Sky Smith stood on the cool sand in her bare feet and breathed in deeply. She was so used to living in London, with all of the pollution and noise that it really was a surprise to discover there were places like this on planet Earth, too.
Saint Ninian’s Bay on the west side of the Isle of Bute couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the hustle and bustle of Ealing. The only sounds that met her ears were the surf breaking on the smooth sand and a seagull screeching as it flew overhead.
There was nobody else around. Her mum and her brother, Luke, were both still asleep in the house they were staying in for the Easter holiday. She was completely free to do as she pleased.
She ran across the beach until she reached the soft, wet sand that the ebb tide had left behind. She walked into the surf and enjoyed the feeling when the clear, cold water ran over her feet and ran back again leaving them slightly buried in the sand. She ventured a little further in, up to her ankles. It was a pleasant and new experience for her.
Well, of course, most things were a new experience for her. She didn’t have that many, having grown from baby to teenager overnight. The plane journey from London to Glasgow and the drive to the coast, the ferry out to the island, were all fascinating to her. Staying in the old stone-built house above the beach that had been left to her mum in the old Brigadier’s will had been exciting. Sleeping in a room last night where the only light outside was the stars in a black sky was amazing. She had lain awake for a long time actually counting them. It wasn’t possible to see more than a few very bright ones from her bedroom at home and there were streetlamps shining up onto her ceiling and car headlamps that would sweep around the room every so often.
Yes, it was a new experience to be so quiet and alone, and she liked it.
Then she noticed she wasn’t exactly alone. There was a man standing on the beach a little way off. He looked like one of the old, wizened faced fishermen who had been sitting around the pier when they got off the ferry. The wisps of hair on his head were pure white, contrasting with his tanned skin and he was dressed in grey clothes and rubber boots.
“Hello,” she called out. “It’s a nice morning, isn’t it? We’re staying up there at the old Brigadier’s House. He was a friend of my mum’s. Did you know him?”
The man didn’t answer. He just stood there, staring in her direction.
She wondered if he was a Gaelic speaker. She had been fascinated to know that there was a whole different language spoken by some of the people in Scotland and was quite interested in hearing it. Everyone in the restaurant where they ate yesterday before coming over to the house spoke English with heavy Scots accents, but she hadn’t given up hope.
She waved. He didn’t respond.
She started to worry a little. Maybe she shouldn’t be talking to strangers like that.
“Sky!” She heard Luke call her name. He ran across the sand a little clumsily in a pair of plastic flip flops. “Hey, don’t go too far out. You don’t even know if you can swim.”
“I wasn’t,” she answered. “I was just paddling. I’m glad you’re here though. I was a bit worried about that man watching me.”
“What man?” Luke turned around full circle. There was nobody else around.
“He was right over there.” She pointed. There was nobody there. She, too, looked all around her. “That’s odd. How could an old man like that disappear so fast? I mean, we can see all around.”
Luke bit his lip thoughtfully. A strange man who had been watching his little sister and disappeared when he came onto the beach sounded worrying on many levels.
“Where exactly was he?” he asked.
“Just there, near that rock sticking up from the sand.”
Luke walked towards the rock. His flip flops stuck in the wet sand and made a sucking noise as he pulled each foot up. Sky did better in her bare feet.
“That’s really strange,” Luke said when they reached the small rock, still wet and covered in seaweed from the retreating tide. “This is definitely where he was?”
“Yes. He was sort of standing with one foot on the rock, like this.”
She put her left foot up on the rock.
“He was taller, but like that.”
“Mmm.” He looked at the place where her foot had bruised the seaweed. It was the only footprint on the rock. He looked at the sand. Immediately around them it was still very wet. Only their most recent prints were still visible. But further back a pair of flip flops and a pair of small female feet made two sets of tracks across the dryer sand.
“But there are no footprints made by a man,” Luke pointed out. “Not in any direction.”
“I saw him,” Sky insisted.
“I believe you. And I don’t like it at all. Even if he is just a man – watching you in your shorts and t-shirt on your own on the beach…. It’s not a normal thing to do. As for anything else….”
He stopped. He didn’t want to frighten Sky. And he really didn’t want to say anything else out loud. Saying it made it real.
