A very long time ago, something terrible came to call Loch Raan home.
In 1973, following small-scale localised seismic activity in the Highland county of Darien (since renamed 'Greater Darien'), a Geologist called William Dowell noticed something amiss in a picture he had taken. The quality was poor, and was further obfuscated by the cloudiness of the water depicted in the image – still-dripping, as it was, with developing solution. But there was something unmistakably strange in the forefront of the shot.
At first, Dowell suspected the thin, white thing that undulated beneath the surface to be the product of water-damage to his camera, but the phenomenon was not present in any of the other pictures he had taken that day.
Dowell had been examining a small rockfall caused by the disturbance, around the sheer cliffs that mark the southernmost boundary of the Loch. These large, stone edifices form a rough 'v' shape, with the loch flowing down inside, to the point. The rockface is pitted with a number of small caverns and tunnels and it was popular with cavers, to whom it had affectionately become known as 'Swiss Cheese Rock'. In the course of the quake, a number of the tunnels had collapsed, and new caverns had been uncovered.
Dowell had been photographing the damage, when it had struck him to look for breaks in the rockface underwater. Highland lochs tend to be very murky, and Raan is no exception, so Dowell had rowed right up to the cliff-face, and disembarked upon the very steep shore there – feeling for footholds beneath the surface with his feet, and his trousers rolled right up past the knees.
He moved down the submerged ramp of tumbled boulders – his feet upon grounds before then untrodden – a virgin path brought into being by the relentless stirring of the Earth. Then, finally, when the water stood thigh-high, he put a foot forwards, only to feel that stomach-turning sensation of walking onto thin air – of climbing stairs in the dark. Upon closer inspection, he had discovered a narrow fault – perhaps a steady seven or eight inches in diameter – which ran from just below the surface of the water, at the cliff, off and out-of-sight into the voidous unknown, deeper in the loch.
William Dowell thrust one of his oars down into the gulf, but could feel no bottom. Eventually, awkwardly bracing the tripod of his camera between the rocks and his hip, Dowell snapped a number of photographs of the fault, but the loch water was murky and there was no way to tell how the pictures would look until he had them developed.
As he made to get back into the boat, he felt a sudden stinging sensation in one ankle. Fearing that he had stepped on a jagged stone, Dowell scrambled away from the position, and up onto the vessel. When he lay back on the deck, however, there was barely a mark on him – save for a tiny indentation at his heel, as though he had been bitten by a mosquito. The pain subsided almost as soon as he'd escaped the water, though as he lay there, he fancied he saw odd ripples lapping at the sides of the boat – emanating from a position just a few feet from where he now floated. Angry, dark, grimy ripples, skittering away from him like the vague memories of a nightmare. Dowell suddenly felt very tired – a heaviness had set into his limbs as though he'd swum the length of the loch, rather than rowed it. He lay back in the belly of the craft and watched the world begin to edge away from him into darkness.
That's what he told me, anyway.
I was assigned to William Dowell during my time working at a care home in Fort William. I'm not sure I can name it here, but for those inquisitive enough (and believe me, I understand the urge better than most) a quick trawl of the internet will likely satisfy your curiosity.
Anyway. Mr. Dowell. I am ashamed to say that I noted first the slope to his posture – the droop to his face, as though he permanently bore upon his visage a ghoulish masquerade half-mask – and second, the man. A stroke, the other staff told me at the time – a symptom of his advanced age. Odd, that this broad-shouldered fellow – barely sixty – should suffer such a debilitating condition, I thought.
Not unheard of, though he reportedly never smoked, and had never partaken in anything stronger than the occasional glass of wine. Odder still, then, that he should have first begun to suffer such agonies when he was barely in his mid twenties.
Being a carer is a somewhat unattractive job. You help those who cannot help themselves. That's what the recruitment ads say. They generally neglect to inform you that the majority of your time will be spent elbow-deep in shit, piss, blood or a combination of the three. Still – a job is a job, and in 2005, I was just glad to get out of the house for a few hours a day.
