by Jude Reid
“On the night of her disappearance, a man was sighted dragging what appeared to be the carcass of a dead sheep towards the peat bogs at Inverewe.”
From the Ross-shire Journal, 21st December 1985
In the old days, it was a matter of ceremony, each part of the sacrifice performed with skill and care. The bone dagger in the ribs, the bludgeon to the skull, the noose about the neck, then the long descent into peat-black water. Death was given as a gift, quick and kind; no need to tarry when the Gods were waiting. Those women served a purpose: an offering for fertility, or a good harvest, or the return of the sun. A price worth the paying, or so their people thought. Nothing was wasted when you had little to spare.
But you had to be different.
I knew what you had planned from the moment you stopped the car. Oh, I kicked and screamed all right, did everything I was meant to, but the moor was a dead place with no one for miles to hear or help. I ran — because what choice did I have in the end? — and you followed and found me, and when it came to my death you had no skill or kindness to spare. Still, you took your own sweet time, and for want of a noose you placed your hands about my neck, offering up my last straining breaths on the altar of your ego. And when you were done and I was still not quite dead, you drowned the moon in the water, and I sank deep, deep down to where no one would ever find me.
No one living, that is.
They were waiting as I made my stately way into darkness. Five, ten, twenty, a hundred women — skin tanned smooth as leather, hair matted into ropes that floated weightless around them. Their eyes were closed, their mouths open, hands groping blindly to greet the stranger in their midst. In other waters, they would have rotted to nothing centuries ago, but not here. Here, the peat keeps secrets, all the old ways and wisdoms, the compacts made between mortals and gods that are all but forgotten on land. Such secrets they whispered in my dead ears, there in the mirk beneath the moor. Such things I learned while the moon rose and set far above us.
I might have stayed there forever, safe with my sisters in the world’s womb.
Then you came back.
I feel your every step as though it were a blow to my own body, your coming whispered by sundews, carried on the wings of midges. And I am waiting for you, eager as a lover to take you in my arms.
See now how I rise up through the water, my sheepskin coat in tatters, my own skin tanned to leather with acid and time. Through my closed eyes I see you here on sacred ground, another woman cast in the role of sacrifice beneath you.
You will not recognise my face, nor the hands you once held. My nails are broken, my fingers gnarled like tree roots, but they are sharp and strong, enough to pierce flesh and crack bone, enough to hold you fast and drag you down with me, deep, deep into the peat-stained water.