And he really did just want a holiday here. He didn’t want to get involved in anything sinister.
“I do believe you, Sky. Let’s not upset mum by mentioning it, but if you see the man again, tell me. I’m your big brother. It’s what I’m here for. Ok.”
“Come on, let’s go and make breakfast in bed for mum. She’ll like that. Then we’re going to see Rothesay Castle later. It’s a really interesting place, full of history.”
“I haven’t really decided if I like history,” Sky told him. “But it will be nice to see something new.”
‘Something new’ hadn’t actually been a description of Rothesay Castle since the thirteenth century. It was a ruin with three of its round towers long gone along with part of its walls. Luke and Sky enjoyed walking around the ruin, though, as well as the exhibition in the gatehouse about the Stewarts who had built the castle and the successive Scottish kings who had lived in the castle.
“The Brigadier was a Stewart,” Sarah Jane noted. “Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. I don’t think he was related to the Stewart kings, mind you.”
Luke and Sky smiled and let Sarah Jane talk about The Brigadier and the old days with U.N.I.T. while they sat in the sunshine on the grass by the moat and ate their picnic lunch. They both knew most of the stories well enough, but they didn’t mind hearing them again.
“Luke,” Sky whispered suddenly. “He’s there again.”
“Who is?” Luke answered.
“Him… the man I saw on the beach. He’s over there… on the other side of the moat.”
Luke looked where she was pointing. He couldn’t see anybody.
“He’s gone now,” Sky added. “But he WAS there.”
“I believe you,” Luke assured her again. He didn’t think his sister would make up a thing like that. If she said she saw the man again, then he had been there. But he wasn’t now.
“Are you two listening to me?” Sarah Jane asked. “I was telling you something really interesting about The Brigadier and The Doctor and you were both chatting among yourselves.”
“Sorry, mum,” Luke answered. “We’re listening, now.”
They listened. Later they visited Rothesay itself and watched the fishing boats and pleasure yachts by the old pier. There were several old men with lined faces sitting with their tobacco pipes and a look of contentment as they watched the same view. None of them were the old man who had twice appeared to Sky.
There were plenty of locals in the pub where they ate at tea time, too, but they were all very ordinary people. Luke was sure by now that what they were looking for was somebody who wasn’t ordinary at all.
“We’re going to take a walk, mum,” Luke said to Sarah Jane when they got back to the house by St. Ninian’s Bay on the other side of the island.
“Didn’t you do enough walking today?” Sarah Jane asked in reply.
“We’re going to have a look at the Standing Stones,” Luke answered. “I found a leaflet about them in the sweet shop at Rothesay. They look interesting.”
“Just make sure to count them,” Sarah Jane told him. “I’ve read some U.N.I.T. files about that sort of thing. If any of them have wandered off on their own….”
The two youngsters both laughed, but they knew their mum probably wasn’t joking.
All the same, it really wasn’t a problem counting the St. Ninian’s Bay Standing Stones.
“One, two,” Sky giggled. “I don’t think I need to recount. Definitely two stones, both here.”
“There are a pair like this on another Scottish island,” Luke said, reading the leaflet. “On Gigha. They call those two the Bodach and Cailleach, meaning the old man and woman.”
“Do these two have names like that?” Sky asked. “If you look at them in one way, they could be like two people standing in the grass… sort of….”
“I thought that one looked more like a dog,” Luke answered. “I suppose they could be anything you imagine them to be.”
“Speaking of dogs!” Sky laughed as a floppy-eared golden retriever bounded towards her and tried to lick her face and hands at the same time. “Hello, girl, where did you come from?”
A woman in walking clothes climbed up the rugged path from the beach and whistled to the dog who ran back to her at once.
“Hello,” she called out. “You must be the youngsters staying in the old Stewart place.”
“Yes,” Luke answered and introduced himself and his sister.
“I’m Bridget MacLennon,” she answered. “And this old girl is Maddie.” She patted the dog affectionately. “I live in the cottage over the way from there. You’re just visiting, I suppose. Renting the house for a holiday?”
“Yes, we’re just visiting,” Luke said. “But we own the house. The Brigadier left it to my mum in his will. They were very good friends.”
