Highlands Horror III: We Try Not to Overeat
Updated: May 24, 2021
They’d made it quite close to the end of the Cape Wrath Trail but took a left instead of a right at a crucial fork, and so never made it down the steep slopes to the glen before Perseus Trask—27 of Kilfinnan—broke his leg. He’d need surgery. Screws. Maybe a plate. They’d been confined to the outcrops for fifteen long, wet April days.
I’d been first to spot the massive SOS sign from the helicopter. We found them barely two kilometers west.
As a rookie, I was ecstatic. When we landed, I was thrilled. When the other volunteers made the final ascent back onto the flat of the hill, Perseus towed behind on a bright orange stretcher with his companion, Shea Stroud (46 of Houska, Czechia), beside him, I whooped with the other volunteers from Scottish Mountain Rescue.
But the elation faded on the flight back. Adrenaline dwindled with each whoosh of the rotors, every blink of Stroud’s eyes, and logic took the opportunity to fill the drained lake left behind. Reason failed to make sense of the bones scattered on the seabed. They didn’t fit together, each piece from a different puzzle.
They’d been confined to the outcrops for fifteen long, wet April days, and yet we found the pair neither malnourished nor dehydrated, exhausted nor ill, and aside from a fractured fibula they were both entirely unharmed. They’d trekked halfway into the stretch between Inchnadamph and Kylestrome in two hours mid-spring, when the entire leg took nine, at best, under optimal summer skies.
Once I could no longer leash my tongue, I asked, “How did you make the SOS sign?” because it’d been written in tree trunks instead of stones and there wasn't a single tree in sight.
I waited. Waited a long time. Finally, Stroud turned a blank face my way and said, “What SOS sign?”
His expression didn’t change. Not when the red lights started flashing. Not when the warning system shrieked about a surprise engine failure. Not when the helicopter dropped from the sky, rotors dead, the rush of wind drowning out screams and shouts of Brace, brace, brace!
I was the only survivor. I crawled from the wreckage, forced to drag myself over Jamie McCray’s decapitated corpse before tumbling into the muddy grass at the lochan’s edge.
The sky was painfully blue. The clouds popcorn-puffed. There was the metal groan as a rotor blade snapped and fell, birdsong drifting through the glen, the gentle lap of water as the lochan licked its banks like wounds.
But there was something else. Another sound. Listen closely. You can hear it. Turn toward it… you can see it.
Trask and Stroud squatted over the copilot’s bifurcated body, viscera curtain-draped between their teeth. Blood spackled their mouths and chins, painted red bibs on their necks and chests. The sound was tearing muscle. Smacking lips. The sight a gory mess.
But they bore no horns, or hooves, or anglerfish fangs. They were just people.
That made it worse.
Stroud caught my eye with that same vacant stare. Perfectly human. Distinctly unhuman. It took me ten seconds to realize his were gold and glowing.
“Go,” Trask said around a mouthful of cheek, his leg straight and whole as if it’d never broken. “We try not to overeat.”
Thirteen hours passed before I spotted and sprinted to the nearest crofter’s cottage, my concussed head swimming, my lacerations burning. An ambulance ferried me to Ullapool. I don’t remember the trip. When the police asked what happened to me—a respectable few feet from the side of my hospital bed—their skeptical exchange of looks dripped crestfallen disbelief. A result of shock, the doctor said in a hush. It’s common in trauma cases.
They didn’t believe what I said. They strapped me down when I screamed.
The Scottish Mountain Service sent another team out because the doctor diagnosed me with trauma-induced delusions and survivor’s remorse—because they didn’t believe what I said.
In my mind lived Stroud’s blank stare. His blood-drenched mouth. The copilot’s missing face.
No one believed what I said.
I couldn’t stop them.