Since Hallowe’en is almost upon us, here’s a wee bothy story for you to, hopefully, enjoy.
A bit of light amusement rather than a scare-fest, you might all the same think twice about reading it before that solo bothy trip on the night of the 31st.
Very definitely fiction, the bothy in question bears no relation to any bothy living or dead – neither do any of the people.
Jim & The Ghost
“Jim Tough? He nae mair believes in ghosts than I do.”
Bill was laughing at me as he spoke. Right enough, he’d known Jim Tough a long time and Jim wasn’t known for being afraid of anything. He’d soloed Eagle Ridge, both summer and winter, and the classic routes on The Ben – Point Five, Zero. He was said to have soloed The Needle, on the Shelterstone Crag, climbing all through the night because the snow had been that bad on the roads and on the hill that it was late afternoon before he got to the foot of the climb and he was too thrawn to give up on his plans.
No, Jim wasn’t afraid of much. He had the sort of reputation that you didn’t cross him either. I got on fine enough with him, but there were tales of legendary fights, some of which were physical impossibilities, although you never knew. He’s supposed to have taken on six guys outside the Clachaig one night, and I know that one’s not true because I was there, and it was only five – the other one was a lassie. Mind you, she was the one with the knife.
Anyway, I knew myself Jim was bold enough when it came to climbing and fighting, but I wasn’t bothered by Bill taking the mince.
“You ask him then,” I said. “You ask him if he fancies a night in Simpson’s Bothy.”
“Fit wye wid he no?” laughed Bill. “I’ve bed there often enough masel’ – there’s nae ghosts there. Onywye, Jim wid jist fecht them if there wis. Ye’re spikkin shite.”
I just laughed myself and didn’t bother arguing. Jim might deny it, and who would dare argue, but I’d met a guy who knew better.
I’d been at Simpson’s towards the end of October. They’re bonnie days when it’s not raining, but the nights are long enough that I was fine pleased when I got there to find someone already at the bothy that I could have a craic with. It was not long after dark when I got there and he was sitting comfy in front of a rare fire, with just the one candle on a neuk behind his shoulder that he was reading a book by.
After we’d said hello I got my sack off my back and opened it up on the floor.
“I’ve plenty of candles here. We’ll get a bit of light about the place,” I said.
“Oh I don’t bother much with light – as long as I have enough to read my book by. There’s a nice light off the fire too.”
“Aye, right enough.” But still, I found places for three or four candles and lit them up. There’s not much sense in tripping around in the dark when you don’t have to.
We didn’t say much more while I cooked and ate my dinner: he read his book while I ate and flicked through the bothy visitors’ book. That’s how I saw that Jim Tough had been in by the week before. I thought it was a bit odd for I’d seen him through the week and he’d claimed he hadn’t been away anywhere, but that was Jim for you.
I finished my meal and pushed my mess tins to the back of the table and pulled my chair closer to the fire. The other guy put his book down on the floor beside him and we started chatting – all the usual sounding each other out: where we had come from, what we were planning, places we had been. He was a neat sort of chap: a bit dapper really, clean shaven and hair that looked like he’d combed it; his gear was nothing out of the ordinary but it was all very neat and clean – maybe even ironed. You got the impression he maybe wore a bowler hat when he was in town – a bit of a toff maybe, but very pleasant in his manners all the same.
The guy certainly liked to talk. He said he’d just got to the bothy earlier that day but, if so, he’d been pretty starved for conversation wherever he’d been before. Not that he was a pain: he spoke interestingly enough and he was as happy to listen to my lies as to tell his own, so we’d a fine enough night.
But then, of course, late on, we ended up talking about ghosts and haunted bothies. It was him who raised the subject, telling this odd story about a bothy. It wasn’t really a ghost story as such – just happened to have a ghost in it, like it was an incidental detail but like the most natural thing in the world. I didn’t call him out about it then, but when he started again later with another ghost I came back at him saying I reckoned there was usually some ordinary explanation for all these ‘unexplained’ noises and stuff. He responded with a self-satisfied little smirk that managed that trick of remaining polite – just – while telling you that, of course, he knew better.