Many of my co-workers had heartbreaking stories of comatose spouses, of fading parents or of grandparents that clung to life like withered ghosts, fearing a world they no longer understood. They had real, emotional investment in what they did. Many more would stick their wards in front of a television and play cards or surf the internet for the majority of their shifts – a tactic I thought distasteful, but one which was so institutionalised, nobody would even consider my view that it constituted cruelty.
I loved stories. I suppose this made me a decent carer, as there's no feeling on this Earth more horrible than loneliness, and the greatest antithesis to this is to be presented with a person who cares about what you have to say. So, one day, when I was cleaning William Dowell's room, and came-upon a photo-album, I flipped it open and began to leaf through it. Nosy, perhaps, but you have to understand that I was not out to gain anything from this man – I was motivated only by a simple, childish curiosity. Each page held four photographs – each captioned in a sloping, elegant font – and as I read further into this man's life, I felt a sudden sadness weighing upon me, as though a grandfather clock's counterweight swung within my ribcage.
“The Brothers Dowell!” - one caption read, below a picture of Dowell and another – taller and wider in the chest than the man I vaguely recognised as my patient – both dressed in some kind of traditional highland garb.
“The Thinker!” - exclaimed another, as Dowell grinned out at me, clutching some kind of academic award, and wearing a graduation cap.
This was a man who'd had such a happy-looking life disrupted by something he absolutely did not deserve. I read-on, flipping rapidly through Dowell's early adult life, until something made me pause and backtrack a handful of pages. There, about a third of the way into this volume, there lay a page with only three photographs. The first, a slightly overcast panorama of a house by a lake (“The Devil's Tail Inn” - according to its caption), then two somewhat blurred pictures of a bland rockface (“Swiss Cheese Rock 1” and “2” respectively).
Then... nothing. A paler oblong on the otherwise faded page. The paper at its corners appeared frayed – presumably from where tape had held a photo – and yet... ...nothing.
I read the caption below the mysterious blank square, and then I sat back, closed my eyes for a moment. Then I opened them and read it again.
“The Monster?” it said. The writing seemed a little... off. There was no discernible difference in the quality of it, that I could make out (though sue me – I'm a careworker, not a graphologist). Perhaps it was something minutely out-of-whack with the slant of it, but I got the impression that those two words had been scrawled in something of a hurry.
I flipped through the rest of the album. It was nearly full – apparently Dowell remained an avid photographer right up until his condition made such a hobby impossible – but the captioning deteriorated in quality very quickly. Within what appeared to be a year or two of that ersatz picture, Dowell seemed to have entirely lost the ability to write.
The final two or three captions were little more than smudged scrawls. I closed the book and set it down on my lap. For some reason, my heartbeat was unusually loud – I could hear the double-pounding rhythm of it in my ears. My brain seemed to echo that phrase in time with the beat - “Thu-Thump!” [“The Monster?”], “Thu-Thump!” [“The Monster?”]
Dowell was where I'd left him – sitting in an armchair in his room. The radio fizzed and occasional murmurs from a distant news-anchor warbled through its speaker. The old man made no indication he could hear or comprehend these events. I emerged from the cupboard, with his album clutched to my chest, and I caught a flicker of movement, as his eyes darted to the big, leatherbound volume, and then back to the bedspread.
“Mr Dowell?” I said, “I was just looking through some old books for something we could read together... and I found this.”
He did not reply.
“It's... a photo-album, Mr. Dowell. It belongs to you, doesn't it?”
Again – no response.
“I couldn't help but notice... there's a picture missing.”
A short silence. Then a muttered word so slurred, I thought at first he was simply belching:
Private. He had said 'private'.
“I know, Mr. Dowell. I'm really very sorry. I shan't go through your things without your permission again. I just sort-of... stumbled across it. I was wondering if... today... you could tell me a story?”
