off.’  He tried to keep his voice light.  She  needn’t know about the heartbreak, the anger, the misery the cottage had caused.  ‘You should be able to see it about how,’ he added.  He pointed.   ‘White blob on the shore of the loch down there.’

She sat forward and stared across the rain- soaked moor  ‘What’s that other building near it?’

‘That’s the broch.’ He slowed the car as he approached a  water-filled gully which crossed the road  in full spate.  ‘Our local piece of heritage.’

‘It’s a ruin?’

‘For a couple of thousand years.  It’s iron age they think.’

He did not speak again until they drew up outside the cottage.  It was a charming place, Patricia had seen to that.  White washed with a neat fence to keep out the deer.  Pointless that had been.  They could jump fences twenty feet high as far as he could see and  had made short work of her pretty garden.  Now there was heather and bog myrtle and   foxgloves in the flower beds, just as there was outside the fence. Nature’s way of telling you that you were here on her terms, not yours.

They climbed out and stood for a moment, Brian staring out across the rain pitted waters of the loch, Caro at the cottage.  He heard her sigh softly and his heart sank as he pushed open the front door and ushered her inside.

The room was dark,  smelling rich with peat smoke, simply furnished with a small sofa, a round table with four chairs, an empty book case.  At the far end a sink and cooker and a small dresser formed the  kitchen.  He went over to the table and reached for some matches.  ‘As you see, no electricity, just calor gas and oil lamps.  That does - did - us fine.  All mod cons.’ He forced himself to smile.  ‘Spring water and even plumbing.  The bedrooms are here.’ He strode towards  a small lobby.  Two rooms led off it, one with a double bed, the other with bunks.  Both were cramped and dark and looked out onto the wet hillside behind the cottage.

‘I’ll take it.’

He stared at her.   ‘You can’t be serious.’

‘You do want to sell it?’

‘Yes.  Yes, of course.’ He tried to restrain the wave of relief that swept over him.

‘I’ll take the furniture too.  I think you said that was included if I wanted it?’

‘It is.  Oh, indeed it is.’

‘And the Land Rover?’ For the first time she gave him a real smile.  ‘I can’t believe you want much for that.’

He shook his head ruefully.  ‘Indeed not.  In  fact I’ll throw it in for nothing.’

‘Good.  Thank you.  I can pay you in cash.  When can I move in?’

He blinked.  ‘When you like, I suppose.  As you see,  we - I’ve -  moved all our personal belongings  out.  I don’t want any of the crockery or kitchen stuff - ’  Pretty kitchen stuff, so eagerly bought, so much hated now.  ‘As far as I’m concerned you can have it today.   Don‘t you want to see anything else?’ He was almost disappointed.  Now that he knew she liked it he wanted to show her round properly, he wanted her to admire the  details, he wanted above all for her to know how much he had loved this place.  Once.

She shook her head.  ‘I’ll see it all soon enough.’  For a moment her voice softened.  ‘It’s just what I wanted.’


Her needs were minimal.  All her worldly belongings, the items she had allowed herself to keep after 42 years of living and loving and suffering, filled a couple of large suitcases and a few cardboard boxes.  The day she moved in nature decided to be kind.  The sky was a soft downy blue, the water of the loch as iridescent as a dragonfly’s back;  autumn sunlight warmed the stone walls and shone obliquely across the deep window sills into the rooms..  She wasn’t a martyr.  She had bought some warm woollen throws for the sofa and beds, some decent food and wine as well as the basic supplies and she had brought an ancient typewriter.  It wasn’t until she had signed on the dotted line that she had thought about her  lap top. It was there in one of the boxes - fully charged, but for how long? The answer would be  to invest one day  in her own generator,  if she stayed,  but  for the time being she would make do and appreciate the primitive life she so craved.

Abandoning her boxes she wandered down towards the loch .  Out of sight, around the corner, the long narrow arm  of water opened into the sea, but up here it was calm and transparent, moving gently to the touch of the lightest wind.  There might not have been another person in the world.

Except there was.  As she turned back towards the house she saw the figure out of the corner of her eye just for a second on the far side of the inlet.

She frowned, squinting against the shimmering reflections.  No, there was no one there.  No one at all.  She had imagined it.


