It was going to be three o’clock in the afternoon when he walked into William Kid’s. There were not many people because, at the time, work shifts changed. The locals and some absent-minded tourists who came in to eat some little fried fish and chips made way for those who came to enjoy a deserved pint after a day’s work. That is why Professor MacMallad didn’t have much trouble avoiding the prying eyes that were stuck in his neck every time he walked around Graiport. Above all, he was exasperated by the whispering that accompanied them. It reminded him of the hiss from a snake hole. There is never anything good behind hissed words. Well, maybe sometimes.
He had spent the summer there as a child. It was a coastal town, where it was impossible to sleep later than eight o’clock because you’re awakened by the constant squawking of seagulls and other birds that flutter around the smelly fishing boats. His father, John Eric MacMallad III, had inherited from his second uncle, who, having no direct descendants, chose to leave his only belongings to a nephew from Glasgow. A hard-to-remember ancestry of the MacMallad family had been bequeathing that house on top of the hill for generations until the arrival of Great Uncle Tom MacMallad. Now the house was Jacob’s property, even though he would have preferred not to inherit anything.
However, he had learned to live far from Graiport. Without hissing.
The last few years of tireless search had kept him away from his roots and painful memories of the past. Luckily or unfortunately, the time had come to finish his journey and, as it often happened, he had to finish it where it all began.
The waitress was new. ‘Good,’ he thought. Although he did miss Mary and her body full of curves, he had his reasons for not wanting to see any acquaintance. He asked for Coffee, with a splash of whiskey, to warm himself up. When you are so close to the end, you always have doubts, no matter how bright your priorities are. He knew it was time to share with someone the truth of what had happened, a secret that had been kept for twenty-five years, hidden in his memory, altered by suspicious amnesia.
He sat at one of the tables by the window and watched the paving stones of Williams Kid’s passage through the small wooden framed glass. The street brought back many memories of a time when he was very happy. He sipped a couple of times the bitter and spirited concoction and got abstracted in his thoughts till the point of not noticing the tinkling of bells when the door opened again. Nor did he perceive the deep, hollow sound produced by the footsteps of half-heeled boots on the wooden floor. Jacob MacMallad used to plunge himself into profound dream conditions that took him beyond our world. No one knew what was in his head at that time when he was navigating the remote places of his truncated memory. And yet many had tried to discover it: their parents, psychologists, doctors, police… But they all surrendered. In the end, they gave up. They even stopped searching the woods and decided to forget. Strange medicine that took away the pain, oblivion.
Therefore, Jacob was not well received in Graiport. No one blamed him for what had happened, but his presence brought back memories as bitter as the coffee he was tasting. Maybe if they knew the truth, they would not have given up. But who would have believed him? Even like that, he felt guilty, because it was his decision, as a frightened child, what led him to block and forget everything, under the influence of the deep shock of the experiences he had lived. He had not been able to make sense of his dreams, incomplete files on a badly erased hard drive. However, he didn’t surrender. He didn’t.
‘Professor MacMallad?’ asked a female voice.
‘Yes, it is me,’ replied the professor a little dazed as he gave up the nightmares that now revived without sleeping. ‘You must be…’
Jacob’s eyes stumbled through the figure of the lady standing at the table. She wore tall boots that went almost to her knee and a green coat tight to her waist. She had black hair (real black, not dark brown) showing out of a beret, also green. She hid her eyes with a pair of sunglasses that covered much of her face, leaving the nose slightly sticking out. Had it not been for the patent Irish accent, Jacob would have thought she was a Cold War spy from James Bond films. He bet himself a couple of pints that those dark crystals were used to hide the only defective part of the girl’s face. He lost the bet, but he didn’t care.
The girl took off her glasses and accompanied her wide smile with the brightness of her eyes, also green.
Jacob held back the visual analysis he was subjecting the girl to and smiled as well. He stood up and offered her to sit down so he would not seem discourteous.
‘Miss Moore,’ he spoke bewildered by the young woman’s beauty. ‘Yes… please, Sit down.’
The girl took off her coat and folded it carefully to leave it on the bench by the window. Again, the professor had to make infinite efforts not to look over each of the curved lines, drawn with the magic stroke of the best comic artist. The young lady sat down in front of Jacob, who could not suppress the flow of sensations produced by the presence of that spectacular woman. Probably, they were increased by the reminiscent environment and the restlessness caused by upcoming events, but the lady possessed a special aura. And that Irish accent brought back memories… He was grateful to have chosen a place far from prying eyes. The waitress, who was cleaning the vestiges of a menu on the adjoining table, took the opportunity to ask them if they wanted anything.
