”Excerpt from “Perchance to Dream,” published in Triskaideka: Tales of Murder, Mystery, Madness, Magic and Mayhem II, Cave Hollow Press, 2005. In this scene, the heroine, a graduate student collecting material for her dissertation on folkore, has allowed a local man to use the phone in her rented cottage in a small Scottish town on a stormy night after his car breaks down.
© Chanda K. Zimmerman, 2004
“Aye, a braw cottage,” he murmured again, taking a sip of the steaming tea as he turned his back to the hearth and surveyed the rest of the room. I glanced around it myself, wondering what papers and junk I’d left scattered about . . . and realized suddenly it didn’t look so bad. The copper pot of dried flower on the mantel gleamed in the firelight, and the cacophony of colors—floral drapes, paisley floor, knick-knacks and assorted pillows—made the room rather cheerful, and uplifting. I didn’t know why I had always thought of it as rather ancient and threadbare before. It seemed quite charming now.
“I’ve not seen it’s like in mony a year,” he added as he moved to the hearth. He spotted the book in my chair, and dug it out of the crevice between cushion and armrest, smiling at the title embossed in gold on the old leather. “A Survey of Scottish Legends and Ballads . . . by Sir Adam Markham.” He glanced up at me with a sly smile. “And what does Sir Adam say of your urban legends?”
“Not much,” I took the book from him and laid it on the table a bit sheepishly. “He’s only interested in old folktales.”
“But I thought you dinnae believe in those?”
“Doesn’t matter,” I shrugged. “It’s not my job to believe. Just document and analyze.” I gathered my papers up as well and snapped the pile against the table to straighten the stack. The sound made me realize I had been a little abrupt. Apologetically, I nestled the stack next to the lamp and added, “My notes.”
He shook his head and gave a silent whistle of respect. “All that work, for something you cannae see or touch—or even imagine?”
“Well, I suppose you can hardly prove—or disprove—folklore,” I offered, striving not to insult the man’s native traditions. “I mean, I guess you don’t have to see oxygen to believe in it, and some would say the same for fairies—although I’m personally not ready to believe, old photos notwithstanding,” I added wryly, thinking of a famous hoax from the early 1900’s.
“Oh, there are some what tak’ the old tales to heart, all right,” he nodded in solemn agreement, oblivious to my sarcasm. “And why not? Some dreams are more solid than sunlight, and the mind’s eye sees oft visions others canno’—altho’ the Second Sight is a rare gift, even amongst the Scots . . . .”
He fell silent a moment, musing on it . . . as did I, lured by the conviction in his voice and the tangle of knowledge, legends, old books and lingering beliefs all stirring in the back of my mind. His voice came again, soft and even more alluring.
“Why don’t you coom with me and my friends? We’re off to a grand party, just o’er the hill. You could rest your poor brain for one night–though I’ll not warrant your feet. There’ll be dancing most ‘til dawn.”
Startled and suddenly self-conscious, I laughed and fingered my robe. “No, thanks. It’s a bit too late for me—” I stopped, startled, as the mantle clock chimed twelve times. I’d looked just before his first knock, and it was barely ten . . . or so I thought.
“There’ll be those there that can tell you a tale, if you’ve a mind –and music,” he added with a smile, “the like of which I doubt you’ve ever heard. Best pipers in the land.”
“I can imagine,” I said, thinking of the traditional ceilidh, although it didn’t even sound like fun this late and on such a wild night.
“Can you, now?” he said, so soft with meaning that I caught the inflection on the first word. There was no mistaking the dare. I managed a smile, but lowered my chin and folded my arms absolutely. He was charming, but I had just a little over a week to finish my work and then it was back to the grindstone at home.
“It sounds lovely but I really can’t.” I yawned and glanced at the mantle clock, thinking I’d have to reset that thing in the morning, if I could figure out how without damaging the delicate mechanism. “Do you know how long will it take your friends?”
“Och, they’ll be here any time now. Are y’sure y’ will nae throw on a frock and coom? It’s the least I can do to repay your hospitality.” He raised one hopeful eyebrow, almost raising another blush in my cheeks. I shook my head again. He cocked his head, those green eyes glinting mischievously. “Are ye’ afraid I’ll whisk ye’ off to fairyland under some hillock, til ye’re old and grey?”
No, I’m afraid you’ll whisk me off to some desolate moor and slit my throat—but the thought passed almost before it congealed. I smothered a laugh, half chagrined at my own susceptibility to legend, urban and otherwise. Obviously there was nothing wrong with my imagination!