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The Witch of Kilmory Bay

"Where's my baby?"

There once were three ordinary friends from an ordinary neighborhood in the ordinary town of Edinburgh, Scotland. One day, as they gathered for coffee, they decided they needed to get away from the city and so a camping trip was planned. Being tired of the ordinary, they decided that this particular camping trip should be at a less than ordinary site. 

It was agreed and all three of the friends went to work making a list of potential destinations. Oddly enough, only one site appeared on all three of their lists. 

The point at Kilmory Bay. 

It was believed by many that the point had mystic powers, mired in legend. Some visitors would recount of an aura that could be felt as chilled air cascaded in over the water. Because of its unsettled weather patterns – violent storms would often rise up, seemingly from nowhere – it was said that Kilmory Bay was where souls went to make their leap into the next world. Not all of them embarked on that journey. 

Folklore told of one dark soul that roamed the point in search of her lost loved ones. A soul whose mournful cries could be heard on the whistling winds of the bay. The soul of Gretchen Blackstone. 

“You are completely crazy if you think this place is haunted,” Bridget said as she unfurled her tent, wrestling to stake the guidelines. “Look around you, this landscape is just too gorgeous.”

Callum eyed her gravely. “I told you we don’t use that word!” 

“Which word, gorgeous?”

“Haunted. You know I am nervous enough being out here.”

“Right, the witch of Kilmory Bay,” Ruth chided, using air quotes around the word witch, adding a ghostly wail for good measure. 

“I don’t know why I brought you two,” he said, shaking his head. He turned to unpack a cooler.

“I do!” Bridget chirped, pulling out a bottle of tequila and some shot glasses. The girls both giggled. 

As the sun began to fade and the air thickened with a chill, Callum set off to gather driftwood for a fire. He found a meandering trail that took him away from the shoreline and between two rising dunes. After cresting a slight knoll, he encountered a thatch of brush and stones. He ventured deeper in.  

“These sticks will be perfect for Ruth’s marshmallows.” The innuendo made him chuckle. He reached to pull one from under a shrub and snagged his sleeve on a prickle thorn. The snare startled Callum and he lurched his hand back, slicing a small cut along his wrist. 

“Damnit,” he sheathed through clenched teeth. A droplet of blood clung to the bush’s wooden barb.

He assessed the damage in the dwindling light, now elongating the shadows that stretched like lithe fingers along the uneven beachscape. 

‘Just a scratch,’ he thought. 

Suddenly, a stormy breeze rustled the tufts of beachgrass that surrounded him. The trace sound of whispers swirled in the air coating Callum’s neck and arms with gooseflesh. 

“Who’s there?” he called out. 

Clutching the cache of firewood to his chest, he spun quickly. Nothing. 

“Just my mind,” he chortled and licked the trickle of blood from his cut. 

As Callum headed back to the campsite, he came to a fork in the path that he didn’t recall seeing on his trek out. Going into the thatch, the fork must have been shrouded behind him, but now he was faced with a choice. His keen sense of direction was telling him to go right, but he heard voices to the left. Women's voices, laughter. He shrugged and followed the sounds. 

The path in front of him grew thick with fallen rocks, foliage, and other debris. Some of it looked like bits of splintered wood from long-ago shipwrecks. Sand and pebbles were barely visible as the passageway narrowed. 

“This is not right,” he muttered, “But I could have sworn to have heard them this way.” 

A soft sound floated among the breeze just ahead of him, but it was dark in the shadows of the rocks. Callum looked behind him to the bright light of what was left of the afternoon sun and then back to shadows where the sound could be heard. 

“Hello?” he asked out loud and then immediately scolded himself. Asking hello was the fatal mistake of the first person to die in any horror movie. 

The reply was once again a delicate sound only louder this time. The sound of a young child’s cry. 

Callum laid his bundle of wood on what was left of the path and stepped forward. He contemplated the possibility that his mind was still toying with him. 

‘Should I press forward on the unsettled rocks, or turn and head back to camp?’ he pondered. The horrid thought that a child had wandered off and was scared and alone or worse, hurt, made up his mind. 

Making his way around a narrow bend, the path began to slope down into a gully. The sound of the sea grew fierce. Waves crashed loudly into the side of the cliff as the high tide came rolling in.

“Hello!” he once again called, no longer able to hear the child over the roar of the water. 

The crumbled rocks made it hard for him to maneuver but he pushed on and around the next bend. The ground began to level and he could feel the gentle spray of the water. But, he paid no mind to either of those things, for right in front of him was a large cave hidden by the shadows at the edge of a cliff. 