For the first 35 years of her life Caro had been a normal person.  She had gone to school, proceeded to university, come out with a respectable degree.  She had been drawn to journalism, worked on regional papers, then a national before marrying a photographer and producing two talented children for whom she had given up steady work and gone freelance.  David Spalding had been the kindest, nicest, best thing that had happened to her until his God had taken him away.  He had become a  parson - something she had tolerated with a certain amount of horrified humour. But that had not been enough for God.  David had developed cancer and seven years ago he had died.  She had tried to accept it; tried to live with it; tried to come to terms with such cruel and  unnecessary waste, but she couldn’t.  Her life had fallen apart.  The children had drawn away, involved in their own careers and friends, trying to be supportive but afraid of her anger and bitterness.  There was nothing left.  Until she had the dream.  ‘Pull yourself together, Caro,’ David had said.  He looked much as he had before the illness started to take its toll.  Tall, good looking;  his eyes gentle but firm as he stood at the end of her bed.  ‘You are frightening everyone away and ruining their lives and your own. Be alone for a bit.  Get to know yourself again. Get away from here.’ He waved his arm around the room - their room.   ‘You’ve got a book to write.  Remember?’ He smiled, that lovely quizzical smile and reached out to her.  She sat up, wanting to touch him, to hold him close, to smell the lovely warmth of his skin, but he had gone and she fell back on her pillow and cried.

It was the turning point.  She gave the kids most of the contents of the flat, sold it and gave them each a third of the money, keeping the rest for herself.  Her plan had been to travel and write that book - the book she had been going to write when she first met David.  Then she had seen the add in the paper and she had heard David’s voice in her head as clearly as she had always heard it in the past.  ‘Go for it, Caro.  You need to give yourself some space.  Then start writing.’

Space! She looked round and laughed out loud.  What had she done!

Two days later she saw the figure again.  Just an outline really, on the shore near the broch, standing watching her as she pottered around.  She narrowed her eyes against the glare off the water.  It was the same man.  She recognised his tall lean frame.

It took an hour to walk around the inlet. It was a cool misty day and she took deep lungfuls of the pure air as she walked . The broch consisted of two castlelike  concentric circles of dark stone, with steps and passages within the thickness of the double walls.  It was completely ruinous on one side, fairly intact on the other.  In the centre a perfect circle of grass and weeds had grown lush, sheltered from the wind.  She stood and stared round listening to the silence, the lap of water on the stones on the beach, the cry of curlew and sandpiper, the hiss of  wind across the dried heather stems outside the walls.  Suddenly she shivered.  She turned round slowly, staring up at the  blind, shadowed walls.  Someone was watching her; she could feel it.

‘Hello?’  she called, her voice echoing off the stone.  ‘Is there anyone there?’  There was no answer.

She did not stay long.  As she picked her way back around the loch, scattering wagtails and gulls before her, a figure appeared on top of the ruined wall and watched her leave.  She didn’t turn round and never saw him.


‘You’ll be wanting to charge up your phone and your lap top while you’re here?’ Mrs Maclellan welcomed her into the post office shop with a smile.  ‘Mrs Foster always did that. I make a small charge for the electricity which I’m sure you won’t mind.’

Caro’s mouth dropped open.  So that was how it was done!  She had thought very little about her predecessors and was, she realised, completely incurious about them. Rich. Spoiled.  A bit petulant.  That was how she visualised Patricia Foster.  Of no interest at all.


Slowly she fell into a routine.  Once or twice a week she drove to the village.; sometimes she explored further afield and at last she had time for herself.  Time to think.  To remember.  And to write.  She bought back-up batteries for the lap top and smiled at the thought of Mrs Mac retiring on the proceeds of her battery charging service. And she continued to wave from time to time to her unknown neighbour across the loch.  Because he was still there

The first time she saw him close up was a shock.  She had been sitting on  the shore with her notebook, outlining her thoughts for a series of articles  - the idea for the book had still not come - when she glanced up and saw him  only a hundred yards away. Dressed in some sort of rough highland garb,  his hair long and unkempt, he was watching her.  He was younger than she had expected;  quite good looking.  She raised her hand  in greeting, but he ignored it, staring right through her.  She shrugged and turned back to her notes.  When she looked up again he had gone.

The next time, though, he looked straight at her and he smiled. She felt a shock of pleasure.  The smile was warm; friendly.  ‘Hello!’ It was the first time she had spoken to anyone for several days.  He didn’t reply.  She wasn’t sure if he had even heard her but just for a moment his gaze lingered appreciatively before he turned away.

‘Who is the young man I see out by the broch?’ she asked next time she was in the village.