Dowell did not reply. He continued to gaze at the maroon bedsheets, as though he regarded some hypnotic lightshow. A thin trail of saliva welled from the corner of his mouth. I set the book down, and wordlessly dabbed it away, as casually as one might scratch an itch.
We sat in silence for a time. When you're a carer, silence is the enemy. It is the friend of loneliness and idleness – the twin demons of ageing. Silence is no fun for us, either – carers. We have to walk among men and women who sit like they are already ghosts – people who have nothing left in life. The least we can do is offer them a little company.
Silence was the enemy, I knew. But I felt a strange compulsion to find out why Dowell had defaced his otherwise-so-carefully-maintained scrapbook by tearing out a picture.
...and then, slowly, surely... he raised his chin to regard me. Despite the slope to his face, his features seemed hard and narrow and he had a deeply hooded brow – he looked like one of those statues on Easter Island. There was an odd disparity between the ruined shell of his body – with its involuntary sweats, drooling and pissing – and the bright intelligence behind his eyes. He spoke again, his jaw grinding as though each syllable were a monumental effort:
“...ssssecrettt... d'n't... tell.... 'nyone...”
“Of course. It's between you and me, Mr. Dowell. You and me.”
He inclined his head, so that he was staring past me, at the dressing table on the far wall.
I stared at it. My reflection regarded me with cool indifference and dark-ringed eyes. I needed a shave, I mused. Dowell closed his eyes for a second or two, and then opened them – as though even blinking were slowed to a crawl by his failing body. He offered me no explanation, so I wandered over to the dresser.
The mirror stood propped at an angle. I picked it up and eased it to the ground, half-expecting a hidden safe or indentation in the wall, but the only secret that it concealed was another few square feet of faded ochre wallpaper.
Then I turned the mirror itself over.
It was a veritable shrine. Newspaper clippings, annotated maps and what appeared to be cutouts from books on everything from highland lochs to deep-sea marine ecology. Folders and envelopes. The mirror must have been nearly as tall as me, and every inch of its corkboard underside was covered with drawing pins and information. There were pages on top of pages, in the way that you sometimes see fliers plastered over one-another on city streets.
...and atop it all was the missing picture. The Monster in all its blurry, yellowed glory. The photograph depicted the prow of some kind of small boat, casting its shadow over a brown-tinted body of water. A series of boulders broke the surface, nearby, and the shot was framed at the top by the curve of a rock shoreline. But there was no mistaking the (perhaps unintentional) subject of the piece.
Slightly offset from the centre, there was a long, pale object, apparently just below the surface. It appeared to disappear from view at both ends – down into the depths. This gave the impression that this strange, segmented, earthworm-like thing were much longer than it appeared, and had been brought into view by its undulating movements as it honed-in on the ripples created by the boat's passing.
Distorted and decidedly inhuman, this weird, incomplete and poor-quality snapshot made me shudder, involuntarily. At this, I heard a strange sound from behind – a kind of wet coughing and, fearing William Dowell was choking, I whirled to face him.
He was laughing. Or, as close to a normal chuckle as a heavily disabled man can get. I squinted at him, and realised that he was empathising with my instinctive revulsion at the creature. As though he had read my mind, Dowell met my eyes, flickered his gaze to the back of the mirror, and slightly hunched his shoulders – bringing the thick turtleneck he wore right up to his chin.
I don't quite know why I developed such an interest in Dowell's monster, but I do know that it began then – as I dusted-off those years of research on the back of that mirror. Perhaps obsessions, like heirlooms, are passed down – not within a family, but from one person of a certain kind of mindset to another. It was as though that man – that old amateur sleuth trapped within a hunched, dribbling shell of a body – had passed me a torch.
...and it was as, over the coming weeks, I began to make headway in catching-up on what he knew, that I realised how important it was for me to use that torch to illuminate the darkness that had come to the Loch, all those years ago.
Did you know, for example, that since 1973, almost a hundred of missing persons' cases in Darien County have been reported to the Highlands Police? Ninety-one missing people in over thirty years might not seem like a lot, but remember that the area around Raan is sparsely populated and, though beautiful, its remoteness tends to deter curious outsiders. I did a little number crunching and found a few more oddities.
