The ocean’s wild and untamed waves harmonised with the relentless wind as night fell. Night arrived so much earlier in winter and Hamish found it unsettling. There was a lot that Hamish found unsettling, and if he had things his way, he would never have joined the family business with his older brother.
Hamish had always hated the sea. He longed for the land every second that he was trapped by his duty in the lighthouse. High up in the sky, surrounded by the ocean, he watched life carry on for everyone but him. He would watch the sailors, bonded by their adventures out at sea, tourists coming and going to the islands on ferries, couples and families strolling along the hills on sunny days when the storms were at bay. Everything was so close, but Hamish was locked away in lighthouse, guilted into the family business, with no hope of getting out.
He had always been a dreamer, spending all of his spare time fantasising about going to the mainland as a child. There was nothing wrong with life on Stornoway, of course, it was a beautiful place to live, with lots to see, but he had heard tales from the sailors, and like a caged animal, he was itching to explore all that the rest of the world had to offer.
The second great war was over, and Europe was beginning to buzz again as it recovered from the horror of conflict, but Europe was a bit big for his dreams, and so, his dreams were as small as his bounds, and really just involved tasting a little of life on the mainland.
The kettle shook as it boiled, tearing Hamish from his fantasies of escape, and he placed two cups before it with a quiet sigh. The storm had been difficult, as storms tended to be, but this one felt troubling to him, as if nature was furious and was taking it out on him specifically.
“How about mash with the sausages?” Cameron, the older of the brothers asked, entering the kitchen and falling into one of the empty seats at the table. “It’s as close to Mum’s cooking as you can get up here.” Hamish nodded as the thunder roared outside, followed closely by lightning baring its teeth through the window.
The brothers were used to storms. It was just another chapter in the story of life at sea, but this storm was particularly vicious. The rain whipped at the windows and their bones shook with the cold of the icy winds.
Life was cold and lonely in the lighthouse, but the two brothers had each other for company. As their father had been, for many years before his death, Hamish and his brother were lighthouse keepers. They trimmed the wicks, cleaned the lenses, kept the flames of the lamp burning and kept sailors safe from the perils of nature.
Their father had died in a storm like the one Hamish found himself in, and try as he might, Hamish couldn’t quite keep his mind off of that fact. All that he knew was that the storm had hit, and his father had never been seen again. Hamish had just turned sixteen, and went from dreaming of the freedom that finishing school gave to stepping into his father’s shoes with his brother. The shoes were big, and they were didn’t feel like the right fit for him, but he had no choice. In a way, he felt it was unfair, but Hamish had spent a lot of time in the lighthouse and had come to the conclusion that perhaps, life was just unfair.
It wasn’t an ideal life, but he was fed, sheltered, and got to spend time with his brother, so he couldn’t complain, and would only really consider complaining if he found himself close to his father’s fate. The storm raged on around him, and Hamish considered that tonight may, at last, be one of the times when complaining was justified.
The brothers had grown used to the thunder, and the endless drumming of the rain against the windows, but as he closed the oven door with a weary sigh beyond his years, Hamish heard a sound that he hadn’t heard in years.
There was a knock at the door.
The knock was curt, short and sharp but shocking. The lighthouse was a lonely place, and not the kind of place where you’d hear knocks at the door. The brothers looked at each other, shock across their faces as the room fell silent again. Cameron pointed at the door, rising from his seat and slowly walking towards it. Hamish shook his head, grabbing his brother to try and hold him back, but failing to stop him before he swung the door open.
Wind whipped through the lighthouse, howling as it flew around the brothers. The hallway was empty, with no sign of life and no shadows before them. The brothers stared at each other, confused and in all honesty, frightened, both stepping out into the hallway to inspect the darkness, but finding nothing that could explain the knock.
The rest of the night went without incident, and without explanation for the phantom knock, and while the brothers tried to forget about it, they were both still chilled by the odd knock in the kitchen.
