Fear Dubh

In Scotland there is the legend of the Fear Dubh (The Black Man). This creature is said to haunt solitary footpaths at night, generally those that pass through woodland. It is reputed to be entirely malevolent. I can remember my granny telling me stories about a lot of Scottish folk tales; she only ever mentioned the Fear Dubh once, and that was in church. I was about eight, and was spending the summer holidays with her.

She took me to church one Tuesday morning, and told me to wait by the front while she spoke to Father MacAndrews. And all she said was the name, and then “He’s been at the bairn’s window again”. The priest just nodded, and said he’d be round later.

I was a curious child, so I took a walk around the house later. It was built on the edge of woodland, so close that the branches of an ash tree almost touched the window. Ivy grew up the side of the house, but it was dying back in long thin patches, the leaves wrinkled and sort of wet-looking.

My granny made me say my prayers that night, and put her rosary beads under my pillow. And I fell asleep to the sound of wet leaves brushing against my window. And I dreamed of a thin man who looked at me, even though he had no eyes, and tried to touch me, even though he had no hands.

I can’t actually remember much of the next few days. My mum says it was the trauma of my gran’s funeral that’s made those days so blurry, but I don’t understand why, because I coped okay with other funerals round about that age. And I don’t understand how Father MacAndrews died of a heart attack the same night (he was only thirty, and fit as a butchers’ dog).

And if Gran died of a stroke, I don’t understand why the police sealed off the house and woodland. It wasn’t the local police either; they were all big serious men in dark blue with riot gear on. You’d have thought that their presence would have meant that local vandals would have stayed away, but they didn’t, and poor Gran’s house got firebombed a few weeks later. The walls are still standing though. You can see the long thin streaks that the smoke’s made on the white walls. Looks almost like an octopus’ tentacles, reaching for you.

I’ve still got the rosary, and even though people laugh, I sleep with it under my pillow. Because if I don’t, I dream. About the sound of wet leaves sliding softly across a window, and the way he is still watching me, even though he has no eyes.

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