The majority of missing people in the UK are what's called “high risk” individuals – the mentally ill, the disaffected youth, the very young. That kind of thing. But this group of missing people – this fabled ninety-one – is a diaspora of class, gender and age.
The most high-profile disappearance to date happened in 1976, when Lord Arthur Darien – a forty-year-old local landowner – was adjudicating a boat race on the Loch. A winter fog set in, very abruptly. He was last seen reaching for an oar which had fallen over the side of another man's boat. The papers were full of it for several weeks, though most of the tabloids seemed convinced he had faked his death to extract himself from the crippling debt which decimated Britain's aristocracy in the mid twentieth century.
There was no pattern – no rhyme or reason to it. Dozens of men, women and children went out onto Loch Raan, and were never seen again. Dowell appeared to have been trying to collect photographs and information about each of the missing – apparently by reaching-out to the bereaved families – and these provided heartbreaking little tidbits of humanising information;
“...wanted to be a firefighter, just like his dad...”
“...lost her husband in the War...”
You get the picture.
Something had been hurting these people – these real people, with real dreams and real hopes and ambitions and memories – for at least thirty years, and nobody cared. I feel angry just writing it. Nobody cared about these lives destroyed by the monster of Loch Raan.
…and what of William Dowell himself? A man who had worked tirelessly the final years his body allowed him mobility, to reach-out to others hurt or bereaved by this strange entity? Among the documents on the back of that mirror, he had tacked studies regarding the debilatating effects of the venoms found in certain species of invertebrates.
I now had no doubt that the thing in the Loch had done this – had forced this condition upon him. A good man had suffered for nothing – suffered in silence - and nobody would ever know.
The Monster had no name and belonged to no species that I could identify, and there was no telling how much of its full form Dowell's picture had captured. All the same, from what I read in Dowell's documents, and from my later observations, it was possible to draw parallels. Jellyfish stings – particularly the larger and more potent variety – had paralysing properties.
There existed several kinds of acquatic worms with segmented bodies like that of an earthworm, but none that I could find which were as large as this one, and none with the deathly pallid colouration.
I ran all of this by Dowell. He sat in his chair, as I spread his documents across the bed, reading my new additions aloud to him, before reverantly placing them alongside the rest of the portfolio. This was the most animated I had ever seen him. He would grunt, nod as best he could, and even, on occasion, speak openly to me about his theories.
When I asked about his condition, he sluggishly recounted the events of his 1973 geological expedition, which I transcribed mostly without embellishment at the beginning of this document. He trailed off at the end, apparently lost in thought, and I saw tears beginning to damp his leathery cheeks. I wiped them away quickly, and changed the subject.
After weeks spent collating information, I felt we were ready to make our next move. Dowell seemed skeptical, but I insisted on anonymously approaching the press with our findings. It seemed a pretty swell idea at the time, but if you've ever seen a film or read a book where a character tries to go public with anything vaguely paranormal, you can probably guess how well it went.
The Guardian never got back to us, and the majority of small, local papers replied with generic “no thank you” messages. At one point, the Daily Mail expressed interest, but then, two days later, they ran with an article titled; “Nessie's Long-Lost Cousin?”, which consisted of nothing more newsworthy than a few jabs at 'backwards, superstitious Highlanders'. Satire at the expense of Scottish people, I can handle, but the fact that they had apparently ignored the deaths of dozens of people, just to shovel more shit into the mouths of their bigoted, infantile audience left me fuming.
I didn't bother to read it to Dowell – I dread to think what knowledge of the reception of his years of research would have done to him. If you really want to cast your eyes over it, you can probably find it on the archives section of the Mail website, but I'd rather you didn't give the bastards the advertising revenue.
It was about then – staring at the blown-up, grainy shot on the Mail website - that I made what has proved to be the worst decision of my life. I was going to drive up to Loch Raan, and I was going to photograph the monster, myself. I was going to collect as much first-hand evidence of its existence as I could. Would that I could go back to that moment – shake some sense into myself...
