When we arrived at the Loch View guesthouse, the sky darkened.
Mum said, ‘It looks like rain.’
Dad squeezed her hand. ‘This is Scotland, remember. You weren’t hoping for a tan, were you?’
They exchanged fond smiles and I knew all was fine with my eleven-year-old world. The family holiday was something we always looked forward to. Mum painted her watercolours. Dad was a photographer for the local rag and enjoyed the freedom wild-life photography gave him. I was to be responsible for the holiday journal. I would keep a diary and copy out extracts from guidebooks, paste in tickets, dried flowers, seaweed—that sort of thing. Only I didn’t, not after…
The owner introduced herself as Moira Mackenzie and said she ran the place with her husband, Jim, although we never saw him.
‘That Moira is a stunner, isn’t she?’ Dad said when we were settling into our room overlooking the loch, ‘What colour would you call her eyes, Helen?’
‘Hookers Green?’ Mum ventured.
‘Miaow,’ he said, kissing her nose.
She adopted an air of innocence. ‘What? It’s a perfectly proper paint colour, as well you know.’
‘I believe you,’ Dad said, holding is hands up. He then picked up his camera from the bed. ‘I’m off out. The light on the water just now is amazing.’ He was right. The surface of the loch gleamed like softly-buffed pewter over which the shadow of the forest cast a mossy sheen. ‘Coming?’
I nodded but Mum said, ‘I’m a bit tired.’ She’d not fully recovered from a bout of flu in the spring.
We met Moira again in the hall. She and Dad started talking, ending up discussing the fabled monster. As they talked, I watched her. She was beautiful but it was a cold beauty and I didn’t like it. Her hair was black, her skin pale and her green eyes glittered with amusement as she told us about a previous guest. ‘He was a wee fellow with a pointed beard. He was absolutely certain of its existence and that it belonged to a race of giant lizards that rule the universe. How crazy can you get?’ She laughed and then opened a drawer in the hall table. ‘Here! Have one of these. Compliments of the House.’ She threw something and Dad caught it.
It was one of those mascots people hang from their car mirrors. It was made of soft green, trembling plastic with a garish tartan beret glued to its head. But what frightened me were its over-sized googly eyes.
Dad recoiled in mock horror. ‘Good Lord; that is hideous!’
Was it only me that saw that venomous flash in Moira’s eye? I blinked and it was gone.
‘Och, now you’ve hurt Wee Nessie’s feelings,’ she joked.
‘I’d better make amends by fixing it in the car straight away,’ said Dad, still chuckling as we went out.
At breakfast the next day, Mum peered over her coffee cup at the rain sheeting across the water. She said she wasn’t hungry but Dad and I tucked into Moira’s full Scottish breakfast.
Tangled clouds hung over the dark water, their hems trailing unevenly as if they’d come unstitched. There was nothing else to do but go for a drive. It was a dreary outing; mile after mile of dark water, grey trees, grey hills—and rain sluicing down the windows. All the while, Wee Nessie wobbled and goggled as if it knew something we didn’t. I wanted to throw it away but Dad said it cheered him up. Mum seemed untroubled.
Only, the following morning, she said she didn’t want to go down for breakfast. Dad promised to bring her up a pot of coffee. I was listless. I still hadn’t got anything to put in my journal apart from the receipt from lunch the day before in a dismal café where we’d been the only customers. Dad, at least, hadn’t lost his appetite and while he munched his toast, he chatted to Moira who seemed to have nothing else to do. ‘Would you mind if I took some photographs of you?’ he said.
‘Me? Why?’ She lifted her chin and widened her glassy eyes.
‘Because you’re beautiful,’ Dad said, in a low voice that was somehow not his own.
I stood up, knocking the spoon out of my empty porridge bowl. It clattered to the floor. ‘I’ll take Mum her coffee.’ Dad had forgotten.
The rain didn’t let up that day or the next. Mum stayed in the bedroom with a sketchbook open on her lap, staring at the loch, her pencil immobile in her hand, the paper bare.
Once again, Dad set up his tripod in Moira’s private sitting-room. I watched for a while. Neither paid me any attention. Dad snapped away, sounding like one of those prancing fashion-photographers he so despised. ‘Turn your head…look at the camera…lovely…make love to it...that’s it…perfect…’
They didn’t see me slip away.
And so it went on until the morning of the day we were due to leave. Something felt strange when I woke up. The curtains were open and the rain had stopped. The double-bed was empty. I quickly dressed and ran down to the dining-room. Moira was standing alone by the window, staring at the loch.
‘Where are they?’
‘Who, dear?’ she said, without turning.
‘Mum and Dad!’ Was I screaming? I can’t remember.
‘Oh, them?’ She shrugged.
I stumbled outside and bumped into Dad on his way back in, his camera slung round his neck. He was whistling. ‘I saw an osprey catch a fish. Got a great shot.’
He ran towards the loch. He was gone for ages but came back shaking his head. He called the police.
They found her body at dusk, caught in a clump of submerged roots further downstream. There were stones in her pockets.
‘Hookers Green,’ Dad said. And then he wept.