Part II of our dear Vicar Celeste, ensconced in the northern reaches of Scotland (this is a response to the Grammar Ghoul’s weekly Mutant 750 prompt). If you haven’t yet met the Vicar, read Haunting Memories first. Turned out I won first prize! Thanks all who voted for it!
“Ye cannae get there from here.”
The old man stuffed his hands in his pockets and pursed his lips, daring her to disagree. Celeste stared at her parishioner and tried to keep her mounting irritation out of her expression. He was a very old man, after all, and as dour as they came.
But her efforts at neutrality must have failed. He lowered his bushy brows until his eyes nearly disappeared, and he raised his voice.
“Do ye ken what I’m saying, Vicar?” he said, squinting at her. “Cannae be done. Simple as that.”
Celeste took a deep breath and tried again.
“But Mr. Brodie, how can there be signs that say ‘to Loch Eriboll’, but then the road not actually access the lake?”
The man was scowling now, his mouth turned down in a frown that nearly reached his stubbled chin.
“Aye, there’s signs enough in this world,” he muttered, chewing at his words as they left his lips. “I mind seeing a sign-post like a hedgehog, pointing a man to ungodly places such as New York and Paris. But that was during the Great War, and just like I’m telling ye now, that sign-post didne mean a man could go from the trenches in Hungary, to some fool city in America.”
Celeste gave up. “Alright Mr. Brodie,” she said, clasping her hands in front of her and reminding herself of Jesus’ endless patience. “I suppose I’ll have to miss an outing to one of the most celebrated lochs in northern Scotland.”
“That ye will, lassie.” With what almost appeared to be a smile, Mr. Brodie turned and shuffled down the aisle and out the of the church.
So much for her weekend plans. She’d been in Altnaharra for over two months and hadn’t been farther than the top of the graveyard. She needed to get out of the village and discover more of this untamed country. Maybe understanding the land would lead to understanding its people. Though she was sure God’s had put her in this tiny village in the Scottish Highlands for a reason, the residents of the hamlet didn’t seem to feel the same.
With a sigh, she turned off all the lights and glanced once more around the silent nave, wondering, as she always did, if she would catch another glimpse of the grey-eyed boy. She’d only seen him twice, but it was enough to keep her watching. Nothing in seminary, or her time in London’s St. Alban, had prepared her for a ghost in her church. Yet, she felt a duty to help the poor boy’s spirit find its place beside God, rather than wander the earth for another two hundred years.
But tonight he did not appear, so she closed the door and trudged through the drizzling rain to her cottage. Mrs. Ainsley was waiting on the stoop for her.
“Guid evening, Vicar.”
“Mrs. Ainsley, so good to see you.” Celeste climbed the steps and smiled. “When you missed service this evening, I was worried you might be ill.”
“Nae me, Vicar. It’s Tom that’s got the croup. Will you say a prayer for him? That’s what I come to ask ye.”
Celeste opened her door and ushered the other woman inside. “Of course! But do you think he needs the doctor? I can drive to Lairg.”
“Nae. No need for that. I’ve got a compress on his chest and keeping him full of tea. He’ll be alrecht.”
Celeste slipped off her coat then turned back to the other woman, a sudden thought coming to her. “Do you know if you can get to Loch Eriboll on the A836 road? Mr. Brodie insisted I can’t get there from Altnaharra.”
“Aye coorse ye can! It’s not more than thirty kilometers north.” Mrs. Ainsley’s soft smile spread across her face, and she patted Celeste’s arm. “Dornt pay Mr. Brodie any mind. He’ll come around.” She straightened her scarf and opened the door. “I best be getting back to Tom. But you enjoy your outing, Vicar. The views of the sea from Eriboll are bonnie.”
Celeste shut the door, her heart heavy. How long until she was welcome by the community the way she was by Mrs. Ainsley? Or she thought, her throat thickening with unshed tears, perhaps she’s only kind because I’m her tenant, nothing more.
Celeste sat down in the cold sitting room, as lost as a soldier in the trenches of Hungary.
photo of elderly man in kilt by j lenhert https://www.flickr.com/photos/13479970@N00/2741023652