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Symbol Stone Ch. 2

by  Anglisutuel

Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2005
Word Count: 2075
Summary: Chapter Two of The Symbol Stone

Chapter Two
Cantray, where Mairi had grown up, was a large farm in the north of Scotland, overlooking the Moray Firth. It was beautiful, the dark waters of the Firth letting into cold dark sea, the high moors above it, wild, free, and lovely. But the other way Inverness sprawled and the night skies were lit by the city’s orange glow. To the North, the Black Isle was connected to the town with an arching new bridge and to the east the rich agricultural land along the water was ever whittled away by industry, the airport, growth. No, it was true that the land round here was much changed but locally there was disagreement: some said the changes were for the better, others said for the worse. On the one hand, jobs and prosperity, on the other pollution traffic, social breakdown.

Dougal Mackay, whose construction firm’s work depot sat on what had once been a rich green field, belonged to the former camp: more business would bring them all better lives. Most importantly his business brought him a smart German car, his wife’s clothes and exotic holidays and an overblown house which proudly bore the wrought-iron name: Chateau MacKay. It had a three-car garage (full), an indoor pool and Jacuzzis in each bathroom. “I’m not complaining,” is what his unsuccessful younger brother claimed Dougal would have carved on his gravestone. “Listen Stevie, without builders what have you got? A few sheep and nothing to eat but turnips.” They agreed to differ, Stevie thought his brother liked to have his bread buttered on both sides, but then Dougal put work his way.

MacKay Construction’s growing success was largely down to a close relationship with Moorland Ventures. They were rapidly becoming the biggest developers in the region and MacKay’s share of the business grew year on year. Minting it, Dougal thought, and didn’t question some of the more irregular requests Moorland and its sleek director Sir Hugh Fell put his way. ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you’ was one of Dougal’s many mottoes. Stevie noticed some of the rule breaking but, well, he couldn’t afford to be too choosy, so he said nothing about the company’s willingness to start a job before the paperwork was in order, or about building an extension on a certain council member’s home as “a wee gift”, or about demolishing something that wasn’t on the plan. Stevie chose to turn a blind eye. It was his brother’s lookout if he bent the law.

The MacKay Construction compound down near the airport was pretty austere with some big galvanised sheds and a Portakabin office set behind a twelve-foot perimeter fence topped with razor wire. At night trained Alsatians prowled and powerful floodlights illuminated the expensive earth moving equipment.

That morning, inside the compound Stevie was sorting out kit when a vast car rolled into the yard tinted windows obscuring its occupants from view. Stevie recognised it as Sir Hugh Fell’s. It parked next to his own scruffy van, which he’d put right up to his brother’s swanky Mercedes just to annoy him. The silver-headed developer got out of the car and Dougal was already rushing from the Portakabin to greet him with the formality of a visiting head of state. Stevie said something rude under his breath before returning to his work his head full of the songs he’d rather be writing for his band, songs that would evaporate when he finished this lousy job. Oh how he hated this life.

Inside the Portakabin Dougal was doing everything in his power to welcome Sir Hugh, but Sir Hugh snapped into action, “we’ve got the council’s rubber stamp for the Assich project as Clive would have told you over the phone. There’s been a bit of trouble-making: some old woman wittering on about the ancient Picts and burial sites,” cue joke: Dougal laughed obediently, “and other nonsense,” Sir Hugh leaned conspiratorially towards his willing slave, “but I think we can safely forget all about that”.

Sir Hugh brought out a vast pile of plans and documents and handed them to Dougal, “You’ll find it all there, Dougal. Anything you don’t understand, just call Clive. We’ll be wanting to get this underway, pretty damn fast. Final planning meeting’s coming up soon, but I think we’ve got that sorted. We’re lining up a bit of jobs and money support from locals to please the council.”

Dougal whistled looking up from the papers, “it’s a pretty big development.”

The imperious man looked at the contractor, “you do have sufficient capacity to undertake this.”

Dougal immediately thought of his profits, “of course, of course.”

“Good. I have every confidence in you MacKay,” and the meeting was over. Stevie saw Sir Hugh sweep out of his brother’s office with Dougal bobbing at his heels and back into his car and thought about the names he used to call his brother when they’d been children. None of them were bad enough. Sir Hugh’s car drove off again, loose stones kicking up at its rapid departure.

Dougal called across “Heya laddie-O. Big Bro has something for you,” his jocular tone made Stevie grit his teeth, “that new Moorland contract has come off and I’ll need you on the ‘dozer for a few days soon, preparing the site.”

“Och Dougal, let me see if I’m free,” of course he was, but he still paused, “yeah, yeah, I can fit you in I think.”

“You’re the best Stevie; you know that, don’t you?”

