Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom
I ran my palm across my forehead as I attempted to recognise my surroundings. I felt as if I were in a complete fog. That everything around me felt imagined as if I were in a lucid dream I couldn't wake from. I felt detached from my own body as I hovered above, peering down. Perhaps a concussion, I theoretically noted as I blinked and wiggled my toes that were enclosed within my tawny leather ankle boots. As my body began to regain itself awareness, it was being pushed back into the shell of who I was as I felt the grass beneath my hands, dense and soft. Clamping my eyes shut, I rolled from my back and onto my abdomen, my large leather purse restricting me from rolling onto my left side, I reopened my eyes and inspected the area before me. Craigh na Dun, the circle stones, I noted as I pushed myself up slowly, at least that's what I believed it was called. I had initially visited them the night before this, with my husband, Frank, to watch a small assembly of women. The pagan ceremony of Beltane, Frank explained to me, it was to commemorate the beginning of summer. I had felt a sense of intrusion as we watched in quietness, as if I were a child again, lurking behind the sofa, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever grown-up film my Uncle Lamb was watching. Yet, even with the intrusive feeling, we couldn't turn away, there was a sort of magic to the choreography, drawing me in as they twirled with ease, in sync with each other as another woman called out into the darkness and their shift dresses swelled in the mid-spring breeze.
Massaging my temples gently, I remembered clutching Frank's hand as the ritual concluded and the dancers faded into the early dawn air beyond the hill. It was around daybreak as we, ourselves, approached the top to watch as the sunrise—my eyes were weary as we were nearing the end of our two-week-long holiday in Inverness. Our second honeymoon, as Frank had put it, even though it was technically our first. I was incapable of taking a real one when we were first married, as I was about to start my undergraduate program before medical school at Harvard University. He was starting a new teaching assistant job at Oxford. We were only able to manage ourselves two days before we settled back into our hectic lives. I smiled at the memory of meeting Frank as I shifted myself onto my knees, it was roughly two months before I was leaving for university when he came to consult my uncle on a project he was researching. We chatted after he was finished with my uncle, dated and were married before I could even blink. I could recall my uncle grimacing upon my announcement to be wed, stating at eighteen I had scarcely experienced life to know love, which in retrospect he might have been right but he died a bachelor, and nine years later, we were still making it work. At least, trying to make it work. Upon my graduation and acceptance to a residency program at John Radcliffe Hospital, I decided to return to England. More for Frank than myself, never having a real sense of the word home, I was entertained at the notion and with Frank acquiring a permanent teaching position at Oxford, it felt right.
I had nestled close into the warmth of my husbands' side as he coiled an arm around my shoulders and watched the sky turn to shades of pink. I began to tune him out as he prattled on about a distant relative living in this part of Scotland during the 18th century, much like he had been the last two weeks. Genealogy had become a recent passion of his, taking it up while I had studied for my board exams, he had spent just as much time in a library as I had. Not carrying to listen, I focused on one of the flowers by the large stone to the left of us. Finding it's large crack strange, it appeared to emit a low sound as if it were humming and found the small violet flowers at the base irregular. Scorpion grasses or commonly known as forget-me-nots, I thought but wasn't sure, they weren't known for growing in the Scottish highlands. Taking a mental note of the plant, I decided to return later that day with my plant field guide to confirm it. During my undergraduate program, I had selected botany and herbal medicine as an elective. Finding it fascinating enough to continue studying and practising as a hobby, even as a firm believer in modern western medicine, I admired how simple plants could cure something just as swiftly as an over-the-counter medicine.
It had been about half-past two in the afternoon when I returned to Craigh na Dun with my field guide in hand. My husband had elected to go ahead and meet with a family friend at his at their residence before we all were planning to attend dinner. Most likely to resume their conversation about genealogy they had begun the previous day and compare their notes in the privacy of his own home. It allowed me to explore my passions, rather than being bored or having my tea leaves read again by the man's wife. As I had begun examining the small flowering plant, I pushed the skirt of my maxi-dress away from my legs as I lowered to my knees as I referenced my field guide. Grinning, I had been right. Forget-me-not. Plucking the flower from the earth, I set it into my book before returning it into my purse and slid it back over my shoulder. Feeling my mobile vibrate, I assumed it was Frank giving me the address to the restaurant when I lost my footing as I stood. At least, that's what I had begun to convince myself. The long skirt of my dress must have imprisoned my legs, prompting me to plunge forward. I remembered setting a hand out to steady myself on the stone, but I must have bumped my head first and squealed.
