One of the prompts from Cricket’s Slice Of Life this week is – flight of fancy.
My sister and I had a flight of fancy many years ago when we were children. It is a moment that has stayed with us into our adult lives.
Loch Ness lies in the far North of Scotland. It is a cold, dark, magical place where many people claimed to have seen Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.
It was 1976. I was 11, my sister, Shelley, was 9. We were visiting Aunt Aggie in Inverness. She lived near the Loch and since we were little had been telling us of the monster that lurked in the depths. We had been visiting her for years but had been unsuccessful in sighting the monster. It was beginning to frustrate us. So like all children who imagined themselves as monster-hunters we decided to spend every waking moment engaged in spotting Nessie.
‘She comes out at night,’ the locals said. ‘She dances ‘neath the moonlight.’ ‘She likes to breathe the sweet night air after being stuck in the murky waters of the deep.’
‘That’s it,’ Shelley said. ‘That’s why we haven’t seen her. We need to come out at night.’
The scene that followed could have come straight from an Enid Blyton Famous Five novel. Truth be told, we both thought we were characters in a novel or actors in a film. Shelley has always had an eye for detail and stashed what she called our necessities under our beds – torches, raincoats, wellington boots, a blanket, a flask of sweet, milky tea, slices of cake left over from dinner to tantalise the monster and draw her to the surface, and Uncle Jimmy’s camera. His Nikon, his pride and joy.
I was nervous about taking the camera, especially if we dropped it in the Loch – it was rumoured to be the deepest body of water in the world – there was no way we would be able to recover it if we dropped it; but Shelley was adamant that if we saw the monster we would need photographic evidence. So the camera stayed with the rest of our necessities.
Shelley has always been able to waken up at whatever time she needs to. She would have made a fantastic spy. She wakened up at midnight on the dot. We grabbed our supplies, eased out of the back door and headed for the Loch.
Although it was spring, it was bitterly cold. The darkness was so thick I felt a little squeeze of fear playing at my heart. It was completely still and silent, the low, settled way the air is just before a storm breaks. All I could hear was our boots crunching dully on twigs and Shelley’s excited breathing.
The Loch was blanketed in mist. The water was jet black. A lone bird flew across the expanse of it like a messenger from the underworld. My teeth were chattering with cold and a growing sense of fright.
Shelley shoved a steaming mug of tea at me and told me to throw some of the cake in the water.
‘Then we wait,’ she said, raising one eyebrow like the good guys do in the movies when they’re about to prove a point. She had been practising raising that eyebrow. I had seen her do it in front of the mirror. She often accompanied the raised eyebrow with a smirk. It was her new look.
I threw the cake out as far as I could. I didn’t want the monster coming too close to shore, but the cake crumbled in the wind, floating like dust on the surface of the water.
We wrapped ourselves in the blanket, sipped our tea, and waited. Ten minutes passed. Twenty. Nothing happened.
Rings formed on the surface like someone was skimming stones. Shelley grabbed me on the fleshy part just above my elbow, spilling her tea. ‘It’s coming,’ she whispered. Her eyes were wide with anticipation. We waited, holding our breath, but nothing happened.
Half an hour passed. An hour. We fell into a half-sleep, fleeting, exhausting. We heard the sound water makes when a boat is sliding through it, the slight lap an oar makes as it cuts through the water. And suddenly we were awake, craning our necks, clutching at each other, saying ‘Look. Look. Look’ over and over again to confirm what we saw.
Nessie. Right out in the middle of the Loch. Her long neck stretched out from the water, preening herself in the moonlight. ‘It’s her,’ Shelley cried,’ I knew it.’ She scrambled for the camera, looking away for a moment, and when she looked back Nessie was gone.
We got to our feet in disbelief. ‘Come back,’ Shelley shouted. ‘We need proof.’ But the water was still as the smooth surface of a stone.
Shelley was disappointed. ‘All that work for nothing,’ she said.
‘We saw her,’ I said. ‘That’s enough.’
Were we awake or were we dreaming? Did we really see Nessie in all her prehistoric splendour or was it just a childish flight of fancy? I suppose we’ll never really know for sure but one thing is for certain – we’ll never forget the night we went hunting for monsters on the Loch.