“Ah. The house has passed from the Stewart clan, then. But if it was for friendship’s sake, that is well. I hope your mother will think about letting out the house to a local family rather than leaving it empty. It’s hard enough keeping people on the islands when the properties are all in the hands of strangers living abroad.”
“We don’t live abroad,” Sky pointed out. “We live in London.” But it was clear that London was about as foreign as it got for people who lived on an island.
“I don’t really know what mum wants to do with the house,” Luke admitted. “We came to have a look at it, that’s all. I’ll suggest to her about renting it out. She might do that. At a fair rent, of course. We’re not going to rip anyone off.”
“Of course, not,” Bridie conceded. “I see you were looking at our stones. I’m afraid we don’t have any fanciful tales about them. They’re just there.”
“So is he….” Sky whispered, tugging at Luke’s jacket. “Do you see him?”
“No, I don’t,” Luke again admitted. He was worried. He fully believed that his sister could see something. And since he couldn’t, that meant that the strange man was something supernatural.
Bridie frowned and looked at Sky carefully.
“Are you adopted?” she asked.
“Yes… I am,” Sky answered. “How did you know?”
“That we do have a fanciful tale about in these parts,” Bridie explained. “Only a Changeling can see the Bodach – the Old Man. A Changeling would be a child left by the fairies in place of the real child, you see. People used to say if a child was wayward and not at all like his parents in manner or face, that he was a Changeling. An adopted child would be the closest thing to one left by the fairies.”
Sky looked worried. She wasn’t left by fairies, but she HAD been left by something even more mysterious – the Shopkeeper and the Captain. Did that make her a Changeling?
“Don’t worry about it, lassie. You’ve got your big brother to look after you. As for the Bodach, pay no attention to him. He’s just one of those things of the air and the sky.”
“I’ll look after my sister,” Luke said. “You can count on that.”
“Aye, I’m sure,” Bridie said. She whistled to the dog. “I’ll be seeing you, again, I’m sure.”
She went on her way, the dog gambolling along at her heels. Sky looked at Luke and then around at the wide, empty landscape.
“I am a bit scared,” she said. “I think we need to tell mum, now. If we don’t, and it gets weirder, she’ll be cross with us for not telling her.”
Sarah Jane listened. She was reacted in several ways. As a mother she was horrified by the idea of a strange man stalking her daughter. As an investigator of alien and supernatural occurrences she was intrigued enough to want to reach for her laptop. She resisted the impulse, though. Sky looked worried, despite assurances to the contrary. She didn’t want to worry her any further.
“But it can’t be an ordinary man,” Luke pointed out. “Because only Sky can see him, and he left no footprints on the sand.”
“I agree,” Sarah Jane said. “But the question is, what is he? This Bodach… obviously a local mythological figure. Myths sometimes have a truth behind them.”
“Sometimes?” Luke questioned.
Sarah Jane laughed.
“Ask your cousin Brendan about Moreton Harwood and Hecate. I wouldn’t rule out this whole thing being a silly hoax, either. But at the moment I’m going to assume it’s real and try to get to the bottom of it all.”
“If it is a Bodach,” Sky said. “Was Bridie right about why only I can see him? Is it because I’m a Changeling?”
“Heavens, no,” Sarah Jane replied. “You’re no such thing. We all KNOW you weren’t born on Earth. Perhaps that makes you different enough to see what we can see. But it’s a good different. Don’t go thinking it isn’t. Changeling…. It sounds like something despised and unwanted. And that’s definitely not you. Now, who’s hungry? Will we eat in or shall we drive back to Rothesay. There are a couple of nice restaurants there.”
“Let’s cook,” Sky said. “I don’t think the Bodach can watch me in the house. I feel safe.”
“All right,” Sarah Jane agreed. “Pizza and chips from the deep freeze?”
For most of the evening Sarah Jane avoided the subject of strange men. After supper she watched Sky and Luke playing chess and resisted the urge to check things out on her computer or look at her watch to see if there were any unusual energy readings.
When Sky and Luke had both gone to bed, though, she opened the laptop and logged onto the internet. She looked up ‘bodach’ and found a variety of explanations, some frightening, some downright silly. But it was clear that the word was used in Scotland for a kind of supernatural bogeyman.
