Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that James P. has won first place in the 13-19 age group for the Scary Stories 2021 Youth Writing Contest with his piece "The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond."
Around them the mist continued to drift, seeping into their veins, sapping their spirits. The younger of the two brothers poked his head from out of his sleeping bag which lay on the cold, merciless dirt in the clearing of the cold, merciless forest which was infused with the cold, merciless mist that had awoken his body with chills throughout.
“Stuart,” he shouted with a whisper. The sack to which he called did not stir. He called again, desperate to be reminded that there was another life in the frigidness of the air. And he was, for the sack responded with a drowsy, “what?”.
“I can’t take it, man. This place is… is… cold. But in more ways than just temperature. Don’t you get that, too?” The head of about 25 years peered out at its opposite with pleading eyes.
“I do, but how can we find somewhere else now? We’ll leave first thing tomorrow.”
The other agreed, and, having successfully deceived themselves that this would be the case, the two fell into a perceived safe and secure sleep, each brain preferring to shut itself down than to endure the anxiety of the night. But it did not last. Perhaps 45 minutes later, the youngest could be heard muttering in his sleep. These mutterings grew into shouts, cries, shrieks, until the older of the pair was inevitably woken.
“Norman… Norman… Norman!... NORMAN!... NO DON’T DO IT!!
The bald one shot up and stared across the crackling campfire at his brother who hosted a demon in his dreams. And he was mortified to hear the name of a man he knew who died on the same day five years prior.
The cool Autumn air was brisk and the trees were already naked, thereby sharing the cold with two men who tracked along the edge of a vast lake. And all the while they hiked, the younger one, with shaggy brown hair, sang an old, old melody from some dusty eon crammed into history’s begotten crevasse.
“O ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road,
And I'll be in Scotland a'fore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.”
“What in God’s name are you singing?” asked the eldest.
“It’s some old Scottish folk song. Mum told me about,” Duncan responded with hidden delight at his brother’s interest.
“What about?” he inquired.
“I believe it’s about a young man who goes off to war but dies in battle. That’s the ‘low road back to Scotland,’ and he sings about never again seeing his true love. I thought it fitting considering our destination,” said Duncan. And it was, for the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond were indeed where fate had sent them on the chilly morning of October 29th.
The largest lake in Scotland, Loch Lomond lies North of Glasgow and is considered the beginning of the Scottish Highlands, an area famed for its serene spectacle of beauty. The land is rural and, if one were to walk as these two brothers did, it would be a days’ trip to the nearest human habitat. But they embraced the remoteness. In the wilderness, so void of human interference, there would be nowhere for these souls, estranged from one another, to wander without one eventually reconnecting with the other and joining in companionship.
“You know, Stuart, I think this might be a perfect spot,” said Duncan. They stood in a peculiarly circular clearing with trees forming the circumference. But to the West, visible through a parting in the mighty trees, was the fabled lake.
“I reckon you’re right,” the other brother responded. “Let’s pitch the tent.” While they did, they took the opportunity to make casual conversation. Stuart learned that Duncan had graduated from law school and would begin work once his sabbatical was finished.
“How come you’re taking time off?” he asked with curiosity.
“Well- it’s about that… thing we talked about on the phone.” Stuart’s fist clenched, but he responded, with a deep breath:
“I understand. But I thought we agreed to never speak of that.”
“Then why did you agree to meet with me if-”
“I said never, Duncan”
“We killed him, Stuart.” They were silent for some time, and each looked into the other’s eyes with a cold stare. The crumpled camping gear lay unpacked between them.
“No we didn’t,” responded Stuart, finally.
“How long are we gonna keep denying it?” Duncan demanded, his voice growing louder by the minute.
“You need to stop freaking out,” said Stuart. Thus it was as always, the balance of power remained in favor of Stuart, the older of the two, despite his diminutive size. After a moment, Stuart chuckled, slapped his brother on the shoulder and said, “Come on, let’s go hunt us some grouse.”
The grouse is one of those animals which makes one ponder whether some creatures were born to be hunted. It is large and plump, and it flutters its wings enough to rise off the ground a few feet before being brought back down again by its weight. For these two novice hunters, it was the perfect target.
By the time the camp was ready, night had fallen heavily upon Loch Lomond, and it was accompanied by an eerie mist. The grand trees appeared menacing obelisks above them. The animals in the woods didn’t dare make a sound for fear that the horror of the night might find them in their hidden terror.
The brothers sat on a log, unaware of the tension rising around them like an over-boiled kettle. It was the kind of setting that Duncan had hoped for, one in which he could begin to know his brother once again. Their relationship in youth was founded on midnight’s discourse, once the sun’s judgemental glare had departed below the horizon.
“Do you ever miss Dad?” he asked. And to his surprise, his brother was not upset.
“Not really. He was a bastard; he got what was coming to him,” said Stuart.
“I don’t think he did,” Duncan countered.
“What kind of father doesn’t include his own sons in his will?”
Duncan was silent. “I don’t know. I feel so guilty.”
“Well don’t. I have no problem with it so I don’t see why you should.” And with that, he climbed into his sleeping bag and said goodnight. The campfire snickered at Duncan as he reluctantly did the same.
The mist lingered around their sleeping, defenseless bodies. The fire cast elongated shadows on the trees and each one grinned down at them. Even the stars hid from their horrifying faces and they cowered behind the clouds that now guarded the night sky. The trees bent inward at their tops, closing off the circular hole in which the sky could be seen, suffocating them, and the mist wrapped itself around Duncan’ throat with an iron-fist.