But no – any fear I felt, regarding the consequences of my actions was outweighted by my indignance at the world's rejection of the truth. I packed my meagre belongings into a suitcase, and then I caught a bus into town and purchased the biggest, most badass-looking digital camera I could find on the high-street. It cost an extortionate amount, but I didn't go out too much, and rarely spent my wages on anything other than video games and cigarettes, so I could just about afford it.
By this time, the passion for revealing the truth had consumed me – it was everything. When I closed my eyes, I saw the creature, and felt the rocking of the boat beneath me. I had one last shift at the carehome, and then it was my day-off. I could quite easily have skipped work that day, but I felt a sense of duty towards William Dowell – to keep him in the loop as to what was happening.
Towards the end of the day, I told Dowell of my plan. He stared at me, intently – a brightness in his eyes that was unfamiliar, and his head lifted all the way from its normal resting-place, on his shoulder. Then he spoke:
“...nnnn.... cmmmnnngg... too...”
“No,” I said, firmly.
“How the hell am I going to bring you with me, William?”
“Dowell...” he grunted. I recalled that he disliked being referred to by his forename, and I felt a sudden flush of embarrassment. I had been entrusted with this man's wellbeing, and as dangerous as my intentions were, could I rightly leave him here, alone? Physically, he would be safer, but he had spent half his life searching for closure. Did I not have a duty towards that, too? What kind of life is that – to sit safely in a room, confined to a chair and torn-up internally?
“Puhleeeeeeesssss....” he said. I saw, again, the tears in his eyes. I glanced over my shoulder, into the dim corridor that led to the front door. It was empty, and I knew for a fact that the only non-dummy security cameras in the facility were located in the break-room, security office and lounge. I turned back to Dowell, and his pleading eyes.
“Okay,” I said, “Okay.”
So it came to pass that I set-off on the road to Darien County, William Dowell in the back seat of my car, watching the glossy, rain-slick highland landscape slipping past outside. As the sun descended, we rounded a thick copse, and there it was – like a weeping, open wound in the highlands. Loch Raan shone a copper red beneath the sunset. I glanced at Dowell, but his expression was impossible to read.
The village of Darien seemed to have fallen into severe decay since the photographs in Dowell's album were taken – close to the waterfront, otherwise picturesque cottages and little shops were dark and their windows and doors were stitched shut by faded wooden boards.
Hills loomed above the little town like enormous frozen waves, woodland and scrub forming the foam of a poised breaker, ready to sweep Darien and its unpleasant memories into the damned loch which had spawned them. Everything was still and quiet. Not even a curtain twitched as we arrived – the only car on the road that evening, by the looks of things. Even the streams and waterways which ran into the Loch and wrapped slender green arms about the immediate extremities of Darien were dry and scabbed-over with scum and weeds.
We saw no-one except the balding night-clerk at the Devil's Tail Inn. When I asked whether I might swap rooms with a guest on the ground floor, given my companion's weelchair-bound predicament – he simply chuckled and asked which one we'd like. I presume, then, that we were the only guests at the Devil's Tail Inn and (given that it was the only Bed and Breakfast place in the town) I can therefore assume that meant we were the only out-of-towners in the area.
Though this gave us a little flexibility regarding the hiring of rooms and finding a boat that might take us out onto Raan, it also made us incredibly easy to find. I wondered if Dowell had been reported missing, yet and, as though echoing my thoughts, Dowell inclined his head towards a small pamphlet blue-tac'd in the lobby window, advertising a boat-hire firm. By then, it was far too late to call, but I stuck the ad in my pocket, and Dowell and I retreated to our room. We would rise early, and collect our proof from those dark waters.