“It’s easily seen you’re a climber. I don’t know why climbers find it so hard to believe in ghosts. I was speaking to a gentleman in here just last weekend – a climber like yourself – and he was quite determined there were no such things.”
I knew right away there was every chance he was speaking about Jim, since I’d seen his name in the book, so I said to him was it a skinny-looking guy with a red scraggly beard and, right enough, he gave a surprised laugh and said that might well have been him. He described the rest of him to a tee, down to the colour of his jacket and those scabby boots he still hangs onto.
“Well,” said I, “You’ll not have gotten Jim to believe in your ghosts. It takes him to believe in some real folk, never mind ghosts!” See, I told him just what Bill said to me in the pub: I knew Jim didn’t have any time for ghost stories. But this wee guy in the bothy just gave a wee chuckle like he was in on a joke – he was getting to be a bit on the smug side – and said to me I’d maybe better ask Jim again what he believed and what he didn’t. “I told him a story he found rather convincing, ” he said.
“It must have been some story to convince Jim.”
“Yes, he’s a rather cynical gentleman, if you don’t mind me saying. Do you know a bothy called Ryvoan at all?”
I laughed. “Oh aye, I know it well. I helped put in the sleeping platform.”
“Oh, this story happened long before your sleeping platform. Do you know about the body that was found there back in the ‘60s?”
I shook my head, more to indicate that I wasn’t much interested in yet another ghost story – especially since I’d spent any number of nights in Ryvoan without being haunted – but he bore on regardless: the lone traveller seeking shelter, going to sleep and getting woken in the dark of the night by a strange sound.
“He sat up and reached for his torch,” narrated my companion in tones that were verging on theatrical. “He felt all around him but couldn’t find the torch, even though he’d laid it by his head when he went to sleep.
“Then he heard a sound that send a chill up his spine. It went…”
And I swear to god I about shat myself, because just as he said that there was the most godawful sound, like claws scraping down the corrugated iron roof. I jerked upright and looked frantically to the inside of the roof and then the window. The chill was all up and down my spine, never mind the guy in the story and it took a second to pull myself together as I saw that smug smile appearing again on the storyteller’s face.
I gave a nervous laugh, aware I’d been caught out beyond any dignified recovery.
“Bloody hell that was good. How the hell did you do that?” I scrambled to retain what dignity I could and added: “I’ve seen folk do the same sort of thing, with tin cans on a string, but never a sound like that.”
A pained look spread across his face.
“Tin cans? String?”
“Well come on then. You can’t leave it like that. If it wasn’t tin cans what the hell was it. That’s a great trick.”
“A trick? You’re just as bad as your friend.”
He frowned slightly, as though considering his response, then disappeared.
No flash, no smoke. Just plain wasn’t there anymore.
I wasn’t even afraid at first, I just didn’t believe what I was seeing – or not seeing. It was as though my brain was paralysed as well as my body. He’d simply disappeared. Gone.
I sat there not moving a muscle – at first because I wasn’t capable of it and then because I was too scared to move. Eventually, keeping the rest of my body rigidly still, I turned my head to look around the room. It was empty – completely empty. Just the three or four rickety chairs and that table that you could make soup from if you scraped the top of it. The fire burned nicely in the grate.
Careful not to make a sound – I don’t know why – I half lifted, half pushed my own chair back against the wall and slowly eased myself to my feet. My brain was numb, and the more I tried to figure out what was happening the less sense it made and the more frightened I became. I’d no idea what had just happened or how. But whatever it was, it wasn’t right – it wasn’t right any way I could think about it.
Part of me was screaming to get out and run, with another part telling me he could be outside waiting for me to do just that, and even at a flat-out run it would take the best part of an hour to reach the road. Then again, I was also trying to tell myself that if he wanted to do me any harm he could surely have done it inside the bothy before he vanished. And there was yet another voice reminding me how stupid it would be to abandon all my gear and run away into the night because, after all, none of this could possibly have happened – although that voice wasn’t managing to convince me: I knew fine that a guy I’d been speaking to the whole evening had just disappeared before my eyes, and I was scared.