Hairs on the back of his neck stood and everything in his gut told him to go, but his fear for the child’s safety took him closer to the entrance. It was dark and without a flashlight, he would never be able to see inside. 

“Hello, are you there? I won’t hurt you,” he called in nervously. 

The waves crashed in response and the clouds grew darker, threatening rain. 

“I can’t see you. Are you there?” 

Just then he heard something. In between the crashes of waves, something like a voice calling back to him. 

It started off gently but as it floated from the dark depths of the cave it rose over the sound of the sea. “Where’s my baaaby? Do you have my baaaby?” Each word was elongated and moaned with painful lament. 

Callum was momentarily frozen to his spot. Lightning crackled in the sky and for a brief second, he caught a strobing glimpse of a woman in white followed by another wail. 

“Where’s my baby?” 

“The witch,” he whispered. 

Hearing the sound of his own voice snapped him back to the moment and fear sent him running back the way he had come. 

The storm began to grow and wind howled to blend with her moans. He could feel an icy chill on his back and couldn’t be sure which one it was, wind or breath. Callum refused to turn around for fear of losing his footing. 

As he came to the top of the dune, he stumbled on the bundle he had left and turned around. In the dim light, he was unable to see anything behind him. He snatched up his kindling and ran all the way back the way he came. 

“Did you go to bloody Ireland for that firewood?” Ruth called throwing her arms up in exasperation. “Where the heck have you been?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he replied softly. “That stupid witch story has my mind playing tricks on me.”

“Well, you do look like you’ve seen a ghost, but then again you are always that pale. C’mon let’s get a fire going, I’m hungry and cold.” 

*** 

With the fire lit and their bellies full, Callum was finally able to relax despite the niggling in the back of his mind. 

“You need another shot,” Ruth grinned and poured him one. “Come on, drink up, you’re supposed to be having a good time.” 

He looked at the two women with him, smiled, and took the shot. “Ugh, I hate tequila.” 

“I don’t think anyone actually likes it,” Bridget laughed and took her offered shot from Ruth. 

“When you came back with the wood, what had you so freaked out?” 

“It was nothing, I just scared myself with that stupid witch lore.” 

Bridget laughed. “It’s not stupid and I believe it. Or at least most of it. You know how I am.” She puffed out her chest. “I did a little research before we came.”

“You were looking for ghost stories is what you were doing,” Ruth quipped.

“A little bit, but listen,” Bridget waved her hand dismissing Ruth, and then leaned forward in her seat. 

“Legend has it, she’s not really a witch at all, but a woman. A woman that suffered the tragic loss of her family. Driven mad by her grief.” Bridget paused to grab their full attention before continuing. 

“The year is a little muddled, but I believe it was in the late 1800s. The Blackstone family was just starting out with the prospects of a beautiful life. Gretchen had given birth to a baby boy six months before the events took place. It was the first real warm day of the season and she was pining to get out of the house. William, her husband, ever eager to please his wife told her to pack a picnic.” 

“So she was from here?” Callum asked, not sure he wanted to hear but needing Bridget to continue. 

“No, they were from the Isle of Canna. According to all accounts, the day was beautiful, picture-perfect with nary a cloud in the sky. The storm arose out of nowhere as they so often do in this part of the Bay. According to witnesses, it thrashed the Blackstone’s little boat, and as it blew out to sea… it took them too.” She paused again, taking a sip of tequila. 

“Larger boats attempted to reach them,” Bridget continued, “but it was no good, and eventually, their screams were swallowed by the raging storm.”

Callum watched Bridget through the blue and lavender glow of the firelight. Her features were somber and her voice had lowered, barely audible over the crackling fire. He looked towards Ruth and she was on the edge of her seat. 

“After the storm had passed, the locals searched for them. One of their neighbors sounded the alarm when he noticed a small white boat ravished by the rocks on the edge of Kilmory Bay. No bodies were ever found.” 

Bridget took a deep breath and sipped her drink. The wind howled and they all shivered. 

“The people around here started hearing cries and wailing. Some reported seeing a woman with matted black hair roaming the water’s edge, this very edge,” Bridget theatrically waved her arm to indicate the beach. “They say she cries, ‘Where is my baby?’ .” 

Callum made a sound somewhere between a croak and a cry. His heart was pounding and he was suddenly terrified. 

“Yeah, it’s terrible and some have likened her to the banshee of Irish folklore. The bitter tears and wailing cries can be heard by anyone that finds themselves on the shore at night during a storm. Some are never heard from again. Most people are too afraid to bring their babies for fear of it being taken.” 