But Sarah Jane didn’t believe in bogeymen. She knew too much about the nature of the universe for that.
She turned from the internet to a much smaller but almost certainly more accurate pool of information, the secure files of U.N.I.T. Her security status was high enough to let her into all but some very top level files that wouldn’t have interested her anyway. The Doctor had been their top scientific advisor, but he wasn’t their only one, and the organisation was worldwide. Men and women in every field of science had contributed to the knowledge that U.N.I.T. kept about everything from the best way to feed the Loch Ness Monster to what REALLY happened at Roswell in 1947.
What she learnt about the Bodach from those files gave her real cause for concern. She would have to do something about this. But not now. It was dark. The path along St. Ninian’s Point went very close to the edge in places and there were no fences. She didn’t want to end up tumbling down into the sea.
It could wait for daylight.
She closed the computer and went up to her own bedroom. It had a seaview. The moon was full and the path of silvery light stretched almost to the horizon. The sky was a velvet curtain hung with twinkling stars. Even somebody who had travelled among those stars and had often been in mortal fear of creatures whose planets orbited them could feel a little romantic about such a view.
There were only a few lights here. To the south there were two more houses facing the sea, one belonging to the lady Sky and Luke had met, Bridie McLennon. She was already in bed. Her house was dark and quiet. The other was owned by a Mr Lawrence Cameron who was a famous architect. An orange-yellow glow spilling out into the night was from his converted attic room where he worked long hours on his latest designs.
There was nothing at all to the north except a farm far beyond the headland. There shouldn’t have been any kind of light in that direction.
But there was, and she knew straight away where it was coming from.
She sighed. At least she hadn’t started getting undressed, yet. She crept quietly back downstairs, not wanting either Sky or Luke to know she was going out. She put on a coat and walking boots and found a torch in the kitchen cupboard, then she opened the back door slowly and slipped out into the night.
An owl hooted somewhere. There was a flutter of something that was either a bird or perhaps a bat escaping from the owl’s nocturnal search for food. There was the ever present sound of the sea washing up onto the beach, sounding much louder in the still night than it did during the day.
It would have been lovely to take a moonlit night with Luke and Sky, listening to the owl and the sound of the sea with nothing else to worry about. But there was always something else. There were just too many mysteries in the world for ordinary things, sometimes.
She made her way along that rough path at the top of the raised beach, remembering all the reasons she hadn’t WANTED to come this way in the dark. She tripped and stumbled several times on unexpected rocks, remembering how often she had struggled along in that way following The Doctor through alien jungles, clambering up rockfaces with no notion of what might meet them at the top, sliding down slopes with nothing pleasant at the bottom. It was a good job she had never been the sort of woman who sprained her ankles and expected a man to come and look after her, because The Doctor wasn’t that sort of man. Of course, he would get her out of any real trouble. But she was expected to cope with mere terrain and not worry about broken nails, scratches, scrapes and stones in her shoes.
He had toughened her up against those petty obstacles and now St. Ninian’s Bay was actually no problem at all. The excuse of waiting until daylight was, she realised, just that – an excuse. She had just wanted to preserve the illusion of being on an ordinary holiday for a bit longer.
The light was coming, as she had guessed, from where the standing stones were. She had expected a couple of locals performing some kind of pseudo-pagan ritual around them like the Moreton Harwood lot, and fully intended to give them a piece of her mind for their stupidity.
But there was nobody there, and it wasn’t any kind of pagan fire that caused the glow.
It was coming from the stones themselves. They were glowing orange-red from within. They looked for all the world as if they were molten lava beneath an outer skin of cooler rock.
Sarah Jane reached out her hand towards the taller, thinner of the two stones, then pulled it back immediately as a dozen terrible things that might happen to her if she did that piled into her mind at once. She might be burnt to a crisp, electrified, her lifeforce drained or even turned to stone herself, becoming a mysterious third stone that would baffle archaeologists.
“Ok, I know about glowing stones,” she said aloud. “They’re in the U.N.I.T. files. Ogri, from Ogros in the Tau Ceti system. If I were you, I’d toddle off back to Tau Ceti and stop bothering people on Earth. Failing that, just stop glowing and showing off and sit there quietly for the next millennia or so until erosion does its thing and you’re reduced to pebbles. It’s up to you. But don’t try anything nasty, because… because stone isn’t indestructible, you know. Don’t think we can’t fight you.”