Trying to keep all of the bothy in view all of the time, I edged my way around the wall to where my rucksack lay and, back still to the wall, squatted down beside it.
“I really must apologise, Mr Findlay.”
I couldn’t help it: I gave a shriek like a wee lassie and leapt to my feet, trying to push myself backwards through the wall.
“I see I’ve frightened you rather more than I intended. I’m afraid I forget my manners sometimes – I did the same with your friend.”
He was there again, in the same chair he’d sat in before, sitting, relaxed, with his feet out towards the fire, like he’d never been away. Again, there was no flash or smoke: he wasn’t there and then he was. I can’t even say I was aware of him appearing – he was just there.
I tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out – and in any case, I wasn’t sure what I was trying to say.
“Although I must say, your friend was rather uncivilised about it all himself. He became rather upset when I left and started shouting at me in a most uncouth manner – he had been drinking, of course – and then went even further and started damaging the fabric of the bothy. You can see over there, where the panelling is burst.
“I’m afraid I got a little upset myself at that and became rather unpleasant for a moment or two before remembering my manners. I rather think that he was in fear of his safety when he left so hurriedly.
“I daresay he may not have mentioned any of this to you?”
“No,” I mumbled. My brain had retreated into numbness again.
“No, perhaps not. I must admit a degree of shame that I allowed him to provoke me so. I do like someone to talk to now and then, but I always appear to spoil things somewhat.”
“No, no…” I mumbled again. I couldn’t help it: here was a guy – or ghost – who’d about scared me to death and I was busy apologising to him about it, even if I could hardly get my mouth to shape the words.
“No, I can tell I have. We were getting on so well, but the atmosphere has changed beyond recovery, I fear. Please be assured, though, I mean you no harm at all and you are perfectly welcome to stay here for the night; it has started raining outside and will be rather heavy. Much safer in here too, though you may be forgiven for doubting that.”
I just stared. I was beyond responding.
“Yes, well, I’ll leave you in peace now. Once more, I’m so sorry if I have spoiled your evening.”
And then he wasn’t there anymore. Again.
I gradually became aware of myself again and realised I was still standing with my back against the wall. In an empty bothy. Maybe.
I shut my eyes to take a deep breath and opened them again quickly before I started to breathe. I took the deep breath – and another one after it – with my eyes as wide open as I could, flicking from side to side to take in the whole room.
I was left with the same dilemma as when he first disappeared: should I stay or should I go. The guy had said I should stay, and as much as said that it wasn’t safe outside. But should I listen to advice from a spook? In the end I succumbed to mental exhaustion. I gave up trying to make sense of what had happened and gave up trying to decide what to do. I slumped down beside my rucksack and sat on the floor. Tired as I was, I didn’t sleep, but sat there wide awake and watching the whole night, until the light came in and the sun rose.
And the funny thing was, through that whole long night, I didn’t need to put a single log on the fire. It burned away the whole night without seeming to get any less and I had plenty of time to wonder if, even before I realised I was sharing the bothy with a ghost, my strange companion had ever put a log on the fire. The candle was the same: while the candles I’d lit burned down and guttered out, the spook’s candle burned on and on and didn’t get any shorter.
Once the day was definitely in I gingerly stretched myself back into shape and got to my feet, moving carefully and watchfully around gathering my mess tins and any other odds and ends. I wondered about putting some water on the fire, but when I looked there were just cold ashes in the grate – and the candle was unlit. I did think briefly about taking it, and I like to think it was honesty rather than fear which stopped me.
When I got back to town I could hardly wait to look up Jim but, it being Jim, I didn’t like to come straight out and say I’d been scared shitless by a ghost and had the same happened to him, so I just mentioned in the passing that I’d been to Simpson’s. I’m sure he gave a start but he did no more than utter a noncommittal grunt and didn’t say anything.
“I was thinking about going back there next weekend if the weather’s a bit better,” I ventured. “Fancy coming along?”
This time he definitely paled.
“Naw,” he grunted. “There’s naethin’ there worth climbin’. Now get’s a pint and shut yer gob aboot that hole o’ a place. It’s a shite bothy an’ there’s nothing there. Nothing there at all.”
Copyright Neil Reid