A vein-like fork of lightning cracked illuminating the night sky. All three jumped and looked out over the water as the thunder rumbled deep inside them. 

Ruth stood and shook her body as if trying to shake away the chills of the tale. She paced slowly around them. 

“That’s not true you know?” she whispered. “Most of the people around here are tight-lipped about this, but the true lore is that she's a witch! And she has always been here, even before other men came to settle. I’ve heard that they burned her alive on these very shores for witchcraft. That’s when things started happening. Villagers started vanishing, never to be seen again. Now she roams the beach and kills anyone that trespasses on her land.” 

Her hand touched Callum’s shoulder and he jumped. He had only been partially listening to her story. Something off in the distance on the last lightning strike had caught his attention. He trembled, afraid it was the same apparition from the cave. 

“Woah, you alright?” 

He laughed a little. “I’m just tired. Too many spooky tales and too much tequila. Come on, we should get some sleep, we have a lot planned for tomorrow.” 

“Everyone got the rain tarps fastened to their tents?” Ruth asked, folding her chair. “Judging by that lightning, this might be a strong storm.”

Once the campsite was cleared, they said good night and climbed into their tents, girls in one, Callum in the other. He was ready for this day to be over. 

As he zippered his tent shut and slipped into his sleeping bag, tequila-laden thoughts swirled Callum’s mind. “Witches… Banshees… Lost babies…” he murmured. “I thought camping was supposed to be fun?”

He laid his head back, feet toward the tent flap, and listened to the wash of the waves. Every few minutes lightning silently flickered softly illuminating his tent walls. A low rumble of thunder trailed slowly behind. His eyes finally felt heavy as the symphony of sounds soothed his worried heart. Callum began to drift off to sleep.

A gentle rustling blinked his eyes open. He peered down past his feet toward the flap. Lightning quickly lit the inside of his tent with a glow. The zipper jiggled. 

“Who’s there?” he called out in a whisper, a mix of fear and slumber rasping his voice. 

In the low light of the tent, he could only make out shadows but could see the zipper slowly begin to rise. He opened his mouth to call out again but struggled to find the sound. The flap drew further open and a head popped through the hole. 

Callum quickly grabbed for his phone, fumbling to get the flashlight on, not sure he wanted to see what was coming in. 

“Hey. You okay? I need the portable charger, my phone’s dead, and Bridget’s already passed out,” Ruth whispered to a visibly shaken Callum. 

“Bloody bollocks, you almost gave me a heart attack!”

“Sorry, I didn’t wanna wake you if you were also out.” 

He reached for the charger and tossed it vigorously to her. “Now go to sleep!” 

“Sheesh. No more tequila parties for you.” She slipped back out and zipped down the flap. 

Callum rolled to his side and huffed. “Never again with these two.” 

The storm seemed to be moving away as the brightness of the lightning faded and the rumbles began to dissipate. The thought that the rain might hold off was a sliver of hope that Callum might be able to get some rest. 

Although the threat of the squall seemed to diminish, a consistent wind swept across their tents. 

He once again listened to nature and was beginning to slip back into sleep when he heard a sound that sent shivers up his spine. “Ruth?” he said softly, afraid to move. 

Rumbling thunder was his answer. His mind was alert and his senses were focused. ‘If that is her messing with me, I’ll throw her in the sea.’ 

The first gentle drops of rain pattered on the tarp above his head and it made him jump. Callum flopped back onto his sleeping bag and scolded himself, “Oh for heaven’s sake, stop it. There is no such thing as witches or ghosts of vengeful spirits.” 

Lightning flashed closer this time, another batch of storms were forming overhead. In the flash, a shadow was cast over the tent behind his head. He waited and watched for another strike of lightning hoping to catch it again. After what seemed like an eternity, it finally crashed, but the shadow was not there. 

Callum squeezed his eyes closed and took a deep breath to calm himself. A low moan floated through the wind. “My baaaby…” 

The sound of nails being dragged along the canvas of the roof made him squeeze his eyes shut tighter. That is when he felt the cool press of fingers against his head pushing through the tent. He jumped and watched the hand pull back. 

“No. It has to be one of them.” He was angry that they would team up to frighten him, so he unzipped the tent and crawled out to make them stop. 

“That’s enou-” his voice cut suddenly and he froze. Silhouetted in the flash of lightning was a figure. Her figure. She was between their darkened closed tents. Her hair was matted and wild upon her head. The dress she had was old and tattered. Her head hung low and her arms fell to either side. 

