The one surviving gentleman insists that the entire enterprise was his erstwhile colleagues suggestion. It is not for us to cast aspersions upon his character, simply to examine the facts, such as they are.
You would have read no doubt about the strange and unfortunate incident at the Duchal ruins last winter. There is good walking on the backroads and farmland behind the town, and having risen to a particularly pleasant January morning, the two friends Messrs Harkins and Wilson strode out in good humour.
You may also recall there had been a recurring story in the local press regarding the frequent – though unconfirmed – sighting of a large black wildcat in the area. Equipped with binoculars and a service revolver, Harkins and Wilson joked about capturing this elusive beast.
The two reached Kilmacolm just before 11 oclock, and having already worked up a capital appetite, they resolved to enjoy tea in the village before walking on.
A fire crackled in the hearth as the two tucked into the warm buttered crumpets for which this particular tearoom is famed. Not wishing to forget the purpose of their expedition, Harkins asked some of those gathered in the tearoom if there had been any further news of the beast. The ladies present simply giggled or ignored them, but one of the older gentlemen provided them with a very severe stare which served to put an end to that particular attempt at conversation.
Undeterred and all the better for tea and crumpets, the two friends set off once more, now leaving the old straight track and marching cross country. It was in this fashion that they came across McPhee the ploughman. Sensing that he would be more inclined towards lively conversation than the genteel tearoom crowd. They once again enquired after the beast.
“Oh aye,” said McPhee “Somethin’s naw right. Next farm doon’s lost three sheep in a fortnight. Nae tracks or anythin obvious.”
“But has anyone actually seen it?” asked Harkins, gesturing with his pistol.
“Plenty think they huv.” smiled McPhee “But efter a few drinks ye see a whole lot o things on the hills.”
“You see.” Said Wilson “It’s not a wildcat we’re chasing…it’s a wild goose.”
“Mind though, there’s older folk reckon this isnae a new beast – that its been runnin’ ower the hills for hunners o years.”
“And how could that be possible?” smiled Wilson.
“Whit makes ye think it isnae?”
“Come on man! Everything ages…all of us. Its hard enough to countenance a creature at all…never mind entertaining the notion its been around for centuries!”
“Well,” said McPhee “There were witches in these parts not so long ago. A coven used tae meet doon at the Duchal ruins…that’s where most folk think the beast sleeps.”
“And you are suggesting this beast is a witches black cat gone feral?”
“Not a cat sir. A familiar. The witches demon. Familiars wid take the skins o’ them it wished tae be. Birds, beasts, aw sorts. This ones enjoyed living as a wildcat these last centuries. And why not? Good feeding oot here, good open land fur running, but plenty o places tae hide as well.”
“And precious few witches to tell you what to do anymore eh?”
“Oh ah dont know sir...wee Mrs McLatchie certainly gies me the evil eye if ah tramp into her shop without scraping my boots properly first.”
The three laughed, McPhee showed them where to walk to avoid the moorland bogs and with that, the two continued on their way.
An old stone bridge spanned the black water of Duchal at the point where the fields gave way to forest, the two followed what remained of the path up into the trees towards the ruins. It was here that they found the body of the deer. The poor creature had been dead for some days and it seemed very obvious that it had been the victim of some sort of predator either before or after death, for very little of its hind quarters remained.
Wilson in particular was a little shaken by the discovery, and briefly the two discussed moving the deer or disposing of it in some way, before resolving that it was not up to them to interfere with the natural order of things. Harkins examined the corpse a little more closely, noting large teeth marks on the gnawed bones.
The two were now acutely aware of the distance they had walked from the village and also, the dark of the trees. No doubt they would perhaps have left there and then, had they not heard the cries. It did not come to them immediately, it was while they sat, Wilson steadying his nerves with a nip from his hip flask. Muffled at first, easily mistaken for wind, but gradually becoming clearer as low, whining cries.
The two followed the noise to the remains of the castle’s rear wall. The ground by the Duchal water had crumbled considerably over the centuries, and so this wall was now perched on the edge of a hilltop high above the rushing winter waters below. Just in front of this wall, there was a hole.
“It’s an old well.” said Harkins “Mind your step.”
The whining was most certainly coming from the depths of the well, and even this close to the source it echoed in peaks and troughs giving the most immediate effect of the sound seeming to be all around them. One thing at least was certain, it was no human cry. Immediately, Harkins believed they had found their beast.
“Its fallen in the well! The beast is trapped down there and we’re the ones to find it!”
Wilson maintains he was less convinced.
“Steady on Harkins, it might just be a fox thats fallen down, or another deer”
“Deer and foxes don’t sound like this and you know it. We need a way to get down there.”
“Dont be ridiculous man...lowering yourself into a hole when you don’t know what manner of beast is at the bottom. Absolutely out of the question.”
“Well we need some way of getting it back up here.”
“We could go back to the village?” suggested Wilson “Fetch some help.”
Harkins was reluctant to leave his potential prize for someone else to find, and insisted on staying by the well alone.
Here, Wilson is quite clear, he returned the village and was back at the site less than one hour later with rope, hooks and tarpaulin. He had also alerted the local constabulary who were less than ten minutes behind him.
He rushed to the site of the well, expecting to find his colleague still there. At first, he did not see Harkins so he naturally began to assume some calamity had befallen him, and started calling out. No sooner had he done so, than he saw his friend standing some distance from the well, facing away from him, looking up at the ruined castle wall. He ran to alert him to his presence, still shouting and it was then, that slowly, Harkins turned towards him. Yet almost immediately Wilson says he knew that this was not Harkins. Wilson maintains that while it may have looked and dressed like his good friend Harkins, this was something else...something other.
Even now, relating these facts, Wilson shakes. The man he had believed to be Harkins was smiling, a broad rictus grin, his eyes yellowed and bestial. Moving slowly, awkwardly at first, he stepped towards Wilson. He noted with increasing alarm, the unnatural nature of his gait and movements, his legs had bent backwards at the knees and his arms hung limp and angular as though slightly detached from the shoulder. Despite Wilson calling out to him, he was making no reply, though from his black, smiling mouth there was a foul rhythmic gurgling.
Suddenly, and with absolutely no warning, Harkins ran straight towards him, howling, pushing him down into the dark of the well. For a brief moment, Wilson lay there, looking straight up through the darkness into the inhuman eyes of his now unfamiliar friend, convinced that he was about to jump down on top of him. And then he was gone.
The well was not so deep that Wilson was badly injured, but certainly deep enough that he was unable to climb free himself. With the approaching dusk, the light was poor enough, and Wilson suggests that this was perhaps a mercy, for it was at this point that he began to become more aware of his surroundings. He was not yet entirely insensible, and as his vision was impaired, it was the feel and the smell of the well that made themselves known. Here were bones, many bones, and the unmistakeable rank odour of old meat. Could it be that this pit, was a charnel house for the beast to regularly return and feed? At this point, Wilson freely admits that he was so overcome that he lost consciousness.
Fortunately of course, the same constabulary whom he had arranged to rescue whatever poor animal they had believed trapped in the well, arrived shortly therafter and freed Wilson himself. He remained in hospital for several days. Of Harkins, no further trace was found. For some weeks the police maintained an eye on his house, assuming that he may return, revealing the whole incident to be nothing more than an embarrassing disagreement between friends. No such approach occurred.
After enduring the accusatory eyes of his former peers, Wilson secluded himself, no longer interested in the constitutional walks he had once so enjoyed. Of interest, though perhaps only circumstantial, is the fact that since the event in question, there have been no further sightings of the black cat.