High on the rocky crags of the Glen of Insanity is an ice-hollowed little corrie with a dark little lochan in the bottom, shining like a black opal. On that lochan there is a tiny island with barely enough room for the three ancient, wind-blasted trees that grow there, reaching their tortured, arthritic limbs to the black sky, which happens to be only 7 inches from their highest twigs.
[See Scotland, for all its majesty and towering crags has a design flaw. Great mountains rear heavenward like some glorious natural cathedral but somebody, somebody went over budget with the rich purple heather swags and noble red deer and, come time to crown their majestic creation (meant to suggest to man something of the great vaults of heaven, after flippen all!), all they could afford for the roof was a low slate-grey ceiling of cloud. A ceiling so low it has brylcream marks on - this is the sky in Scotland.
The land is a tease. The book says to expect lofty peaks and wheeling eagles and the visitor's eye is swept upwards in an exultation of granite and awe. Then... just when the eye is primed, expecting a soaring celestial firmament of cerulean and Michaelangelo cumulonimbi... well then the eye smooshes up against the soggy grey anticlimax of a manky raincloud ceiling; the magnificent vista is ruined, foreshortened by foreshorten-sighted philistines and shifty bandit builders. The eye is well pissed off and wishes it had gone to Switzerland like its naggy partner on the other side of the nose had wanted in the first place. The vision was Chartres Cathedral, the execution resembled a bungalow sitting-room with pretentious murals.
You see, way back at the dawn of time, due to an administrative error, Scotland's wild places were contracted out to a heavenly cowboy outfit. (I'm afraid there are bad tradesmen even in heaven. Be sure to have them put some washers and a Black&Decker in the coffin with you when you go - if you're expecting to go to heaven. For hell, take light summer clothes in some sort of easy-to-pack non-creasing asbestos material.) Haloes rolled, I'll tell you, when God got wind of it. All heaven broke loose. Wings were clipped and for two weeks there was Reddy Brek instead of Ambrosia at every meal in the Angelic Guild of Roofers and Plasterers. It was a dark blip in the eternal bliss of paradise.]
But, the reason I’ve dragged you up to this particular corrie in such dreadful weather is because I want you to look very closely at the three twisted trees on the island in the lochan. Watch them as they start to twitch in a way quite independant of the wind. Observe how the claw-like topmost branches suddenly look more like flesh than wood, and 3 pairs of knobby hands begin to twist and writhe and tear at the air. Note how filthy are the long yellow fingernails, and how papery is the peelie-wallie skin. If you peer very squintily, a package of reduced-calorie digestive biscuits can be seen clutched in one of the plumper hands.
Then watch with me as the three trees transform themselves, slowly, slowly, all the way down to the mossy ground into three black-robed witches, with pointy hats and hairy warts and everything. Overhead an eagle pierces the night with an unearthly scream.
“It’s perishing, Effie, why do we always have to do this at night? I’m missing Eastenders and John-Murdo thinks I’m having an affair, the amount of times we’ve been having meetings lately.”
“We’re witches, you silly old moo, it’s traditional. Witches meet at night in barren spots, that’s what we do” said the tallest, witchiest looking one. “Shut up and pass me the tea flask. And don’t jiggle. I swear this island gets smaller every time.”
“Who’s ‘ot i hours ogh i last neeting?” said the smallest, plumpest witch, trying to open the biscuit packet with her teeth. (Witches’ covens don’t have minutes for their meetings because minutes don’t sound as eldritch as hours.) “Ah got it!” For a moment there was some enthusiastic munching. “Are we using proper names tonight?”
“We’d better.” said Effie, clearing her throat. ” A-hhhhughhh, a-hhhhukh, hhhukh. I call this coven to order. Present are Euphemia Pearworm MacAuley, The Bony And The Fierce; Mabel-Critterhorn MacLeod, The Bony And The Vaingloriou; and Chrissy-Peigi Screwtoe Mackenzie, The Dumpy And The Determined – Dark Sistren Three of the Inner, Outer, Upper and Downer Hebrides. When did we three meet last?”
“You know fine well it was last night,” said Mabel, impatiently tapping a hobnailed boot. “Look, do we have to go through all this? The Glen of Insanity gives me the creeps. Why couldn’t we use the Scout Hall again? At least they’ve got a kettle.”
“Chrissy-Peigi lost the key,” growled Effie.
“We’re witches, we don’t need an effing key!” screeched Mabel, doing a ghetto sistah side-to-side head thing and waving a taloned finger “Oh no, uhn-uhn!”
“Oh lets just get on with it, the rain’s blowing right in my ears,” said Chrissy-Peigi. “Yesterday two more sane people walked right through the glen and came out completely unmad, except for a new-found appreciation for the work of James Blunt. What are we going to do to fix that, eh? By the way, did anyone bring a wee nip o’something to keep the weather out? Oh, lovely Mabel. Nobody makes gooseberry schnapps like you do, dear. Cheers!”
To Be Continued…