That was the only rational explanation I could give myself as I looked down at my watch, a quarter to five, and as the mid-spring sun began to set for the evening, I questioned if my husband had started to question my radio silence. Having not responded to him for nearly two hours, I wasn't sure he had, seeing as I had no new messages from him other than the one he sent at two-thirty, but I also no longer had mobile service.
"Come on Beauchamp," I said as I rose and slid my phone into my purse as I strolled towards the edge of the hill, "You wouldn't want to be late for supper, and now you can't phone an Uber."
Allowing my ankle boot covered feet to lead me in the direction I had initially climbed the hill from, something felt amiss. From the tree line to the left of me, I could hear the distant sounds of artillery, muskets to be exact, and I shook my head. From my understanding, there wasn't a programmed re-enactment today. Frank would have been rupturing with excitement if there had been, he relished in living history more than anyone should. No, I assured myself, they had to be filming a historical piece. It made logical sense, I told myself over, and as I arrived in the valley below the hill and gawked at the vacant space the road I had travelled upon earlier no longer there. Vanished. Gone, I spun about in a panic; maybe I exited down the opposite side of the hill.
" Deep breaths, Beauchamp ," I said as I closed my eyes, " Inhale, exhale, repeat ."
As I reopened my eyes, my surroundings hadn't altered. The asphalt road from the twenty-first century was still gone, and muskets fire were still buzzing in my ears, " Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ ," I grunted, " roads just don't vanish ." Releasing a frustrated sigh, I started in the direction I had heard the musket volley. I settled upon interrupting the film set, explaining my situation. Perhaps the crew would provide me with mobile to phone Frank to clarify that I would definitely be late to our dinner plans.
A bullet raced passed my head as I walked deeper into the forest, leaping back I watched as the bullet hit a tree - live ammunition I thought, that's horribly realistic and deadly. I stepped discreetly, but briskly, keeping an eye peeled for more stray bullets, I caught sight of men in kilts shrieking and weaving in and out of the trees. Taking their craft seriously, I applaud their acting skills, noting the Gaelic dialect - it gave me a sense that I had actually stepped through time and currently dwelled in the eighteenth century. Dodging behind a tree, I waited as the decorated British soldiers in redcoats raced after the kilted men and turned away from the chaos that was displayed before me. Slowly, I made my way down towards a creek, concluding I would wait there until the action sequence had finished.
"Frank," I hissed, as I noticed him leaning into the water and hurried forwards, "What on earth are you doing?"
The fellow I believed, to be Frank, turned and faced me with a sneer gracing his lips. A look I had never seen on my husband, I studied him as I approached, taking in his physical appearance. This man's skin is darker than my husbands; I assumed he must have had more exposure to the sun, his hair longer, although the same shade of brown. And his eyes, the identical hazel colour bore into me with cruelness and malice, instead of the compassion and tenderness I was used too.
Stopping abruptly, "You're not Frank," I murmured and took a short step back away from the man.
"No, madam, I am not." He responded, carrying himself forward, prompting me to slide my hand into my purse and wrap my fingers around the small canister of pepper spray.
"Who are you?" I inquired, glancing about the woods, noting the scrimmage had ceased.
Deciding to take another half step back, I watched as one of his brows rose at my question and felt his eyes comb over me. Slowly, from head to toe, travelling with a sense of inquiry of the patterned red chiffon that encased my body and then lingered at the deep V of the neckline that exposed me down my sternum. A surge of uneasiness overtook my body, and I moved back yet again, whoever this man was, I was now, even more, confident he was not my husband. Maybe a distant cousin. A cousin, my husband, certainly had no idea existed, since we hadn't made a point to visit him once we arrived in Scotland. After all, he did say his eight times great-grandfather, I believe that's who it was, once lived in the highlands, perhaps he had conceived a child out of a marriage, and he claimed as a bastard. Logically, that made sense, right? Tearing myself away from my rationalisations of who this man was, I peered back up at him and noticed how close he had come to me. Closing the gap between us, there was now no more than a meter of distance. Panic erupted within me as I tightened my handle to the canister in my purse.