The glow flickered and faded slightly, then came back just as brightly.
“I mean it,” Sarah Jane responded. “No more of these shenanigans or I’ll have you pulverised.”
She turned and walked away. She looked back once and the stones were dark and still. She nodded in satisfaction and carried on back to the house. That was one mystery sorted.
Tomorrow she would deal with the Bodach.
Sky woke early again and despite the scares of yesterday she still felt the urge to go down to the beach and paddle in the new surf. She dressed in a t-shirt and shorts and a pair of sandals just for crossing the rocky foreshore before she reached the sand. Stepping out of her shoes and letting her feet sink into newly sun-warmed softness was joyful. She looked at the beach, smooth and untouched by any other feet but hers, yet.
Luke had meant to wake up early and make sure Sky didn’t go down onto the beach on her own but it was only the sound of the door closing behind her that woke him. He looked out of the window to see her scrambling across the rocks and then grabbed his clothes and put them on quickly.
She was out of his sight for no more than five minutes, but when he got down to the beach he couldn’t see her. He looked in every direction then ran to the edge of the sea frantically, dreading to see her face down in the water. He was only slightly relieved to see that she hadn’t drowned. He still couldn’t find her.
“Sky?” he called out. “Sky, where are you?”
There was no answer.
Sarah Jane was worried when she woke late and realised that she was alone in the house. She dressed quickly and hurried down to the beach. There was a long stretch of dry sand now, but she could still make out two different sets of footprints leading away from the foreshore – one pair of bare feet, one set of flip-flops that gave the wearer a rather odd gait.
There were no other footprints on the beach but those of Luke and Sky, and they stopped at what had been the water’s edge a half hour ago before the tide went out much further.
There were no footprints leading back from the sea. It looked as if Luke and Sky had been plucked from the sand.
Of course, there was that old trick of walking backwards in your own footprints. Sarah Jane knew about that.
But she knew that her children hadn’t done that. She knew something far more sinister was going on.
She ran up the beach and over the rocks to the place where the standing stones were mute and quiet. She approached them slowly. There were still two of them. Only two. They hadn’t taken Luke and Sky to become part of their group.
“So you’ve decided to stay,” she said in the same stern tone she had taken last night. “Well, I hope you’re behaving yourselves. If I thought for one minute that you had anything to do with Luke and Sky going missing…. I can have U.N.I.T. here in an hour. They’ll dig you out of the ground and cart you off to the nearest quarry to be broken up into aggregate. You’ll be part of a motorway in a few days.”
The stones didn’t respond, not surprisingly.
“So what HAS happened to them?” she asked, the stern tone giving way deep concern. The stones didn’t respond to that, either.
“Hello?” A voice called out to her. She looked around to see a man walking with a sleek, graceful Dalmatian at his side. “I thought I heard somebody talking. But you’re alone….”
“I was… I was calling for my children,” Sarah Jane answered. “I can’t find them. Who are you?”
“I’m Lawrence Cameron. I live in the house over there. The end one.”
“Of course, the architect,” Sarah Jane remembered.
“Yes, but never mind that. Did you say your children are missing?”
“Yes. Have you seen them? Luke is eighteen… not really a child. But I’m still worried. Sky is thirteen. Oh, I wonder if they went to the other house… the one in the middle… Mrs McLennon’s. They met her yesterday walking her dog.”
Mr Cameron shook his head.
“Yesterday? Oh dear, it’s happening again.”
“What’s happening again?” Sarah Jane asked. “And what does it have to do with my kids?”
“Firstly, you should know that the house between yours and mine is empty. It has been since last November when Bridie McLennon disappeared. I spoke to the police several times about it. I was the last person to see her, walking her dog up on the Point. I was coming back from the same duty with my dog. We said good morning to each other. I went home and got on with my work. But Bridie never returned from that walk. I know she didn’t. I can see the whole bay from my office in the attic. She never came back.”
“No. The nature of the tides around here, a body would have been washed out to see then back in at the next bay. Neither she nor the dog were found in that way.”
