At dawn, he woke. Another nightmare had tormented his sleep.
An empty theatre. Alone in the front row, facing a silky, black curtain. No orchestra. Utter silence. Black curtain ripples and parts. Bright light floods the stage. A black ballerina’s tiptoeing on. She goes up on her points, freezes. She’s a statue. A radiant, red apple falls into one of her cupped hands. It brings her back to life. She tiptoes closer to the front row, holding out the apple. The apple changes to green. Grabbing it, biting it. Black curtain drops blackness.
Was this black ballerina the same one as in the nightmare on his flight, or did two exist? The first had held out a green apple that had turned to red, but he had not bitten into it. The second had held out a red apple that had turned to green, and he had bitten into it.
On the drive, here, he had recalled Saul saying Eve had changed the first green apple to blood red, when she had offered it to Adam. He finger-combed his hair to soothe himself. Nightmares were taking him over.
Ages ago, Saul had said, “Did you know a nightmare changed the world?”
He had stared at Saul in bewilderment.
“In November 1917, the Sausages and the Frogs were facing each other across the Somme,” Saul had rushed on.
“Yeah? You mean the Germans and French?”
When Saul was wound up, zilch could stop him.
“In a Sausage bunker, a corporal had a nightmare so mega he awoke, and dashed outside. Seconds later, a Frog shell landed on the bunker, and killed the Sausages inside.”
“The corporal was Adolf Hitler. If that Devil’s spawn had kissed the dust, then, my folks would never have suffered in a concentration camp.”
Saul had clicked his fingers, a habitual action with him, when he was edgy.
“Hitler modeled himself on Julius Caesar, Alex. Caesar was a mega dreamer. Hitler must have made a paranoid link, when he got saved by that nightmare,”
Saul’s face had twisted into hatred.
“Don’t get wound up, Saul.”
“Lucifer must have warned the fiend, that night,” Saul had hissed.
Opening the curtains, he blinked. Blue lights were floating outside the window. Was his over-boozing affecting his vision? That would account for yesterday’s odd happenings. It had to be the booze because he had slept like a log right through until the next day, and being bushed could no longer be the reason.
He saw the crumpled note lying beside the tartan shirt, and picked it up. He smoothed it out, and reread it, “Alexander Gordon, let the sleeping Giants rest in peace.”. Bull feathers. He would not spend another second bugging his head about it. Screwing it up, he threw it at the wall.
He dressed, read yesterday’s P&J newspaper he had picked up at Aberdeen airport, and went outside to shift the land rover to the rear of the cottage. A movement in the driver’s seat halted him. A boy was rolling his hands about pretend-driving.
“Hi, there, buddy!” he called.
The boy jumped out, and dashed towards the gate. His hair was the same flaming red as his own. Could this be the ghost boy with the green eyes he had seen on the Texan ranch? Had that bizarre stuff been a pitch into this present moment? But the boy turned scared eyes back to him, piercing blue bolts.
“I don’t give a shit you were in the land rover!” he yelled.
The boy stopped running, hesitated and, then, walked back to stand a few feet away.
“You a Yank?”
His accent had grabbed the boy.
“Yep, Hell, for sure, I’m a Yank,” he drawled, hamming it up.
The boy, nervously, touched his neck, and he reeled. A jet necklace lay gleaming against chalky skin. It was an ancient necklace. He had seen one like it in a museum in New York.
“Where did you get that neat necklace?”
The boy kicked the path’s pebbles.
He held out his hand.
“Can I eyeball it?”
The boy, reluctantly, undid the loop of string, and tossed him the necklace.
With shaking fingers, he examined it. The lack of an original fastener and the spacing of the beads hinted of the past presence of organic elements. It was near complete, but the boy had added a few modern plastic beads to make it fit and a nylon string to hold it together. A jet necklace from prehistoric times had met the modern world.
“Give it back,” the boy said.
“Another moment, buddy.”
He counted the beads; thirty-three fusiform ones, a terminal plate, and four spacer plates. None of the beads had decoration. Maybe this was a burial necklace. He knew The Cabrach had been used for burials from as far back as the Early Bronze Age. Signs of wear were clear, but, sometimes, used necklaces were buried with the dead.
The boy snatched it, and replaced it around his neck, looking guilty. He knew not to force anything. He would take the casual approach.
“I’ll brew us some coffee.”
“I’ve a laptop. You can explore on the Internet.”
The boy hesitated.
“Aye, all right, coffee.”
He led the way into the kitchen, and got the coffee underway.
“Eat a pig! No fears!”
“Uh? The great Scottish breakfast of bacon, eggs, black pudding, etcetera?”
“Not going to eat pig.”
“My buddy, Saul, says the same thing about pig meat but he’s Jewish. He doesn’t eat food that isn’t kosher.”
“Food Jews consider ‘clean’. Pork and shellfish aren’t allowed. Food’s a real thing in the life of a practicing Jew. Kashrut refers to the laws about food in the Jewish religion. You just not dig pig meat or what?”
“Dad says never to eat it and so do others, hereabouts.”
“Don’t know. When dad tells me to do something, I do it. Dad won’t let me argue.”
The boy ran his nails over the kitchen table.
“You talk like a teacher.”
