Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Bogeyman of Edinburgh
The idea came to us in the hallowed halls of Cambridge, where I totally imagined Fagin to be collecting orphan boys, and Macbeth lurking in the next cloister. Just as our semester was coming to a close, my friend Dottie and I stuffed our Sidney Sussex towels into our duffels, and plotted a way to tour the UK for a few weeks on a Brit-Rail pass. (It’s a great way to travel when you’re young and foolish.)
You have to know my friend Dottie. She is a tormented writer. And the most hilarious storyteller. Truly, I am convinced that the universe conspired to have the most bizarre things happen to her, simply so she could write about them, tell the world her stories. You can imagine my delight in tagging along with her. I felt more like an accomplice than a sidekick!
In order to save money, we planned on taking “night trains” instead of staying in a hotel. We'd magically just "wake up" in the next city. It seemed like a great idea, but since the UK is geographically challenged, the only trains that would grant us a full eight hours of (not) sleeping were the ones that ran between England and Scotland. Even then, schedules were quite compromising. (I distinctly remember disembarking in Inverness at 5-something in the morning, and wandering the foggy streets until the bakeries and coffee shops opened). I have many, many spine-tingling stories of these Brit-Rail adventures, but one of the most memorable (that I thankfully lived to tell) took place on our first visit to Edinburgh.
We arrived in the late afternoon, just before sunset, and basically had a few hours to wander the city before catching a night train to London. We locked our bags at the train station and started making our way to the center of town when we met a little old Scottish man on the street who offered to show us around the city. We looked at each other, and shrugged “why not?”, so we suddenly had our own private tour guide of hidden Edinburgh, Mr. Thomas Bogey. That was his real name.
[I write this now and want to wave my arms and shout “Hello, girls! Red Flag! The name alone should be enough of a warning! Run while you can!” but...]
We couldn’t believe this little old man was willing to spend hours escorting us through Edinburgh to show us his favorite sites. He didn’t know any good sweater shops, but he assured us he’d give us an amazing tour of the city. So we loped alongside him as the sun lowered and the shadows lengthened over Edinburgh.
He did take us to most of the key places, and he knew a great deal about the history and such, but what began to be disturbing was what ELSE he knew. He’d stretch out a gnarled finger and say in his thick brogue, “Right over there a little girl and her mother were killed. Their bodies were found just beyond that thicket.” or “Right over there a young lady disappeared. No one ever saw her again. Papers say she fell in the river, but I don’t think so.” “Right over there a teenage boy died. Shot in the head. Nobody found out who did it.” Holy cow, was this guy ever giving us the creeps! How did he know so much about every murder in town? And why was he telling us? I secretly decided the only reason he was so obsessed with all this killing was because HE'S THE ONE WHO DID IT!
I exchanged a few wary glances with Dottie, but neither one of us dared say anything for fear he’d do us in right then and there. He led us through so many dark alleys and deserted byways I didn't know if we'd ever find our way back. Finally we got near enough to the train station that we thought we could make a run for it. We told Mr. Bogey it had been a lovely tour, and we thought we should be heading back to the train station now, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “Nay, lassies, it’s only half past seven and your train doesn’t leave till nine. Besides, ye haven’t seen Scott's Monument. It’s just around this bend here. Come along...ye can't say ye've been to Edinburgh and not see Scott's monument.”
[What was next? Robbie Burns’ grave? Mwaahhahaha!]
So a few minutes later we found ourselves reluctantly standing beneath the gothic spires of a looming 200-ft. tower: Scott Monument. “Lovely.” “Mm-hmm. Very nice. Okay, let’s go.”
But the Bogeyman was unrelenting: “Ye have to go inside and climb to the top. Ye can see all of Edinburgh from up there. It’s most beautiful as night falls.” "No, that's okay. Really..." But Mr. Bogey insisted on dragging us up there...and paying our entrance fees.
[What? So now that it’s FREE it’s okay? Hellooo...!]
The next thing we know we’re entering the monument and climbing this rickety, only-wide-enough-for-one-person spiral staircase up-up-up to the top of Scott Monument, like we're in the sequel to Vertigo. As we climb, the morbid thoughts increase: “This is it. This is where he’s planning to do us in.” And there was no way out. Ahead, there was my friend Dottie, carefully and breathlessly making her way up the stairs of doom. Behind me there was only Thomas, the Bogeyman of Edinburgh, poised to hurl me down said stairs. So I kept climbing.
When I finally crept out onto the balcony at the top, relieved to see sky again, Thomas started in on another tale of how some unlucky lad fell to his death from that perch. A little breeze picked up and I got the shivers. The Bogeyman made his way over to the edge of the balcony and motioned for us to come look. I stayed frozen, clinging to the stairwell for dear life. But Dottie was making her way to the railing where he was waiting for us. I can still see her, with her big black-and-white tote bag slung over her shoulder. And I called out to her, in that muffled, motionless, make-no-sound voice, the way it happens in nightmares: “Dottie...Nahooooh....!” But it was too late.
She was already there, next to Thomas, looking over the edge. I had to do something. I made my way to the lookout and grabbed hold of Dottie’s purse strap, (as if that were going to protect either of us) and she had hold of my arm. We each clutched the railing with an immovable death grip. I gasped audibly. And took in the breathtaking sights of Edinburgh, shivering in the evening breeze. Our hearts never stopped racing. But neither of us was hurled to her death.
After a few minutes fearfully gazing over the city, we stepped rather gingerly down as our would-be assassin led us back over the rickety stairs and then disappeared into the evening shadows. That was it.
We compared notes all the way to the train station. We were both convinced we were being led through the city by a serial killer. And that he was planning to hurl us to our deaths from the top of Scott Monument. But it turns out the terrors of certain-and-imminent-death were all in our heads, and our Bogey-man was none other than a curmudgeonly Boo Radley, with a brogue.
Or was he?
I’ve asked myself time and again if this was a bonafide brush with death, and we were mysteriously protected by a ring of guardian angels, or if our fears were altogether unfounded. Perhaps Mr. Bogey himself was our guardian angel, protecting us from some other unseen evil as he escorted us through after-hours Edinburgh.
— Which ultimately makes me wonder, how many other unlikely angels go unrecognized? And how many irrational fears keep us from fully enjoying the moment at hand?
My apologies to the four of you who read a serialized version of this during my first month of blogging. This has now been edited down and slightly retooled for Scribbit's October Write-Away Contest: Fear. (I also need to add that I totally got the idea to resurrect an old post from InkMom, who reposted a positively spine-tingling, horrifying story! Be sure to visit her next, if you haven't already.)