Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Thanks to KT for Monarch of the Glen AU
Characters: JD, Buck, Josiah
Ratings/Warnings: Depends on your disposition about spooky stories
Summary: Folklore or fact?
JD groaned and stared out of the windshield of his shiny red Hillux as he edged along the gravel track. Where in hell did this fog come from? When he left his elderly tenant and new friend Agnes McBride's croft, the weather was gray, but dry. Now the fog lay thick and heavy, clinging to, and coating everything in its wake in an eerie, sopping mist.
Driving through it was surreal. JD knew there were trees out there, but couldn't see a one. The beam from his headlights barely cut through the gloom, and he hoped he could stay true as he crawled between the indiscernible wooden fenceposts that lined the track and inadvertently marked out where rain ditches ran the whole length of the dirt road.
Despite the warmth in the cab from an efficient heating system, JD shivered as a sudden icy chill enveloped him. Puffs of white breath drifted up to his eye line and he glanced nervously around. He wasn't sure why he was growing anxious; the fog obscured any surrounding greenery, cocooning him in an almost silent world of milky white. But as the cold intensified, his unease escalated.
A violent jolt to the wheel had him turn his attention to steering. Just as he was wondering if he'd hit a pothole or rut, the wheel jerked again, sending the Hillux sideways and dangerously close to a ditch, and the fence beyond.
"What the hell ?"
No sooner had JD uttered the words, green, gnarled, disembodied hands appeared before him, and clutched the wheel before he, and they, began a bizarre tug of war with the steering. Swallowing his horror, and despite his desperate struggle for control, he couldn't help but be mesmerized by the long fingers with extended, talon-like nails. He was just beginning to win this crazy contest, when an unearthly voice rasped frigid air into his ear.
"Yield, Bairn. This night, I claim thee. You will not see the morn."
As the words chilled him to the bone, JD was powerless to stop the icy, coarse hands rest over his own, and press down hard before again violently yanking at the wheel. The truck zigzagged crazily, and then spun to face the way it had traveled. Its back right tire slipped off the track into a water-filled trench; where it came to rest at an angle in silence, save for the sound of maniacal laughter.
Buck was positively tripping about Glenneaval Castle with glee. He knew Halloween was a big deal to the folk over the pond, and wanted JD's first of the holiday away from home, to be every bit as fun as it would be Stateside. At first, the other five men shook their heads as if ready to commit Buck to the funny farm, but it wasn't long before the genial man's enthusiasm got them all in the spirit until the place was adorned with festive goodies of every spooky description, in readiness for the big day.
So frenetic was the activity that it took almost two hours to realize JD still wasn't home. Buck checked his watch.
"What time did he call?"
"He left Agnes's around five-thirty," Chris replied. His gaze tracked Buck leaving the room and with a nod to Vin, they followed the brunet to the front door to find him staring out into the night.
"When did this mist roll in?" Buck asked of no one in particular. Ezra joined them, his ear pressed to a phone.
"It would appear JD's phone is switching to voicemail."
Nathan poked out his head from inside the study and shouted to them. "I called Mrs. McBride's place. Mrs. Kinney is with Agnes, and says JD's not come back there."
No words were needed. With instructions to Ezra to keep trying JD; Vin, Chris and Buck took one vehicle, and Josiah and Nathan took another. They would rather go off on a wild goose chase over the moors, than have JD out there, in the dark, and in trouble.
Thinking that maybe JD got lost, Chris, Buck, and Vin took a few detours of lesser-known routes, before eventually backtracking to the most traveled road to Agnes McBride's place. The shadowy outline of a familiar, disheveled figure traversing the narrow gravel track emerged through the mist, to be caught in the headlights of Chris's truck. With Vin hot on his heels, Buck was already out and jogging through the fog toward the form walking drunkenly along the track's edge. Chris brought up the rear after quickly checking in with the others.
As he spoke, Buck was slipping out of his jacket to gently wrap it around the disoriented American. The Scotsman tried not to show alarm at the trickle of blood emerging from under sodden, black bangs to highlight the fresh bruising on the partially hidden brow. He focused instead on the fact JD was soaked to the skin. Torch in hand, Vin left them to jog back in the direction JD had come from.
"What happened, son?"
JD simply blinked, hard and slow, and stared at his cousin.
"JD," Larabee tried again.
Registering the direction of the voice, his gaze moved slowly to Chris. "Hmm?"
Seeing the boy was in shock and shivering, and acknowledging the stare from Buck as they stood in the beam of the Range Rover's headlights, Chris temporarily abandoned his inquisition. "Come on, let's get you warm."
The crunch of gravel alerted them to Vin's return seconds before he emerged from the swirling fog. He pointed back. "The truck's partly in a run-off ditch. It looks okay, but we're gon'ae need a tow- truck to pull it out." He waggled the keys in his hand to show the vehicle was secure, and in a silent agreement to worry about that problem in the morning, the three guided JD to Chris's truck, and headed home.