"Who the fuck are you?" I demanded, as my voice tremble.
"Who am I?" He snickered with a sarcastic tone in his voice, "I could ask you the same question, madam."
"I asked first," I shot back, "I'm not in the mood for games."
"No?" The strangers sneer still cemented on his face as he bowed, "I am, Jonathan Wolverton Randall, Esquire, Captain of His Majesty's Eighth Dragoons, madam."
"Hilarious," I said, feeling no sense of amusement, "Really, though?"
"You still have not said who you are, madam." The stranger said, dismissing my previous remarks.
"Right," I stated, "Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp," I answered with hesitance as I dropped out my married surname, seeing as we had the same.
"And what are you doing here?" He gestured towards the woods behind himself, "You seem a tad expensive for what the farmers of these parts can afford."
"A whore madam," He replied with a shrug and filled the space between us. Feeling his rancid breath on my lips as he spoke, "Your dressing gown is lavish, and you have a faint scent of French perfume."
"I'm not a sex worker," I snapped appalled, sensing a large cliff pressed against my back, "I've been visiting Inverness with my husband, he'll be expecting me for supper."
"Pray, do tell, what man allows his wife to wander the woods in her dressing gowns?" He challenged, "I very much doubt this man you speak of exists."
Alarm overwhelmed me as I felt the man wrap a hand around my slender waist and pull me towards him when a sudden realisation dawned on me. Perhaps I hadn't stumbled upon a film set nor a re-enactment, I must have struck my head harder than I thought. I grasped from research studies that dreaming while in a coma were extremely unlikely, so I had ruled that out. However, possibly I had hit my head harder than I thought, and my body was still lying next to the stones of Craigh na Dun. This entire encounter was a fabrication of my mind. Unfortunately, the idea was very quickly dismissed as I felt his body press against mine, pinning me to the large stone behind my back, it felt all too real, this was happening, his lips grazed mine as his eyes fluttered closes. I froze for a moment, feeling his tongue fight for entrance into my mouth, I fused my lips shut with my teeth as I felt tears flood my eyes with pain. The Captain shifted his body and reopened his eyes before he seized the back of my curled hair and yanked my head back. Bile began to rise from the back of my throat as he forced me to met his venomous gaze and noted my legs were free from the pressure of his body. He had assumed me, a sex worker, therefore he believed I would not fight back, an error on his part but a benefit in mine. Dropping my hand, I grasped my dress's smooth material, allowing my leg to emerge through the slit of the skirt. His lips once more came in contact with mine, this time permitting his foul tongue to roam my mouth, I bent my leg at the knee and jerked it up, enabling the connection to his scrotum. Holding my breath as I observed him stagger backwards, I extracted the canister of pepper spray from my purse and discharged it into his eyes and took off. Hearing his screams of anguish as I darted between the oak and ash trees of the woods, I didn't dare look back. Keeping my main focus on escaping Captain Randall, I hadn't been running long when I crashed into a man dressed in a plaid bundle of rags, looking just as startled at my presences as I did over his. Randall's voice laced the air again, as I turned back to face his direction before rotating back to this new man and pressed my brows together.
"This way." He held out a filthy hand to me.
"Who are you?" I questioned, as upon my better judgement, accepted his hand, "Where are you taking me? I need to go back to Craigh na Dun."
My new companion hauled me along behind him, not acknowledging my questions led me to an actual path and proceeded down it. Digging my heels into the soft earth, I pulled my hand from his and turned to walk in the other direction. If he wasn't willing to answer me, I wasn't going to waste time returning to the stones. Although as I started to take a step in the direction I attended to walk in, I felt a hand hook around my lips as it lured me down into the heather, 'Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,' I thought. As I began to feel mud seep through the fabric of my dress, I was going to need another shower and a change of clothes before presenting myself to any restaurant, was my last thought before the world around me dissolved into darkness.