It occurred to Sarah Jane that the last person to see a missing woman would likely be a murder suspect, but she kept that to herself.
“I see a lot of things from my window,” Lawrence Cameron said. “Things the police wouldn’t believe even if I told them. Bridie’s disappearance was nothing they could investigate, and that’s what I mean about it happening again. And it is one time too many. If you want to find your children again, you’d better come with me, now.”
“Come with you to where?” Sarah Jane asked, but he was already striding away. She ran to catch up with him, noting that she was, once again, following a man who walked much faster than she did.
“I’m an architect,” Lawrence Cameron said when she reached his side and he slowed his pace to match hers. “I spend years at university. I’m very well educated. I shouldn’t believe in faeries and doobries and bodachs and the like. But I’ve lived here most of my life, looking out over this beach. And I’ve had to accept that an educated man can’t always believe the evidence of his eyes.”
“Very astute observation Mr Cameron,” Sarah Jane told him. They had come to a place where the land narrowed into a mere causeway of white gravel that was so low it had to be covered by water at the very highest tides of the year. They crossed the causeway to the elongated spur of land called St. Ninian’s Point and walked through rough meadow grass past two old stone built cottages that Lawrence said, with a local man’s distaste for such things, were used only by summer tourists these days. A little beyond there he stopped by what, at first glance, seemed nothing very special. A closer examination showed the outline of a rectangular building with the remnants of ancient walls.
“This is the remains of the sixth century St. Ninian’s Chapel,” Lawrence explained. “Most tourists have seen pictures of the chapel by the same name on the Isle of Whithorn in Solway and then think that ruin over there is what they’re looking for. But that was just an ice house for the local fishermen to store their catch before mains electricity and refrigeration came to the island.”
“You obviously know your local history Mr Cameron,” Sarah Jane told him. “But what….”
“Are you an orphan?” he asked, seemingly apropos of nothing.
“Well… yes… as a matter of fact, my parents both died when I was very young. My Aunt Lavinia looked after me.”
“Mine, too. I was adopted by Mr and Mrs Cameron of Bute. And your own children….”
“They’re both adopted, too,” Sarah Jane admitted. “But that doesn’t mean they’re any less important to me than….”
“There’s no logical explanation to it,” Lawrence said. “But it seems as if only people who are orphans or adopted, Changelings in the wider sense of the word, brought into a home they weren’t born into… we’re the only ones who can see this.”
Sarah Jane looked. Then she gasped in astonishment. The ruined ice house wasn’t ruined any more. It was a solidly built grey stone building with walls and a roof made to withstand fierce winter storms battering it. As she watched an old man came out of the ice house carrying a hand made wicker basket of the sort that would have been used to carry fish in those days before mains electricity and cheap moulded plastic containers. He was dressed in sturdy clothing and rubber boots. He turned and looked at Sarah Jane and Lawrence and then walked away back towards the sea shore.
Sarah Jane blinked and when she looked again the ice house was a ruin again.
But the chapel wasn’t. It had four walls with long, narrow arched windows and a thatched roof. There was an echo of somebody saying a Latin Mass and a small congregation intoning the responses.
Then that, too, was gone. Sarah Jane watched a woman in walking shoes and a warm coat walked towards them with a golden retriever bounding along at her side.
“Bridie,” Lawrence called out. “Bridie McLennon, come towards us, please. You and Maddie, please come on home.”
“Mr Cameron,” she answered as she came towards them. “Whatever is the matter, of course I’m coming home. We’re just having our morning walk….”
“Come back with me,” he repeated. “Take my hand. You’ll be safe.”
Bridie smiled indulgently and shook her head.
“There’s no need to worry,” she said. “It’s a fine morning, not even a wind to bother me.”
Then she was gone, along with her dog.
“I don’t know for sure,” Lawrence said. “But I’m sure if I could get her to take my hand…. I think physical contact would bring her out of the loop.”
“Loop?” Sarah Jane questioned. “You mean it’s a time anomaly, a place where time loops around in an endless cycle with people trapped within it?”
“Yes, exactly like that. Only I’ve never been able to put it into words like that.”