I eased Dowell out of his chair and into bed. I don't know if it was the dim lighting of the bedroom lamp, but he looked suddenly unhealthily pale, and the lines upon his familiar, bulldog-like face seemed more defined. He suddenly looked very old and frail, and I lay awake the entire night, in the next bed, wondering if I'd done the right thing by bringing him out of the home. Dowell slept deeply and fitfully, occasionally shifting his weight onto his back or his side, and slurring incomprehensable words as his dreams reached their fever pitch.
Haggard and unshaven, I rose at seven, and gently shook Dowell awake. He blinked at me, as though surprised, and then he spoke;
“Ahh... wasshhh... dreaminngghhh...”
“What were you dreaming about?” I asked. He paused, and furrowed his brow, but then his expression brightened, and I saw the corner of his mouth peak in his sad imitation of a grin.
“Ahh... wasshhh... shhhwimminggg,” he told me, “...annnn theh... ah washhh flyinnng.”
It emerged that the boathire firm advertised in the Devil's Tail lobby had gone bust years before, but the previous owner answered the telephone and told us that, for a price, we could use his rowboat. Off the books, of course, which was fine by us. There was no comfortable way to seat Dowell on the benches inside the boat, but I locked the brakes on his wheelchair and wedged it between the seats.
Once I was convinced that it was a snug enough fit that he would not fall out into the water, I sat down, with my back against the old man's knees, picked up the oars, and pushed-out onto the dark waters of Loch Raan.
The sky was overcast, with clouds looking like folded metal, but rain was not forthcoming, and the water was still and placid around us. Our little craft barely cast a ripple as it slipped like a dagger through the gloom. Behind us lay the lonely lights of Darien – blinking awake – and the 'Swiss-Cheese' cliffs rose up, jagged and unfriendly, ahead of us. Trees rustled on the banks, as though jostling for a better view.
I froze, suddenly. Had the boat just rocked minutely out of sync with my rowing? We drifted, and I drank in the silence with fearful, numb ears. No – perhaps it had just been me, shifting in my seat.
I sat and fiddled with the camera in my lap, finding some comfort in the loud 'clicking' of the dials, and then I heaved against the oars again. We were a third of the way along the loch, now, and the sickly morning sounds of the village had faded to nothing in our wake.
I felt goosebumps jolt into being upon my back. A moment after the odd, watery rushing sound, I noted some small bubbles breaking the surface to our immediate left. For whatever reason – perhaps some sudden protective urge regarding my charge – I glanced up at Dowell.
He was gazing down into the water, an expression of concentration so intense upon his lopsided face that he almost looked to be in pain. A small sheen of saliva clung to the corner of his mouth and, out of habit, I pivoted around, pulling out my handkerchief, to clean him up. Even as I did so, Dowell's eyes met mine in a sudden panicked flash, and he cried out a warning.
I whirled-around, but too late – the left oar, which I had thoughtlessly released, had tumbled over the side of the boat. More alarming, however, was that the camera's strap had become tangled around the handle during my fiddling. This, too, went over.
...and as I grabbed for it, something hit the bottom of the boat with a loud crack. The whole craft jerked sharply to one side. I tripped and fell towards the edge, my stomach knotting in the way that yours does when you stumble on the stairs, at night, and then suddenly everything was cold, and wet, and water surged to invade my mouth, my eyes, my nose. Every sense I had, hit by the dark loch as I sank, flailing desperately beneath the surface.
I must have passed out for a moment, because I was suddenly choking, with the pale dawn light a distant memory, hanging high above me. My limbs were stiff and brittle with the cold. I attempted to kick my way upwards, but my movements were slow and I felt as though my boots and jeans were dragging me down. My lungs were burning, and I twisted about, trying to get my bearings again...
...and then I saw it. The Monster of Loch Raan. It flitted on the edges of my vision – coiling in and out of the dark distance – seeming impossibly long. I knew not which end I saw, or even which direction it was going, but it must've been twenty or more feet long – like a white, transluscent rope being dragged through the water at unnatural speed. It curled away from me – out of sight again – and I began to swim for my life. My chest felt like it was on fire, my eyes stung with indescribable pain, and both arms and legs felt as though they were made of wood.