Two days on and the day before Halloween, the six friends were still none the wiser as to how JD's accident occurred. It was obvious to them that he had spun out of control and into a ditch, but had no clue as to why. When JD shrugged and said that although his recollection was fuzzy, he thought he remembered an animal leap out in front of him, they accepted his explanation, but weren't fully convinced; not because they thought JD was lying, but because the boy was still alarmingly unnerved by the whole incident. And also that he seemed unwilling to be alone for any length of time.
It was finding JD huddled in a chair in Buck's room the previous night, which prompted the brunet to call a `family' meeting to get to the bottom of it.
With a roaring fire crackling in the hearth, the seven friends sat around the family room while sipping on hot drinks. Josiah had asked the five men to let him run with a hunch, and those five men now anxiously waited for him to begin. He stood and left his seat.
"All Hallows Eve."
Six gazes turned to the conservationist as he stood at the window and stared out at the moonlight glinting off the loch.
"I know it's a big holiday for you and your fellow countrymen, John Daniel. Did you know, here in the British Isles, the tradition is steeped in folklore? Especially here, in Glenneaval." He fought a satisfied smile when JD's pale, bruised features stared wide-eyed at him.
Josiah turned to fully look at him, and the other five. "Oh yes. There are many tales of odd occurrences. Here, around the loch; of a lone piper playing through Halloween night until dawn. And in the village, where folk tell of a mass witch-burning centuries ago, and which is observed by the appearance of the alleged head of the coven during the night of Halloween.
"Then there are reports of strange sightings on the moors hereabouts."
When JD shifted awkwardly, they knew they were on the right trail.
"Uh like what, exactly?"
Hearing the frail but heavier than usual New Jersey accent, coupled with his pale features, was a clear indication of JD's vulnerability right then. Buck's heart constricted and he leaned closer to drape an arm around the teenager's shoulders.
Needing more to go on, Josiah pushed. "There are many, many legends hereabouts "
"You know of any involving hands?" As he said the words, JD's cheeks flushed pink and he suddenly found his warm milk interesting.
Josiah's compassionate blue gaze fixed on the boy. His tone softened.
"Yes, as it happens, there is." He smiled when JD looked up at him.
"It is told that centuries ago, while transporting a convicted murderer across the moors to a secure reformatory one Halloween, the prison van crashed, killing all but the prisoner outright, including the horses. In shackles, hands chained to an iron ring secured to the steel cage inside the shattered vehicle, the criminal was unable to flee. When the wreckage was finally found, rumor has it that, inside the open cage, all that remained to show there had been a prisoner, was a pair of still-chained, bloody hands, hanging from the iron shackles."
No one so much as twitched as Josiah's deep, soothing voice told the tale. JD squeaked and swallowed.
"He left his hands behind? How?"
Josiah paused, but more to gather the nerve to speak than for dramatic effect. "He apparently chewed through the flesh."
JD wasn't the only one who shuddered.
"On the bloody floor of the van, was somehow scrawled `For this that I have suffered, all who travel here will perish'. Over the centuries, and always on All Hallows Eve, many unexplained accidents, some fatal, have occurred on that very stretch of once untamed countryside."
"*Once* untamed?" Ezra queried.
Josiah nodded. "Though many of the tracks are still partially dirt, the land is easier to traverse now. There are fences, and run- off ditches to carry away rainfall in order for crofters and estate staff alike to have better access."
"What sort of accidents?" Vin asked, anticipating JD's impending question following Josiah's enlightenment.
"Not sure as to all, but I've heard tell of reports of reins of carriages, and in more modern times, steering wheels, being wrestled out of the hands of the drivers, and of a cold, eerie presence directly before; but as to whether they're true, I couldn't say."
JD wasn't aware his hands were shaking until he took a sip of his milk. He so wanted to tell them what happened to him that night, but embarrassment colored his judgment, and he decided his secret would remain just that forever his.
"Weird, huh?" he finally said.
"That's Halloween for you," Josiah smiled.
"Uh, talking of which," JD hoped he could lighten the mood and put his experience behind him. He turned to Buck.
"The castle looks awesome, thank you."
Buck grinned and winked. "It was no trouble." Huffs of amused disagreement had the genial Scotsman chuckling.
JD continued. "I was thinking is it too late to have a party here for folk, you know, the villagers, tenants? Nothing fancy, just food, drink, a little music; maybe some apple bobbing and such for the kids."
Chris, along with the others, grinned. "I don'ae see why not. Ezra, Nathan, can you help out there?"
The pair nodded.
"It would be my pleasure."
JD grinned, his first in two days. "Cool, thanks guys." His gaze caught Buck's and he understood his cousin-dash-big brother knew there was more to JD's accident than he was letting on, but the man's look was one of acceptance, and support, and JD's grin widened.
That night, JD slept in his own bedroom. He was still a little unnerved, but accepted that often the unexplained occurred, and it was pointless to attempt to analyze.
He would just make sure that from then on, he avoided crossing the moors of Glenneaval on All Hallows Eve.
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