Hamish fell into a shallow sleep, and found himself dreaming of the lighthouse, haunted by loud, impatient knocks at a door that he didn’t dare to open. As he awoke the next morning, he lay in bed for a moment, trying to shake off the nightmares that had followed him as he slept.
The storm continued, and so did Hamish’s nervousness. He had tried to take his mind off of the knock, the storm, his memories of his father, but as he went about his duties, they were all that played on his mind.
As the day wound down and Hamish watched Cameron prepare dinner, he wrote a letter to his mother, not mentioning his anxieties, of course, but he was unable to keep himself from saying “I wish you were here.” He made a plan to post it as soon as the storm cleared up, and tried to focus his thoughts on that, rather than the sense of dread that was circling him as the evening crept closer.
As the brothers ate in silence, surrounded by the sound of the storm, Hamish found himself daydreaming again of a life outside of the lighthouse. His dreams were always simple. A little house in a city somewhere far away, a busy job, a friend that wasn’t a blood relative, a drink in a pub where nobody knew his name, and in his wildest dreams, a wife to love and cherish.
That night was a night in which he delved into his wildest dreams. He pictured the fantasy as he chewed and swallowed the bland stew before him. She had eyes as blue as an ocean, soft lips that he ached to kiss, and thick, yellow curls that framed her gorgeous face.
He had never met a woman like that in his nineteen years on the Earth, and in fact, had not met many women at all, but in his dreams, this woman would fall in love with him, and as the night went on, he imagined that she would be waiting in the cold, itchy sheets of his lonely bed.
As he dreamed the evening away, he was pulled back into reality by another knock on the door. He dropped his spoon to the table with a start, looking up at Cameron and then towards the door. The knock repeated, echoing through the kitchen as the wind screeched outside.
Hamish stood from the table, shaking as he approached the door, Cameron following close behind. His nightmares flashed to the front of his mind, and the air around him felt cold.
“Hello?” The brothers called out, almost in unison. There were no words spoken on the other side of the door, just another knock, somehow more insistent, joined by another and another, until the sound of the knocking was deafening.
Paralysed by fear, Hamish watched in horror as his brother pushed past him, unbolted the door and threw it open.
Hamish was speechless, unable to believe his eyes, as his fantasy stood before him.
Dripping in rainwater and shivering from the cold, but undeniably stunning was a girl that set his heart racing. She gazed up at him, with her sapphire eyes, peering through damp curls with a smile that took his breath away.
“Can you help me?” She whispered, reaching out a hand to the silent siblings. “I got lost in the…” She gestured out the window behind them with a slight giggle. Hamish was enchanted, unable to take his eyes away from the visitor, nodding enthusiastically as he pushed his brother aside and stepped in front of the girl.
“Of course!” His words were lost in a sigh, as he grabbed her hand and pulled her into the room, guiding her into a chair. “You must be freezing!” He rushed through to the bathroom, and returned shortly after with a towel, wrapping it around her shoulders, breathless as their eyes met.
“What were you doing out there?” Cameron asked, leaning against the kitchen counter with an inquisitive stare at the beautiful stranger.
“I was searching for my Mother.” She said softly, not taking her eyes off of Hamish as she spoke. “She went out yesterday to get the ferry to the mainland to get some shopping, and…” She paused, her smile fading as she stared at Hamish, her eyes sad and suddenly full of fear. “And she never came back.”
Hamish clutched her hand tightly, gazing into her eyes and trying his best to look like the hero she clearly needed him to be.
“We’ll help you find her.” She smiled again, her soft fingers brushing his own tenderly, and for a moment, Hamish was in heaven, but as was often the case, he was quickly torn from his dreams and sped back to reality.
The storm rattled against the lighthouse as Cameron pulled him away from the girl and bundled him into the cramped hallway with a frown.
“We can’t go out there, we’ll get as lost as her mother.” He argued, his face as thunderous as the storm that waited for them outside.
