There are the numerous locals stories of wee people and spirits, talk about the curse of a dying witch, and then there is my story. I will not indulge the former stories, but the latter I will explain as best as I can.
I was shuffled off to Scotland for a period of a couple of months. It was initially for work, but then when our company went under I was stuck over there for a while as various things played themselves out back home. I was in no rush to drive this process, as I had started seeing a local girl and I enjoyed the free time to wander the countryside exploring all the old lochs, moors and castles that dot the magical land.
It was precisely on one of these extended wanderings that I came across a mad dog. I was cutting through a particularly wild portion of the moor when the beast stumbled out from some bushes. At first, I was taken aback. It had a gaunt countenance and wild eyes, but it barely acknowledged my existence. Then I became intrigued–perhaps morbidly so–and, despite keeping my distance and holding on my walking stick tightly, I stood and quietly by observing the poor beast.
The dog was shaking slightly. As I looked closer at it, I realised that it seemed terrified. There was no foam at its mouth to indicate rabies, but its eyes darted here, there and everywhere never focussing on anything while it skittishly sniffed the air. Then, in a high pitched deathly tone, it began to howl.
That was when the other dogs across this strange part of the moor began to howl too. Given the wildness of that part of the moor, I was not surprised that I could not see any of the other dogs out there. There were plenty of bushes, tall grass and wild heather to hide in. Still, their tortured howls floated back to me from all over the moor. There must have been a good dozen howls that joined that mad dog’s howls. It was like I was suddenly surrounded by a hidden wolf pack.
And then it was done. As quickly as the howling had started, it stopped. The mad dog’s darting eyes locked with mine for an eery second, and then it darted off into the brush and thicket. Suddenly, I was alone on that moor. I realised that I was clutching my walking stick tightly, my heart racing. Shaking my head, I chuckled to myself and I loosened my grip on the stick.
“Aye, John,” the girl I was seeing shook her head when I told her about the surreal encounter, “Strange things happen in that part of the moors. Me mum told me to stay away, and I will tell you to stay away too.”
I promised to stay away, but, of course, I broke that promise. In fact, I began wandering over that part of the moor repeatedly. I would ask local shopkeepers and barmen about it. Slowly, a wild collection of stories began to appear. I was not the only one that had had a strange encounter in that little corner of the moor. From getting lost in sudden thick mist and reappearing hundreds of miles away in that moor; to watching birds hurling themselves into the sides of the hills there; from hearing screams of women and children lost there in the Jacobite Wars to pregnant mothers stumbling out there to have their births there (and, with no recollection why they had done so).
It was like there was a different tale for each person I spoke to. So many strange tales about the ‘Mad Moors of Calum’, as the locals had come to call that place.
But, I could not get the moor out of my mind. I began to dream of that desolate strip of land with cracked shale rock crunching under each step; the dark earth where scratchy bushes and heather, filled in between by long, whipping grass, and covered in a soft mist that the cold breeze in the air barely moves. Deep below ground, I knew it was there. It was the land. It was older than the land and it shaped it in its image. I would walk for miles in these dreams, howling dogs everywhere but in sight, and thick, cool mist covering me as babies screamed somewhere…
I always woke up from these dreams sweating with my heart racing.
One night, I could not sleep. My girlfriend had long since gone to bed and, although I was tired, I felt nervous. I felt tense. I felt like something was going to happen. I caught myself strolling back and forth across the room, so I threw on my jacket, grabbed my walking stick, kissed my sleeping girl goodbye, and left for a midnight stroll down our road.
Now, I had no intention of going there. It was too late and it was too far. But, the road somehow slipped by and the mist grew thicker as I slipped more and more into my own thoughts while walking. And I was just somehow suddenly there. I would like to blame the “mist” for stealing me there, but I am honestly not certain that I did not just subconsciously want to wander to that haunted strip of land.
That is right: I was standing on the Mad Moors of Calum at midnight. The mist was gone. It was absolutely silent with the most incredible cosmically-bejewelled night sky above emphasising my puniness in all the near-infinite space.
I gripped my stick and wandered deeper into the Mad Moors. I almost expected the gaunt dog to jump out at any moment or howling to commence, but neither of these happened. What did happen, though, was that I found my way up a hill overlooking the moor. I had no plan here. I just wanted to see the moors on such a clear night and I thought the view would be good from up there.
But the moment I looked, I knew something was different. It was almost like the moors–or parts of it–were moving. Something was alive. I rubbed my eyes and continued looking down from that hill. Many bushes and heather were shaking in a non-existent wind, but plenty were still too. Some of the shaking bushes even began to rise slowly from the ground.
I stood, transfixed, staring at this bizarre, silent phenomenon, and then the first of them broke into the open. It was buried off to my right at the bottom of the hill. The mound of grass and bush that was shaking lifted up. It pushed it aside as its tentacles grasped for the cosmos above it. Its form was mostly scaled, with leathery skin between warped appendages. The single picture that I can never forget is its faceless face: here instead of a human face, there were constantly moving tentacles writhing from some primordial nightmare. Its tentacled-face lifted upwards as its clawed itself from the hole in the ground, and a high-pitched, eerie sound–a scream? Maybe a call or cry?–began to emit from it.
Suddenly, distant dogs started howling. Something returned its call from high above, also a high-pitched, horrific sound by much more powerful, sounding like it was coming from a much larger source. This detail only came to me much later. At the time, I was transfixed witnessing these horrors pulling themselves from out of the ground all over the Mad Moor of Calum below me. Tentacles writhing everywhere as scaled nightmarish monsters rose from the very ground that I had walked on so many times.
And then the high-pitched shriek came again from the dark night sky. I caught myself whimper in fear like some primitive caveman hearing howling wolves in the night, but then the chorus below took my breath away. Each horror below lifted its tentacles face to the sky and shrieked its high-pitched response. Distant dog howls rose in feverish sympathy to this hellish choir. And then it was over. There was silence. And, slowly–like some dark sorcery–each nightmarish being unfolded a dark, leathery set of wings behind them and began to fly upwards.
One by one by one, they and all their scales and tentacles left that moor, myself and I suspect our world behind to join whatever it was that had shrieked back at them from the night sky or the dark, inhuman cosmos beyond it.
I stood there for hours before I even realised that time had passed. The dogs howling had died down and it was just another quiet night out in the moor by the time I had descended. I found one of the holes in the moor. While being surprisingly small with erosion already crumbling shale rocks and dry dirt in on itself, I could not see the bottom of it. How deep had these demonic seeds buried themselves below our mortal feet? For how long had they slept there?
And then I had the thought that will haunt me for the rest of my life: How long since these tentacled, nightmares had been laid there to birth to whatever horrific mother being waited for them in the cosmic sky above? Our planet had been the egg and little more than a waystation for an unnatural cycle of reproductive of horror. Like flies laying their eggs in dung to hatch, some cosmic nightmare was using our planet to hatch its ungodly breed of tentacled-young.
I left Scotland shortly thereafter, and I have never returned. I sense it has little to do with the country. Whatever it was that I witnessed could well have been in any desolate place anywhere on–or in–this planet (or perhaps even other planets). But, I just needed to get as far away from the memory of those faceless, tentacles writhing as they pulled themselves from our ground.