“Your specialist field is architecture,” Sarah Jane answered him. “Mine is… things like this.” She had resisted looking at her watch. She didn’t want to reveal to Lawrence that she had come equipped to measure strange anomalies. But now there was no hiding it. She took note of the spikes in Meisson energy, ion particles and several other readouts that simply proved that Lawrence had guessed exactly what was happening here without knowing anything about temporal anomalies and such things.
She was looking at her watch, measuring a large spike in all of those energy readings, when Lawrence tapped her on the arm. She looked up to see Sky and Luke walking along the path beside the chapel ruins.
“Luke, Sky,” she called out. “Oh, I’m so glad to see you. Come on to me, come here.”
Neither of them needed to be told twice. They ran to Sarah Jane who hugged them tightly.
“They’re out of it,” Lawrence said. “You’ve got them back, look.”
Sarah Jane looked. The ice house was back again. The old man was walking up from the beach with a basket full of fish.
“That’s the man I’ve been seeing all the time,” Sky said. “The Bodach.”
“We all see him now,” Sarah Jane replied.
“He’s not The Bodach,” Lawrence said. “At least not in the meaning it has of a supernatural creature. Bodach can simply be Gaelic for ‘old man’ as well. He’s just an old fisherman caught up in the loop.”
“He must have been there for a long time,” Sarah Jane noted. “We probably can’t do anything to help him. But if this is cycling round again, why don’t we have another try at getting Bridie out of it. Maybe if we call her dog to yours, she’ll follow, and then we can grab her.”
“That’s a plan,” Lawrence agreed. Luke and Sky were puzzled but there wasn’t a lot of time to explain. They watched in surprise as the old Chapel and its congregation from perhaps as much as a thousand years ago appeared briefly. Then they both shouted out in excitement when Bridie and her dog, Maddie came walking along quite unconcerned by anything.
“She doesn’t remember talking to us less than half an hour ago,” Lawrence said. “The loop goes round and round.”
He whistled to the dog. His own Dalmatian barked encouragingly. Maddie ran towards them. Sky took hold of her collar.
“It’s all right, she won’t bite,” Bridie said, hurrying towards them. “Good morning Mr Cameron. Hello, you must be the people staying at the old Stewart House. I hope you’re enjoying your holiday.”
“Bridie,”Lawrence said. “Come on home, now.” He took hold of her arm firmly. She looked at him in surprise and began to pull away, but he tightened his grip. She protested angrily at first, but then she looked around in surprise.
“What’s happening? The heather is new…. It’s spring. But… it was autumn.... It was a dry day, and not much wind, but it was mid-November….”
“It’s all right, Bridie,” Lawrence told her. “You’re safe. I’ll explain what happened in a bit. I think we could all use a cup of tea right now.”
“Come on back to my house,” Sarah Jane said. “I’ll make it for everyone. I’ve a couple of phone calls to make to some people who can deal with this once and for all.”
Sky and Luke volunteered to make the tea and a large plate of toast for all while Sarah Jane made her calls and Lawrence gently explained to her neighbour why six months had passed in the length of one morning ramble with her dog. Sarah Jane joined them with news.
“U.N.I.T. are sending people here by this afternoon. They’re going to put out a story about unexploded munitions from the war, which will be perfectly plausible since a lot of military operations took place around the islands in the 1940s. But what they’re actually going to be doing is neutralising the localised anomaly. Everything will go back to normal.”
“The Bodach….” Sky began.
“The old man won’t know anything has happened. He’ll be in his own time bringing fish to the ice house. The people in the chapel will be in theirs.” Sarah Jane smiled as if she knew a joke nobody else did. They looked at her. “Oh, it’s just something the Colonel I talked to said, about the coincidence of a temporal anomaly happening on Bute, when it’s well known in U.N.I.T. that the biggest Rift in time and space in the British Isles is in a part of Cardiff called Butetown, named after the Earl of Bute who owned this island and had business interests in Wales as well.”
“That IS a coincidence isn’t it?” Luke asked.
“I suppose it must be. Anyway, let’s have our tea and enjoy the peace and quiet before the army get here in force. Then when they’re gone we can get on with our holiday without anything strange going on. Which would make a REALLY refreshing change for me.”