When she was much younger, Sophie had been scared of the dark. The worst had been the long, winter nights, trapped between the desolate moors and the deep, black voe. As the Atlantic Wind howled in the windows, she would put on Radio 4, quietly, to keep her mind from whatever demons lurked out in the raging wind, and in the shadowy crevices of her room, as she struggled to get to sleep, or waited, wide-awake, staring at the bathroom light, through the gap where she’d left the door ajar, hoping nobody would realise and, assuming what she had carefully arranged to look accidental was, in fact, accidental, turn off the light or close the door or turn off the radio, plunging her into a terrible darkness, with no sound but the raging Wind. She would wait, pulling her duvet tight around her, for 7 AM, when Mum would switch on the lights and they’d get up and get dressed and have breakfast and Mum would drive her and Abigail to School. And eventually, the Sun would breach the dark Horizon, casting its golden rays over the worn-out, soggy Viking longship mural, before plunging back into that bleak and interminable Ginnungagap.
Of course, nobody could ever know. She could only imagine how everyone at school would laugh, and how Abigail would laugh, if they found out she spent every night in desperate fear of Nothing In Particular.
She’d grown up since. She knew none of it was based on reality, but then she knew that at the time as well, and that hadn’t stopped her mind from creating whatever it wanted. And even a few days before, in her flat in Glasgow, she would turn on her bedside lamp before turning off the main light, so she wouldn’t have to walk across the room in darkness.
Right now, on this lonely rock, harbouring such strange and unknown stories, the eerie shadows of the Simmer Dim were just as bad as those drawn-out midwinter nights. Every rock, every crack in the walls of the lighthouse became some lurking demon sent by those lost lighthouse-keepers to torment these intruders in their domain.
The cold had driven them back inside. Abigail had lit the hurricane lamp, and it cast eerie, flickering shadows on the walls, each one like some monster from the fringes of an ancient mappamundi.
She could run, but what would she be running from? There was nothing there. What self-respecting rational being would flee from nothing?
And where would she run to? There was at most a couple of hundred yards in any one direction, and then nothing but the relentless ocean, writhing and pounding and surging in the darkness.
There was nowhere to flee to, and nothing to flee from.
The book had been nothing more than a bad attempt at tacky, pseudo-Victorian fiction, left by Alex Jamieson, but she had definitely felt something. There was something strange about it.
She just sat there in silence, half terrified and half hating herself for being terrified.
Abigail had been silent too, up to this point, but now she started to sing.
She didn’t know the words to Chelsea Dagger, but that wasn’t stopping her.
She was quiet at first, but gradually crescendoed until she was belting out the chorus at full volume.
“Chelsea, Chelsea, I believe! Da-da-da-da-da-da-da! Da-da-da-da-da-da-da! Da-dada-da-da-dadadadada-Believe!
And now that dark and lonely rock didn’t seem quite so dark and didn’t seem quite so lonely.
Dadada-dadada-dadadadadadada! Dadada-dadada! Get my sister over here!”
She was standing up now, and she took Sophie’s hand and pulled her to her feet, spinning her round with surprising smoothness.
At once she was 17, and Abigail was 18, and they’d gone into town. Abigail had got her into Big Sam’s with a fake ID, and she was wankered on an embarrassingly small amount of vodka & Coke. And in that moment, on a sticky dance-floor in a club that, by a quirk of geography, had ended up as the hottest nightlife in over 100 miles, belting out trashy 90s and noughties anthems, she thought she had grown up, that that timid little girl had become a fully-fledged woman.
Sophie, who knew even less of the words, joined in. Surely there was no demon in all of Hell that could bear this raucous, tuneless and misremembered rendition of Chelsea Dagger.
And then Abigail stopped singing. Sophie stopped as well, and the darkness began to creep back around them.
“Did you hear that?”
Sophie had heard nothing.
“Did you hear it?”
“Did I hear what?”
“Like, someone shouting. Up in the tower. Did you hear it?”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“It’ll be nothing. I’m just hearing things. This place fucks with your head. That’s why none of the lighthouse keepers could handle it. There’s nothing there.”
“Stop trying to scare me. There’s nothing there. I know there’s nothing there.”
“But I definitely heard someone shouting from up there. But like what I said, this place fucks with your head. And if you didn’t hear anything, then, it’s just that.”
Or it was whatever was in that bollocks that Alex Jamieson had written. There was something there, something lived here that didn’t want them there.
But that was absurd. There wasn’t. But either there was or Abigail was going insane, which was at least as terrifying.
Abigail went back outside, walking unusually fast but trying hard not to run.