But I swam, all the same.
It came at me again from the right – looming out of the darkness and coiling inwards with its surprisingly slender body - like a hook. I saw that it was lit from within by some flickering, infernal, alien nervous system, and as it slashed through the water with what I assumed to be its tail, I saw that it bristled with spines like an enormous eel or mackerel. I jerked back, and felt the tip of the thing brush against my neck. The pain was immediate and overwhelming.
I might have siezed up then and there, but – and say what you will about how horrible it feels to be afraid – the fear kept me moving. I kicked away from the thing – the barbed thing which loomed in and out of the blackness with its impossible coils. But even as I twisted around in the water, attempting to put distance between myself and its sting, I felt a sudden heat in my throat, like a sudden, sickly flush. The warmth spread down my arms, and a heaviness settled into my chest and all around me, the flickering white body coiled in and out of my sightline – spooling and convulsing...
...and that was when I saw the creature's face dart out at me from the murky unknown. My mouth shot open, and I tried to scream, though only a pathetic little haze of bubbles escaped my lips. Images of an eyeless thing – of a mane of white tentacles great and small – flicker in the recesses of my mind like a decaying film reel. When I try to recall the specifics, my memory is mercifully blank.
I do recall wondering if this was the last sight all those people saw, as the terrible, blind thing came winding towards me. The edges of my vision were darkening, and colours had begun to flash in my eyes as my oxygen-starved brain complained bitterly at its impending demise. As the sun rose in the world above, night was falling over my body for the last time. Closer, came the monster – closer and closer until it was a foot from my face and my body burned and twinged as it corkscrewed-in for the kill...
...and then, salvation! A great rush of white bubbles to my right, and something huge tumbling, sinking past me in the water. Sensing the sudden commotion through the ripples, the Monster of Loch Raan abruptly changed course and slashed-down towards the intruder, forgetting me in its animal excitement at the prospect of a larger kill.
I was jolted into action – pushing the last vestages of energy in my failing body into my legs as I kicked up, and up. I was nearly blind now, but I forced myself to squint down in the maelstrom of black water and flickering, white horror and saw a flash of metal and a sheen of rubber. It was Dowell's chair. Dowell's wheelchair was down there in the gloom. For one moment, more horrible than the menace I had just faced, I thought that my charge had fallen in while craning his neck looking for me...
...and then I broke the surface, sucking in air in great, greedy gulps, and vomiting-up the watery, acidic contents of my stomach, and there was William Dowell, lying on his side in the little rowboat, his body trembling with a rasping cough. I struggled to his side and hauled myself, dripping with water and vomit, into the craft. Dowell had saved me, I realised. This paralysed old man, knowing I was in mortal danger, had used every ounce of willpower in his frail body to pull himself from his chair and push it overboard, as a distraction.
I crawled to him, and took his hand, and his eyes were closed and great rattling breaths shook his broad, lopsided shoulders. We lay, side-by-side, like lovers. Both of us gasping and crying with the effort of our respective tasks. By the time I had the strength to pull myself up from the belly of the boat, the monster was gone, and the loch was still once more. My throat and my chest felt as though they were on fire, and I fell back into the boat.
As the blackness at the edges of my vision rushed to consume me, I felt something digging into my ribs, and I peered down. In all the commotion, I hadn't even realised that I'd caught it. But there, clutched in my white, shivering hands, with one finger locked over the shutter release, was my camera.
I closed my eyes, and floated away on a boat made of nothingness, into the void.
The room in which I awoke was cramped, with plastic sheeting draped over everything, and it smelled strongly of ammonia. My first thought was that I was in a morgue. However, it transpired that I had been taken to the quarantine room of Skye's principle hospital.
Nobody would talk to me. Doctors averted their eyes and nurses would silently change the dressings on my neck and shoulder, and then hurry from the room. I couldn't really walk further than the en-suite bathroom, and even that was a real effort. The rain tapped on the single, tiny window above my bed.
