Hunted down

The young man ran, fell to his knees, ran again. His breath was ragged, the swirling night mist a cold knife to his lungs. He fell again, groaned. Behind him in the darkness a light tracked from side to side.

His hands sinking in mud, he levered himself up and staggered on. The light drew closer then suddenly was gone. He crouched, breathed, swallowed a sob. The light snapped on again. he covered his eyes. “Yer da says hello.” Two shots cracked and echoed.

A long way away a phone rang. “Done? … Good…. The other half will be with you when I see the photo. I need to see it…. It’s so important you hunted him down and held him. I miss my boy so much…. Held him…. What? Held him…. Held him!”

On the phone there was the sound of breathing, of the wind and then silence.

Billy peered through the haze

Billy peered through the haze at the fading letter Q on his brother’s front door. The haar had rolled in in September and never burnt away. The sun, when it was, was thin and white. Billy peered, but did not stop.

They had shared a mother and a father but never shared ambitions. Billy had grown up to see the litany of lost opportunities and lies and his brother take the other road.

Crows chattered. The thin grey mist muffled the sound of the celebratory gun. Billy shivered and peered and caught his breath but did not stop.

The smell of gas

The smell of gas turned out to be a dead neighbour. The news spread around the close immediately. Everyone knew that Murdoch lived alone, and never had a visit until the one from the man who looked like a police officer. He walked up to the door and knocked with something that sounded harder than knuckles. The door opened and he went in. Somebody inside knocked again, twice, then a few seconds later once again. The man came out, looked up and down the road, smoothed his jacket, closed the door and got into the big black car.

“Aye. Here’s the photo.”
They looked at his phone. Then the man in the leather jacket shot the man who looked like a police officer in the head. They smashed his face and fingers with a hammer. They took off his clothes. They put his body in the big black car with the hammer, the gun and the clothes and set it all on fire. They watched it burn, smelling the petrol and the meat. Then they walked out of the warehouse and along the river. The woman dropped the smashed phone off the bridge.

When the man from the gas company saw what was in the house, he ran out again. The neighbours watched from their windows. It is not clear how they found out it was Mad Dog because the man from the gas company stood alone and was not speaking. But somehow they all knew. And somehow they all knew not to talk when the journalists, and the people who looked like police officers, visited.

Murdoch. Mad Dog. Murdoch. People asked how he got away with it for so long. Then they understood how and stopped asking.

I sat there among the young ones

I sat there among the young ones, my house and hope gone. The photographer must have thought I’d make a moving picture as I hunched forward, face in my hands, my daughter looking away from me. He must have knelt on the muddy torn grass to place the clever metaphoric clouds in my background. He must have made a noise to make me look round. But I did not look at him when I turned round, I looked at the man with the gun and the knife, who left only me to tell the story. And the camera he took from the photographer’s hand. 


Can also be seen at

The Explosion

Some mid-season tourists were hanging around in the Gardens, waiting for the explosion. It was a couple of minutes to one and that was all there seemed to be to do. The locals were busy with their voting but the shops were open and you could still buy tartan towels and travel rugs.

Jan had sold the experience to the boys as an explosion rather than the One O’Clock Gun. She’d get them to look up to the castle and see the smoke before they heard the bang. But it was five past, ten past, now and the boys were getting bored. Just a couple more minutes, she told them, the soldiers must be having their dinner. And then – it was strange – she heard the explosion but didn’t see the smoke. She wondered why the gun was so late – 13.14, she remembered later – and the boys gave a little cheer.

After the boys had gone to sleep, she went down to the hotel bar. And that was when the gun sounded again, just before quarter past eight. The windows shook and rattled and Jan screamed a cut-off scream into her drink. She worked near the embassies and had been on edge for twenty years. ‘Colonist!’ A man at the bar spat. Jan had no idea what he was talking about. He carried on.

‘No more bowing down to the rich man’s whims and wishes, that’s what it means.’
The barman: ‘Unless they’re Scottish, I suppose. The rich men. Then we’d have to bow and scrape.’
‘It’s started, no matter how the vote goes. Hear the glorious guns of Bannockburn and Independence Day?’

The next day Jan bought shortbread and a Jimmy Shand CD. She was at Waverley in plenty of time but there were no trains south.

(First published in The List magazine’s referendum special 23 January – 20 February 2014)