Mrs Mac glanced up from Caro’s purchases, frowning.  ‘There’s no one lives up there.  No one at all.’  She said sharply.   ‘You keep away from there.  It’s a dangerous old place.’

Two days later when Caro saw him in the distance he raised his hand in greeting before turning away.  She stared into the watery sunlight, trying to see which way he went.  His presence was beginning to irritate  and intrigue in equal measures and it was almost without conscious decision that she set off after him,  intent on finding out where he came from.

The broch was shadowy,  very still within the high dark stone walls.  She stood in the centre looking up.  ‘Hello?’ she called.

A pair of jackdaws flew up, crying in agitation  as they  circled before settling back into the silent shadows .

‘Hello? Are you there?’

 And suddenly there he was standing at one of the dark recesses in the broken wall. He raised his hand and beckoned.

She made her way across the grass  to the archway in the grey stone. Under it a flight of broken steps led up inside the wall. She stood at the bottom looking up into the darkness then, cautiously, she began to climb.   ‘Where are you? I can’t see.’

Groping her way slowly she rounded a bend in the stair and there he was, standing above her, framed by gaping stone.  Seeing her appear he smiled, that warm gentle smile, and beckoned again.

She took another step towards him  eager to be in sunshine again but as she reached the top  he stepped back out of sight.  Where he had been standing there was no wall.  Nothing to support her at all.  With a scream she found herself clawing at the stone  as she began to fall.


The bespectacled face swam into focus for a moment, disappeared and then returned in more solid form.  It smiled.  ‘So, we are  awake at last.  How are we feeling?’ The hand on the pulse at  her wrist was warm and solid.  Reassuring.

 Every bone and muscle in her body  throbbed . ‘What happened? Where am I?’

‘You fell at the broch. You’re in hospital, lass, thanks to Mrs Maclellan.’

 Caro realised suddenly that the post mistress was sitting on the far side of her bed.

‘How did you find me?’  Slowly she was beginning to  remember.

‘Mrs Maclellan took a lift out with the post van to see you.’ He paused, wondering how to describe the woman’s hunches; her second sight.  ‘She remembered what you had said about the laddie up at the broch and  wanted to warn you about him   Luckily for you,  they saw you fall,  from the road.’

Caro closed her eyes.  She felt sick and disorientated. ‘What did you want to warn me about?’

The two beside her glanced at one another. The doctor shrugged.  ‘It’s our belief that  you saw a lad called Jamie Macpherson.  He lived near  the broch some while ago and fell in love, so the story goes, with a young woman he met up there. . One day the boy disappeared. They found him where we found you, at the foot of the wall.    He had a lassie’s silk scarf in his hand.’ He paused, scrutinising her face cautiously. ‘Mrs Foster knew the story.  She  was quite obsessed about it.  She would stay up here when her husband went back to London, making notes to write a book about it.’

Caro lay back against the pillow, her eyes closed. 

‘Poor lady. It seems she followed him to the broch one day and climbed the stair just as you did.’

Caro frowned.  ‘I don’t understand.  You said he was dead?’

He nodded.  ‘They should pull that old place down.  It’s too dangerous.  The steps are broken.   She fell.  Just as you did.  Only in her case, no one came.’

‘She was killed?’  Caro’s eyes flew open.

He nodded gravely.

‘Oh how awful.  Poor woman.  How sad . No wonder her husband wanted to leave.’


‘Did  you follow Jamie out there?’ Mrs Maclellan sat forward on her chair.

Caro shrugged.  ‘I followed someone.  Young. Good looking.   Wearing a highland plaid.’

‘That’s him.’ The woman nodded.

‘And he’s a ghost?’

‘Aye.’ She was matter of fact.

Caro shivered.

‘I suppose you’ll leave us now, once you’ve recovered.’ Mrs Maclellan  shook her head sadly.

Caro shrugged,  trying to make sense of the jumble of words spinning in her head.  ‘I don’t want to leave.  I love it here.’ She smiled weakly.  ‘I’m a writer too, like Mrs Foster.’ Was that a voice she could hear in her head?  ‘Go for it, Caro. This is the book!’  She looked up at them. ‘Perhaps I should write the story for her?  And for him?’ She hesitated.  ‘I wonder , would that help them find peace, do you think?’

‘Aye, I think that would be the right thing to do.’    Mrs Maclellan smiled at her.  Was she the only one, she wondered, who could see the handsome clergyman standing next to the bed,  nodding in approval.  Yes, perhaps she was.

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