After a couple of days, a police detective arrived. A gruff Glaswegian, but he was not unkind or unfair to me. Once the interview was concluded, he gave me some chocolate and letters that my family had asked him to deliver. As he turned to go, I blurted-out;
“Wh- where's William Dowell?”
The policeman regarded me with his small, watery grey eyes.
“Dowell's dead, lad,” he said, “Pneumonia, a few days after we fished you two out the loch.”
I waited until he'd left, and then I cried until the sun rose, and gulls began to soar past my window.
Eventually, I managed to get hold of someone higher-up in the hospital, and demanded a radio, which was reluctantly provided. But in the weeks that I've been here, I've not heard a single mention of Loch Raan, or William Dowell. Later, I got a letter from my family lawyer, informing me that, while the police were not charging me with anything, they had placed a gag-order on me, forbidding me access to the internet or a telephone.
As a little addendum at the bottom of the paper, he told me that William Dowell had left me a few articles in his will, among which was the entire body of his research, together with a small, Smith-Coronoa Typewriter – which I was allowed at the hospital, in lieu of my laptop. It is the very machine upon which I am compiling this story for your attentions, actually.
My camera was gone by the time I woke from my coma, and I have not heard mention of it since. However, my father wrote to me, recently, passing on information from an uncle who lives a few miles from Darien. Apparently, some kind of “accident” involving a speedboat and a fuel leak resulted in an explosion on Raan.
Apparently, the police were in the process of draining the loch, so as to investigate this mysterious boating accident. Did I prompt that? Did something on my confiscated camera prompt them to dredge those murky depths?
Two days ago, the BBC ran a program about natural wonders in Scotland. Loch Raan's 'Swiss Cheese' rock came up, in passing, with a presenter lamenting the fact that the recent explosion had; (and I quote) “...damaged it so severely,” but that “...the underground waterways that the blast unearthed are a geological marvel.”
I went cold, and turned up the radio. The presenters were talking about a popular theory that all of the major Scottish lochs were joined by vast networks of subterranian rivers. One of them mentioned that many Highland homes still source their water-systems from lochs, or a combination of lochs and local waterways.
Yesterday, a houseboat capsised in a canal near Fort William, and the elderly couple who occupied it drowned in shallow water. Yesterday, a twenty-year-old man apparently suffered a fatal heart-attack while fishing near Oban – miles south of Fort William. Yesterday, people went missing near rivers in Inveray and Aberfoyle...
...and today, several primary school children drowned alongside their teacher, at a public swimming pool in Glasgow. The surviving infants, sobbing, told investigators that they had been attacked by a; “scary fish”. Police were examining a mysteriously damaged filter-pipe in the pool, last I heard.
I was reading-up on some more of Dowell's notes last night, and I hit-upon a few new developments. Did you know that certain marine animals – namely specific types of jellyfish – can practically live forever? They just keep regenerating their cells at a breakneck rate, and all the only price for their immortality? They can never stop feeding.
Further back in the records on Darien county – the original village of Darien was burned to the ground in the 1600s, after the unexplained deaths of a number of fishermen were attributed to a plague in the region.
...and it goes further. The 'Swiss Cheese' appearance of the cliffs at Raan is not a natural geological phenomenon, but is believed to have been formed by a small meteor shower. A Roman officer named Kaius Lucianus, who commanded the garrison at Antonine Wall (far to the north of the more famous Hadrian's Wall), is reported to have seen “...bright lights in the sky, followed thereafter by a weeklong storm,” and ridden out to investigate, never to return.
What is the Monster of Raan?
What is the Monster of Raan?
What is the Monster of Raan?
My fingers are stiffening. Over the past few days, I've noticed this – like my whole body is made of wet cement, which is slowly solidifying. Pushing the keys of the typewriter becomes harder and harder, and I have to take more and more frequent breaks.
I find myself staring out of the window, as the radio burbles-on about another drowning, in Cumbria. There are birds soaring outside. The rain is tapping gently on the glass.