“We have to do something Cameron!” Hamish pleaded, but Cameron shook his head with a sigh. “What if it was our mother?”
Cameron sighed again, rolling his eyes at his younger brother.
“The ferry got back fine, she probably just stayed on the mainland and forgot to call.” His voice was weathered, and Hamish found his brother’s lack of urgency about the matter frustrating. “She can stay tonight, and we’ll go and check at the port tomorrow if the storm clears up.” Hamish wasn’t entirely convinced by the compromise, but he knew that his brother was an honest man, so decided to trust him.
“Okay, fair enough.” Hamish said with a nod, opening the door and hurrying back to the stranger, unable to hide his excitement as he sat before her with a huge grin. “It’s a bit dangerous to go out now, but you can stay here and we’ll look for her in the morning.” She returned his smile, and as their eyes met, Hamish could swear that there was electricity in the air.
“Thank you.” Her voice was soft, tender like her enchanting eyes, and try as he might (he didn’t actually try very hard), Hamish could not resist imagining the beginnings of a love story for the two of them. “I’m Allison, by the way.” She said, as Hamish held her hands in his own, rubbing them gently to warm them.
“Hamish.” He sighed, absolutely enchanted and charmed by the girl. He melted under her gaze, hopelessly lost in a fantasy.
“I’m Cameron.” The older brother said with another roll of his eyes, fully aware that nobody was listening to him. “And I’m going to bloody bed.”
As the night unfolded and the two lovebirds found themselves alone in Hamish’s bedroom, Hamish and Allison did a lot of lovesick staring.
Despite his lack of experience with women, Hamish found himself falling into the role of Romeo relatively quickly. They talked for hours, their hands tightly intertwined, and at about three in the morning, when they could barely keep their eyes open, they shared a gentle kiss before she fell into his arms and they fell into a deep, sweet sleep.
His dreams were a rose tinted affair, and as he woke up with a beautiful girl in his arms, he found it hard to believe that he was actually awake, but as he looked down at Allison and pinched his arm to be sure, he realised that he was truly the luckiest man in the Outer Hebrides.
The storm continued to batter the lighthouse with little promise of slowing down and as Hamish made breakfast for the two of them, he hoped that there would be relief from the weather soon, but was secretly pleased that they had nothing to do but cuddle.
“Can we go and look for Mother now?” Hamish tried to hide his disappointment and smiled down at the girl, wishing he could have more time in his happy little fantasy, but accepting that a promise had been made. “I thought we could try the caves, in case she went in there for shelter?” Hamish nodded, kissing her forehead with a smile as Cameron strode in from the direction of his bedroom.
“We do have jobs, you know.” He grumbled, snatching some toast from the table with a scowl towards the young lovers. “She can stay up here, but we have to work.” Hamish shook his head, standing from the table and taking Allison’s hand.
“We’re going to try the caves and see if we can find her Mother.” He said, trying his best to sound assertive, and feeling as if he accomplished it as Allison beamed up at him. Reality dropped back into the picture within seconds as Cameron grabbed his arm and began pulling him towards the hallway.
Piling into the claustrophobic hallway once again, the brothers glared at each other, arguing in their quietest, most aggressive whispers.
“You promised me that we could go and look for her mother today.” Cameron rolled his eyes again at his brother, frustration building at the boy losing his mind over a stranger.
“If the storm cleared up, yes, but it’s still mad out there!” It was Hamish’s turn to roll his eyes. He stared daggers into his older brother.
“I don’t care, I’m going.” He snapped, forgetting to whisper as he stormed from the hallway back towards the kitchen.
“Hamish, don’t be an idiot!” It was too late. Hamish had heard enough, and was determined to help their guest, with or without his brother’s help. He turned away from his brother and walked back towards the kitchen, ready to tell Allison about his plan (which wasn’t actually THAT fleshed out yet…) only to find that she was gone.
