Simon Marsden

The Twilight Hour - Celtic Visions from the Past

The Matrix
by Jonathan Aycliffe

I began to grow cold. As I reached up to draw the window down again, something caught my eye. It might have been there some time, but unnoticed on account of its position a little below the line of the trees, near where the meadow reached them. reaching for the window, my eye had been brought downwards, permitting me to see that part of the landscape more clearly. I think it was the movement that caught my eye. I held my breath, thinking that I had surprised a fox or a squirrel moving across the snow. But it was larger, big enough to be a wolf, I thought. Except that there are no wild wolves in Scotland now.

Milton Lockhart House, Lanarkshire, Scotland
Milton Lockhart House, Lanarkshire, Scotland (MA-H-155)

As I watched, the creature moved again, crawling in the direction of the house. It had long legs and moved awk- wardly, more like a spider or a crab than an animal of the forest accustomed to walking on all fours. As I watched it come towards me, I felt more than simple cold rush through me. There was something unnatural about the thing on the ground, yet it had an almost human quality about it. I could not tear myself from the window, horrified and frightened though I was. The creature moved slowly, yet with determi- nation, across the still surface of the open field, dragging its limbs through the snow, and leaving in its wake a narrow furrow.

From time to time, it would halt and lift its head, as though sniffing the air. Was it hunting? Was it blind and merely questing? As it reached a point about halfway, I could see it more clearly, though mercifully not in any detail. It stopped again and raised its front quarters, then raised its head, and I was sure that long matted hair, like a woman’s, trailed from it, and that it was in some sense human.

It continued its halting progress towards the house. I had a horror of it now, a mounting loathing that urged me to close the window and huddle beneath my blankets. But it was light outside and dark in my room, and I could not face the darkness. The thing shuffled through the snow, nearer and nearer the house, articulating its long arms and legs like the appendages of a dreadful insect.

Suddenly, another form appeared, this time from the direction of the house. A man wearing a long coat was walk- ing towards the creature, and in moments I recognised him as Duncan. I almost cried out to warn him of the creature’s presence, but it was quickly apparent that he was actually heading straight for it. Trudging through the deep snow, he took perhaps half a minute to reach it. When he did so, he bent down and helped it raise itself on its legs. His back concealed it from me at first, then, as he moved to one side in order to assist it, I saw it stand erect. And though it was still too far from me to see more than the outline, I saw that it wore a long dress and that its hair fell almost to the ground.

I pulled the window down and let the curtains fall across it. In the darkness, I could hear my own breath rasping.

From The Matrix by Jonathan Aycliffe, 1994