“Aye,” he didn’t want to smile, it made him feel like such a creep. But he agreed again. Damn Moorland Ventures and their money. He reversed the forklift out of the big shed and began the process of organising all the equipment to go up to the Assich site. It was a foreman’s job this – not casual work. His brother was taking the Mickey all right, he thought. He could give him a full-time job, surely? Or bring him in to the business: MacKay Brothers – that would sound good. Fat chance! He slammed the fork under a laden palette to make his point to no one. What an unpleasant day! His brother had always dismissed him when they were kids, saying he would never make anything of himself daydreaming about his guitar. And their father had just agreed: “Aye, Dougal, it’s a good job one of you’s got a head screwed on properly.” A clammy mist seeped in from the water to make his unhappiness complete.

“What is the dark one doing?” he asked her.
"The same, the same, dark things,” she sounded irritated.
"You mean you cannot see, Cailliach?”
"No, not clearly, not yet.”

Cal’s mother called him to breakfast.

While he ate, she told him all the same stuff she had before, about going to London and on to Cantray, “how about the Great Nepalese for dinner?” she asked.

“Yay,” he replied happily – a favourite – he could eat their food forever.

And then yesterday bubbled to the surface unprompted, “I got this flint on the beach,” he said suddenly, and pulled the troubling stone out of his pocket to lay it flat upon the table. It sat there, an innocent thing like a dull disc. Mairi weighed it carefully in her palm, and then looked hard at it, angling it this way and that as if trying to catch the light. She stared more closely at the fleeting shadows that crossed it, the same ones he strained to see, like the memory of pictures on its surface. “It isn’t flint you know,” she announced clearly, “it’s granite.”

“Granite? But you told me it’s only chalk and flint round here.”

“Uhuh, it is Cal, but this stone, “ she paused and closed her fingers round it, “this stone is not from round here – or I don’t know my palaeo-archaeology,” she smiled and placed the stone back onto the table gently, “no. It is not from here at all.”

“Where’s it from? How did it get here?”

“Oh, washed up, or carried or,” she hesitated, “put. Things turn up in the strangest places. Look at all the stuff in the British Museum. Who’d expect to find something made by the Egyptians on a busy street in the middle of London?”

“Mum! That’s different, that’s people taking stuff there on purpose.”

“Well, maybe someone took this stone and put it down at Ovingdean on purpose just for you to find. Who knows? I don’t,” she should have been teasing, saying that, but she sounded serious. He saw that other worried look hiding behind her eyes.

“It’s just a stone off the beach, like all The Fell, but it’s a good shape. Erosion! It’s worn that way by the sea – you told me about that.”

“Well,” she said, “it’s a special stone.” She got up from the table and went over to the dresser, “I know,” she rummaged around on one of the high shelves. “Here!” she said and handed him a small soft leather pouch, tied with a leather thong like a boot lace, “keep it in this – it’s just the right size. It could have been made for it. Now, finish up your breakfast.”

“Thanks Mum,” he sat at the table still plagued by this stupid feeling that nothing that was happening was normal or right.

“Travel north, the time is here again. Come, come,” they beckon across the miles. Voices reach out through the air, voices he can’t hear. Wood-smoke weaves into words.

They spent an afternoon like a holiday in town, with time for dinner before the train. As they walked from the restaurant to Euston, Cal saw an old man half sprawled on the London pavement ahead. He had his pile of ragged belongings bunched up against the railings of the church behind him. It was obvious even from a distance that he would smell. Sagging and baggy in filthy clothes that could have been bundles of old cloth tied about his body with old rope.

Cal was lagging behind Mairi, only by ten feet or so, and she turned back to him, “don’t get lost darling” before walking on. Travel made her nervy. The second she turned away, as Cal closed the distance between them, skirting to the edge of the kerb, the old man lurched to his feet. Suddenly he seemed huge, looming above Cal. He did smell too, but instead of the odour of sweat, alcohol and worse, it was as if a cloud of wood smoke had engulfed them. His eyes locked onto the boy, who was torn between stopping and running past as quickly as possible, and they were dark and deep.

He spoke.

Words that were just sound, rhythmic and compelling but obscure – and then abruptly they became clear: “Stone bearer, ahead of you is a burden. Watch and trust no one until you meet the Woodman.”

Cal, rooted to the spot, was speechless in this frozen moment.

“Protect your burden, child,” he went on more gently, “until the Woodman looks out for you,” and then he shrank back into his hunched form, slumped by a dirty churchyard oblivious to the busy city around him. Cal still stood and stared.

“Cal, for goodness sake, what are you doing,” Mairi was coming back to him and then saw the slumped man, “Oh,” her face creased with compassion and she fumbled in her pocket for some money. The old man muttered something unclear as she placed a handful of coins at his feet.

“Come on darling, we have to get a move on,” and she put her arm round her son’s shoulder and they walked together the last block to the station.

“It’s so sad when that happens to a person,” she began then trailed off. Cal’s mind reeled grappling with two thoughts: one that he had imagined everything; the other that he had not.

The old man and the old woman join each other again, dew damp on the grass beneath their feet. A third figure walks up behind them. Younger and strong, “can you see him? Can you see the boy? Is he coming?” there is a hunger in his voice like an old, sad yearning. They do not reply to his questions because their bodies stand empty before him, while they travel far in their minds. “The watcher has spoken to him,” the woman speaks, “and now we must wait.”