It was impossible. The only way out would have been past the two brothers and down the staircase, but he was certain that he hadn’t seen her. The windows were still closed and locked, but Allison was nowhere to be found.
Hamish looked desperately around the empty kitchen, running between the bathroom and small bedrooms. It didn’t make any sense, but he was too panicked by her sudden disappearance to care.
His heart raced as he searched the small space of the lighthouse for her, to no avail.
“Don’t be stupid.” Cameron cried as he followed his brother into the kitchen, shocked to see him standing alone by the door. “Hey, where did she go?” Hamish was silent, gesturing to the impossibility of the empty room around him, and the disappearance of Allison, his face pale as he reached for the door. “Hamish, no…” The younger brother did not reply, and he didn’t look back, opening the door and grabbing his coat as he began running through the small hallway and down the spiralling staircase towards the waiting, wailing storm. “Hamish!” Cameron yelled, with frustration across his face as he tore down the stairs after his brother, pulling his coat around his shoulders as he finally caught up to Hamish.
Lightning flashed across the dark, dismal sky as the youngest of the brothers began walking, his boots clung to by the mud and soaked in rain water. Cameron chased after him, almost falling as he, like the mud, clung to the headstrong, lovestruck idiot and tried to pull him back to the safety of the lighthouse.
“How the hell are you going to find her in this?” He cried, drowned out by the storm and barely audible. Hamish ignored his brother, rushing ahead and heading towards the caves by the ocean. Lightning stretched across the sky, chased by thunder and try as he might, Cameron could not stop his brother from marching ahead towards the shore. “Please Hamish, will you just think?” He bellowed, reaching out again to his brother but slipping, and collapsing down into the mud.
Hamish did not look back, breaking into a run with only one thing on his mind. He had to get to Allison, and he had to keep his promise, even if his brother was too much of a coward to join him. Hamish had never felt such determination, and in his naive, unfortunate state, he believed that he was powered by love, but the truth was as far from love as it could get, and something he was yet to discover.
He could hear his brother calling out to him, but as he ran and got closer to the caves, Cameron’s voice fell away into the roaring wind and all he could hear was the storm around him.
The caves loomed before him, dark and unfriendly and the wind whistled and whipped all around him as he strode towards the entrance.
“Allison!” He screamed, fighting against the noise of the storm as he sprinted inside, trying to ignore the cold against his bones, and the fear that slowly rose through his body as he found himself alone in the cave. He slowed down, walking through the cave, his eyes darting around in the darkness as he searched for any sign of Allison. “Allison, are you here?” As he journeyed deeper inside the cave, it grew quiet, with nothing but his echoed cries and footsteps. “Can you hear me?”
He began to regret his decision to enter the cave, and wondered why he had ran away from Cameron. As he continued into the cave, it was almost as if he sobered up, realising that he had made a series of, frankly, ridiculous decisions, wandering into a dark, abandoned cave, in the middle of a storm, on the off chance that a girl he had just met was somewhere inside. As he stood still for a second, thinking it over, he had to admit, he would never normally be so reckless, and he turned back towards the path he had taken, wondering if he should turn back and head home, to the lighthouse.
“Hamish!” The few moments of sensible thinking ended and Hamish felt his heart flutter at the sound of Allison’s voice. He ran towards it, not seeming to notice that he was running deeper and deeper into the twists and turns of the cave. “Hamish, please help me!” As if under a spell, he raced further into the cave, chasing the sweet voice as it seemed to bounce all over the cave. “Hamish, I’m so thirsty.” Her voice seemed weak and frail, which only spurred him on, his doubts were far behind him, and all he could do was run towards her.
There was a loud crash behind him, and for a moment, Hamish turned back, stunned to see the ceiling above collapsing and clattering to the floor as rocks formed a barrier between him and the outside world. It stopped him in his tracks and Hamish felt his heart pounding in his chest, suddenly panicking and revisiting the doubts that had plagued his mind moments before he heard Allison’s voice.