He sat up abruptly, and in doing so the environment returned to normal, like a child pretending to be asleep. He called to his brother in frozen terror. It was at that moment that they made their plans to leave the following morning. Stuart fell asleep promptly and defiantly against his eerie surroundings. But he was wrestled from his slumber when he heard the name of their father being incanted by his younger brother. He quickly jostled his brother awake and told him what he had heard.
“Damn. Again?” said Duncan in response. “I don’t know what to do, Stuart. I feel like I can’t live with this remorse; it’s like there’s a noose around my neck. We should just go to the police…” Now, the horror penetrated them both.
“Absolutely not, Duncan. What good would that do?”
“I feel like I don’t even have a choice. Something inside of me is, like, commanding me to.” A swirl of mist wrapped itself around his ankle, chilling his blood.
“Well, you can’t do that. And I won’t let you, if you do try,” Stuart said firmly.
“No… Of course not.” They spent the rest of the night huddled together, fighting off the cold and the haunted air that seemed determined to separate them.
Early the following morning, the brothers set out for the hunt, determined to erase the previous night’s trauma from their unforgiving memories.
“So we’ll aim to be done by noon, be back here by 1, and be in the village by dusk,” said Stuart, laying out the plan for Duncan. He nodded in agreement, and they began the hunt.
It remained chilly, but it meant that the grouse were keen to move; so much so, that by twelve
o’clock, each had shot himself a brace of birds. Satisfied with the return, they headed back. All the way, they talked more. Stuart had finished his residency and was to be married next spring. He spoke happily of his own life, but once again, Duncan brought his mood down with another question.
“What did you do with your share of the inheritance?”
“I burnt it.”
“Why? You mean we killed him for nothing!?” Duncan demanded of his brother.
“No, we didn’t, and lower your voice. We’ll talk more about it when we’re back. Now, is it a left
“Yes, definitely a left,” responded Duncan. It was not.
“Where the hell are we?" asked Stuart after several hours of walking. The sun was already beginning to sink lower into the sky.
“I swear we were going the right way, but I’ve never seen this part before.”
They retraced their steps, but it was dusk when they finally found their camp. Weary from the excess hiking, Stuart said,
“I hate to say it, but we’ll have to stay here. It’s almost dark and we can’t make it to the village in these conditions.”
Duncan’ stomach dropped. It was a truth he had been denying himself for several hours.
“This will be the end of me,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“This place. There’s something about it. It’s unbearable.”
“Oh stop being so dramatic,” said Stuart. “Get the fire ready and start cooking, it’ll be fun.”
They ate and the vicious wilderness once again made itself visible when the light faded. Duncan shuddered.
“I can’t stop thinking about Dad. And what about mom? Imagine how she felt after it happened…”
“Shut up about him,” Stuart said.
“… And not even knowing that the whole time it was her own sons who did it…”
“I said shut up!” Stuart shouted at him. But Duncan continued to ramble about their father. He smacked him across the face.
“We have to go to the police. We have to go to the police. We have to go to the police.” The delirium of the night seeped into his brother’s veins, and Stuart realized he would have to intervene. There was no telling what Duncan would do, what he would say.
“I can’t stand it here. I can’t stand it here. I can’t stand it here.” Duncan continued. The mist swirled around the cursed clearing in which they stood.
“You really can’t stand it here?” asked Stuart. His brother nodded. Tears were streaming silently from his sunken eyes.
“The truth is, I feel guilty, too. I made it seem like I didn’t care, but Dad haunts me every day. I thought I would be able to live with it; in the moment, it seemed like the only thing to do. But the anger faded, and now there is only sorrow.” Duncan listened, desperate for some end to his torment. “I feel like this place, this clearing, is bringing it out in me. It’s messing with my head, making me think about all the stuff we did. It tears me apart that I can’t change what I did, and I feel like I can’t live with the feeling,” said Stuart.
“I can’t live with it, either. And why should we?”
“Why should we what?” asked Stuart.
“Why should we live?” And Stuart, for the first time in his life, did not know the answer to a question. But Duncan did.
“We should not live. We do not deserve to,” he said solemnly.
Stuart was silent. He trembled violently, or he shivered from the cold. After some time, he responded.
“You are right. We have taken a life out of this world. It’s only fair that ours should be removed as a result.” Duncan was not disappointed with the answer. Relief poured from his face. Tonight, October 31st, 2021, would be the end of his agony. Without speaking, each took their hunting pistols out of their holsters. Each knew what must be done. They stood, three feet apart. They did not embrace; neither felt deserving of such affection. Stuart looked into his brother’s eyes. They had always been sad eyes, solitary and longing. Now they longed for the release of death.
“Goodbye,” said Duncan.
“Goodbye,” said Stuart.
A bang shook the birds from their slumber and sent them clambering into the night sky for safety.
Stuart stared down into his brother’s eyes, now without life. He put his pistol back into its holster. He rummaged through Duncan’ bag and retrieved a few personal effects to give to his mother. Stamping out the fire, he waded through the brush to the edge of the lake, and walked in tranquil silence to the village, mentally rehearsing the story he would convey to the police; a story of a terrible, unforeseen accident, of a distressed younger brother, of the elder’s vain attempts to save him from himself. The mist remained and circled around Duncan who, mind-ascended, was finally free. Stuart paused, glanced around, and noted, cynically, that the lake really wasn’t especially beautiful. He carried onwards, having never been afraid of the misty clearing that had corrupted his brother’s mind, for he knew that the darkness of that craven forest was shallow compared to what lies in the hearts of men.