“Archaeology at a Summer Field School in Virginia. But I’ve also taught full-time at universities.”
The boy whistled.
“Nope. Talking of eggs, an egg sandwich?”
The boy nodded.
“What’s your name? Mine’s Alex Gordon. Call me Alex.”
“Gordon’s a name from about here.”
“My folks lived here, way back.”
“But you’re a Yank.”
He opened the fridge, and, then, turned to the boy.
“Cut me some slack, buddy.”
The boy looked him up and down.
“Your boots are great.”
“Texan. My father gave them to me. He’s a ranch in Texas.”
“My dad’s a farmer. Bet you miss the ranch.”
He had to bond to find out where the boy had found the necklace. It would have to be a secret place because no boy would have it if the authorities knew about it.
“Sure miss it. Zilch more swell than a farm or a ranch,” he lied.
“I’m going to take over the farm, one day, Alex.”
His mind flew into the past.
“Why don’t you ever talk of The Cabrach?” he had asked Murdy, the day Hamish had left.
“This ranch is the only roots I know,” Murdy had snarled.
Murdy had, once, been a towering figure of authority. Now, as a grown guy, he knew Murdy was below average height with thick, mousy hair that was, today, sparse and white. Hamish had told him there had been a great granddad with red hair. The gene had skipped Murdy, Hamish, and his Aunt Irene, and had gone to him like lava from a volcanic spew.
“He was flaming-haired Jamie Gordon. He was a Druid,” Hamish had said.
“That darned wizard!” Murdy had roared.
“A Druid isn’t a wizard, Murdoch,” Hamish had said.
Murdoch! It was as if his father had denied his first identity, and become Murdy.
“A Druid or wizard would mean zilch to sane folk,” Murdy had hissed to Hamish.
“Jamie Gordon knew things that should have been passed down the generations, but our branch didn’t want to know him,” Hamish had replied.
He had drawn nearer to them.
“Anything else, Uncle Hamish?”
“Jamie had a child.”
“Don’t know. It was born out of wedlock, but that doesn’t matter. Ach, a lass can carry the blood, too. Too much made of the patriarchal line.”
Thrill had shot through him, although he had not known what a Druid was. And, to him, then, wizards wore black gowns splattered with stars, had dangling, white beards, and were forever stirring steaming cauldrons into which they peered to see the future.
Murdy had turned hostile eyes on Hamish.
“Alex is odd enough without you spewing gibberish about a Druid in the family. A Druid? In The Cabrach, the Dark Ages still had a hold on someone of Jamie Gordon’s century. And one kid? That’s putting all your eggs in one basket. Look at what I got,” Murdy had spat.
He had crept to a corner.
“What did you get, Murdoch?” Hamish had challenged.
“A boy whose nose is never out of books, or his eyes away from magnifiers. He’s so puny for his age. I need a strong son, but Birdie refuses to birth again.”
Hamish had glowered.
“Alex has brains. Brains are superior to brawn. Homo Sapiens used their wits to conquer huge beasts, physically stronger branches of mankind and harsh land.”
Murdy had punched the arm of his chair.
“We live within civilization, now. All the brainwork under control. It leaves us real men to get on with the physical stuff. Look out there, cattle, big skies, and my land as far as the eye can see. I wanted a son who’d work at it with muscle,” he had growled.
Hamish had shot Murdy a fierce look.
“You talk like John Wayne in one of his Westerns. Roots are important. But you’re just a Yank, Murdoch, in one fell swoop of your birth in Texas. No-one would know you were of Scots descent if it weren’t for your surname. You forget the folk from whence you came!” Hamish had thundered.
Murdy had bunched his fists.
“You buggered off to New York to study. Alex has never seen you, until, now. I was the younger son, but father left me the ranch because he knew I’d honor it, never peer at its ground through magnifiers like you did, like my son’s doing,” Murdy had barked.
Hamish’s face had darkened.
“When I told father I wanted to be an archaeologist, he threw me out. I didn’t ‘bugger off’. I’d to take on two jobs to fund myself through university.”
Hamish had paused.
“What’s the American concept of home, Murdoch?”
“Never more at home than when leaving the homestead to find somewhere else? Is that what you’re about to say?” Murdy had roared.
“Just so. Nomads. Come on, our ancestors had a permanent home in The Cabrach. Poverty was the only reason our grandfather left!” Hamish had roared back.
“Ancestors don’t know a damn thing about you! They just dead folk!” Murdy had yelled.
They had gone hammer and tongs, for hours, about roots. He had known some love must have existed in each of them for the other in that. He had dug Hamish’s flow of words about roots. But had there been a germ of truth in Murdy’s arguments?
In his eighties, Murdy would be riding around the ranch on that big roan stallion he had bought from what he called ‘an injun’, and what Hamish had called ‘one of the First Nation’. He knew Murdy was, now, almost constantly, in the company of Howard.
“The ranch is being left to Howard, my sister’s son. Birdie will argue he’s a nephew, but that way it’ll stay in the family. You’d sell it for darned research on stones!” Murdy had thundered, when he had visited him, a few months ago.
Would he ever find a true resting place, be accepted for what he was? Was this journey into The Cabrach to research his ancestors, or had something called him here for an as yet mysterious reason?
Another lightning bolt had struck in the form of a jet necklace.