He was trapped. He was lost in a cave and completely trapped, in the middle of a storm, with nobody but his brother to look for him. His heart sank as he imagined that Cameron might not even want to look for him after how he had behaved. Leaning up against the wall as he caught his breath and stared in dismay at the wall of rocks and dust that blocked his path home, he once again felt filled with doubt.
“Hamish, I’m right here.” His mind went blank, and then went right back to Allison, as if she had heard his thoughts and knew he was wavering. He was suddenly back under her spell and running towards her voice, bursting down a passage way and coming out in a much larger clearing, where to his delight, behind a well in the centre of the ground, he saw a shadow that could only be his love.
“Allison, thank God.” He sighed, walking towards the shadow with a bright smile.
“I am the Mother of the Gods.” The voice was like Allison’s but with a weary, almost angry grit to it. It seemed to fill the entire cave, and it gave him pause, as he stopped before the well, now slightly apprehensive about approaching the shadow. “I am the Mother of the mountains.” The voice continued as the familiar doubt began to fill his mind once again. “I am the Mother of the storms and the seas.” Hamish stepped back slowly as the shadow moved a little closer, still cloaked in the darkness but much closer to him than he’d like. “I am the Mother of the Gods that you have long forgotten.” The shadow let out a low whistle and the well between them began to glow with light. “And I am the Goddess that your father stole from.”
The shadow stepped into the light and Hamish fell back in shock, backing away from the sight before him. A tall hag, her skin, haggard and worn. “To steal from a Goddess is a crime that can never be forgiven, Hamish.” She snarled, advancing on him as he begged his legs to let him stand, but found himself grounded by fear. Her thick, white hair flowed behind her as she walked, and as Hamish gaped in horror, he noticed her eyes. Despite the rest of her appearance, her eyes were instantly recognisable to him. Soft and sapphire blue. Allison’s eyes.
“I… I don’t understand.” He stammered, desperately searching around him for a way out as she stood over him with a wicked smile.
“This land is mine, but I shared it with you mortals.” She continued, kneeling down beside his frozen body. “All that I asked was that the well of my youth stay pure, so that I could drink, and care for what I had created.” Hamish glanced up at the well, and for a moment, as crazy as it sounded, he was sure that he could see his father, standing by the well, his face forlorn. “Your father stole the water, and made it impure.” She snarled, leaning so close that he could feel her breath against his cheeks. “So you will give me the youth he took from me.”
The light from the well swelled out into the room and pain shot through Hamish’s body as the hag stood, striding towards the well as the light strobed and flickered before him. He tried to run. He thought of nothing else, but his body was no longer his own, and as he cried out in agony, he felt himself crawling after the hag, following her shadow towards the well.
“Perhaps now your family will learn not to steal from a Goddess.” The voice cried out as he approached the well on his hands and knees.
“I’m sorry.” Hamish sobbed, looking down and seeing his hands covered in wrinkles, the skin, achingly thin and tinged a soft, icy blue. His hands under the power of the hag, he propped himself up against the wall of the well, pain purging every other feeling in his body as he looked down at his reflection, and saw a sight that he had never truly been able to imagine, and one that no human can ever really bear to face. He saw the last moments of a dying man. His breath, weak and ragged as tears fell from his eyes and got lost in the many lines that had appeared in his once handsome face.
“You were delicious, Hamish.” Said the voice, softer again, as Allison’s beautiful face joined his doom in the reflection below. “Just delicious.” In his last moments, he took one last look into the eyes that had led him down the path of his doom, and wondered if his father had been enchanted in the same way. He thought of his brother, and the heartbreak of his mother, who was about to lose another piece of her heart, and the tears fell, as he collapsed to the ground, falling to dust as he hit the hard dirt of the floor, never to be seen or heard from again.