The clouds moved away from the moon and Callum saw the woman raise a hand to point at him and take a step closer. “Where's my baby?” she moaned angrily. 

“I don’t have your baby! Bridget, Ruth get up, it’s the witch!” he cried and backed closer to his tent. 

Gretchen Blackstone stepped closer, her mouth fell open. The sound that emanated was unlike anything Callum had ever heard. 

It echoed above the sounds of the crashing waves and rolling thunder, reverberating across his skin, boring into his mind, causing him to clasp his hands over his ears in pain. 

“My baby!” she continued to wail. 

He bolted back inside his tent and raced to zip it closed. It was the only safe place between him and the witch. 

‘How are they not hearing this?’ Callum thought. “Girls get up!” 

“Callum, stop!” Bridget grumbled. 

“Yeah, it’s not funny,” Ruth said. 

“It’s not me, can’t you hear the wailing?”

“Wailing? Callum, all we hear is you. Now get some sleep.” 

“She's out there.” He could only muster a whimper.

The sounds of scraping began behind him as the rain came down harder, splattering on the cover. He could not remember a time that rain had been so loud. It echoed throughout, only broken by the sounds of Gretchen's claw-like nails and her neverending cries. 

'Why is she after me? Why me?' He cowered.

The sides pushed in and out as she slowly moved from one side and around the tent.  

She was making her way to the front, she was going to come in. 

Callum reached for his phone but it was nowhere to be found. After a few moments, his fingers closed over something familiar. It was the emergency glow stick he had thrown in his bag at the last moment. He snapped the stick and it illuminated the tent, giving it a strange green glow.  

His heart was pounding in his chest as he held it out in front of him following her movements. That is when he saw something that made him hesitate. The cut along his wrist and the blood that had fallen on the thorn. Was that the reason she was after him now? Is that the connection and why the others couldn't see her? 

The thought ran through his mind and he wondered what that meant. Was he going to die? 

As the zipper slid slowly up, he froze, unable to stop it. "No," he whimpered as he scurried back.  

The flap flew open and the sight that greeted him terrified Callum to his very core. 

Gretchen Blackstone, sallow and pale. The glow stick illuminated black patches on what was left of her water-worn rotting flesh. Her eyes had sunken deep into her sockets and were barely visible.  

Her mouth fell open and darkness seeped out of her as she wailed; inching closer, closing the distance between them. 

'She is a banshee,' was his only thought before screaming one final time. 

"Help me!"

The girls never flinched. The storm was too loud, the waves too violent, and the echoes of far off sounds had soothed them both into a deep slumber.  They had no idea the fate of their friend.  

***

The next morning, as the girls busied themselves with their morning routine, they discussed how beautiful and peaceful the sea looked. They were glad they had picked this place.  

Neither one gave any bother to Callum sleeping in until they were almost done preparing breakfast. 

"Could you wake sleeping beauty?" Bridget asked, smiling and nodding to his tent. 

Ruth scraped her nails quickly back and forth over the canvass. "Come on, sleepy-head. We've got lots to explore."

There was no response. "Callum. Come on, get up." She kneeled down and opened the tent. Empty. His sleeping bag was in shambles and lying on top of it was his barely-glowing glow stick.  

"Hey, Bridg, he's not in here." There was worry in her voice and Bridget looked up.  

"Could he have gone exploring already?" She walked over and took in the state of his tent as well. 

"No, his boots are here," Ruth said pointing towards his socks and shoes, discarded the night before. 

They started calling for him, looking all around the site. There was no sign. 

Bridget went back to his tent and for the first time, she noticed the scratches along the outer walls. 

"What could have done this? A wild animal?"

"I didn't hear anything. Did you?" 

"No. I mean I heard him call for us but I thought it was a joke. You know, after the stories." 

Bridget held her hand up to the scratches and dragged her nails over them. They fit almost perfectly with her own.  'A woman?'

They exchanged a look, it clearly said what they were thinking.  It couldn't have been her? Could it? Bridget, in desperation, tried ringing his phone. His distinctive ring came from under his sleeping bag. 

That night was five years ago to this day. No one has seen or heard from Callum since. Despite countless warnings and desperate pleas for people to stay away, they still come for the lore. 

***

So if you find yourself camping on the bay, as you lay your head on your nice soft pillow, in your nice safe tent, and you hear the wind howl or the waves crash you may also hear that soft little sound you can’t quite put your finger on.

Perhaps, it’s not the wind gently rapping on your tent. Perhaps, it is Gretchen Blackstone, the witch of Kilmory Bay.

 

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