‘Yes, thank you. I will take a pint of McEwan’s,’ said the young woman, and then she turned to Jacob who was astonishingly still staring at her. ‘Excuse me, professor, is something wrong?’
‘Yes… no… well. I was not expecting someone so young, not so…’ he hesitated as he tried to find a word that didn’t seem bold.
‘Evocative?’ she said presumptuously and immodestly.
Professor MacMallad was uncomfortable because, for some reason, that was just the word he was looking for. He didn’t think Miss Moore was pretty, sexy, or “hot”, or any other appellative that might define her imminent appeal. That presence seemed beautiful and evocative. She was a goddess made of flesh and blood.
‘You must excuse me. I spend so much time on books, with my dogs as my only companies, that I sometimes forget how to deal with people,’ said Jacob. ‘Besides, your letter seemed so grown-up to me that I had created a wrong image of you. I expected someone older, with greater experience in life. I don’t know if you understand.’
‘Do not apologize. It often happens to me. People get too much advice from the physique and appearances,’ excused the girl. ‘But it is something I have learned to use to my advantage. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to know the truth about everyone, don’t you think so?’
‘I absolutely agree, Miss Moore,’ answered the professor, who saw a visibly prepared trap in those words.
‘Reagan, please. Call me Reagan,’ she asked, adding her bright smile again.
‘Likewise, I ask you to call me Jacob,’ added Professor MacMallad. ‘I have never felt like a professor. I am more of a researcher.’
The girl nodded.
‘Well, at this point, I think we should talk about the topic that brought us here today,’ continued the professor. ‘You will soon discover that not all of my work’s info has come to light. It has been a premeditated mistake that I indulge myself in preserving the anonymity of some families who should never have suffered what they suffered. It must, therefore, continue in the future. I have your word.’
‘You have my word, Jacob’ said Reagan with conviction. ‘I just want to know the truth. This mystery has me so intrigued, and I can barely sleep a wink. Strangely enough, I have the impression that something unknown is haunting me from the night’s darkness, as if the druids of Yewhill had returned from their graves, to prevent me from publishing more articles about it.’
‘Well, you are not very misguided,’ smiled Jacob, confirming that he had chosen the right person. ‘But remember that no one should know anything about what will happen tomorrow, whatever the result is. I don’t want to hurt this town anymore. You must understand that this whole business touches me far beyond the professional. My knowledge of Druidic is not simply a hobby of study. And our presence here in Graiport today is not pleasing to anyone. People are fed up with legends and “mystery seekers”, so we must be discreet.’
‘I understand and thank you for your confidence’ said the young woman. ‘But before I go on, I need to know one thing. Why did you call me? What was it? After so many years of hypothesis on the subject, evasive, missing reports… Why now?’
Jacob drank another sip of the seasoned coffee, preparing to enter on the subject.
‘Do you believe in fate? Do you think that everything is random or that there is a power beyond the visible that manages the designs of our existence?’ rambled the professor, recalling the words of a friend. ‘Don’t worry, don’t answer. The thing is, I do believe in it. Chance does not exist, and we are all, to a lesser or greater extent, masters of our own destiny. Someone, with more decision-making power than us in the final outcome of this story, determined that your letter should come into my hands at the same time that I can venture, my investigations have come to an end. It may sound crazy, but I think my finding could change the fate of many people. It might even change our perception of the universe. The time has come to take the last step, and I would like that someone else continues the work for me if I don’t succeed. Reading your thesis pages and your published articles, I have been able to verify that you are the person who has come closest to elucidating what lies behind the monuments of Yewhill. You have a knowledge of Druidic beyond the merely obvious and earthly, which has taken years of meditation and research to me.’
‘I must admit that having read your work, it has been a simpler labour,’ said Reagan modestly, trying to play down her job. ‘It is easier to find if you know what you are looking for. The idea of a worldwide network of mystics, druids, and sorcerers, beyond the Celtic environment, is brilliant and explains many theories that remained lame. My thesis was not the only one based on your studies. I have already read a few that don’t get too far away… But I still don’t understand how this connection between cultures separated by insurmountable distances was achieved in those remote times.’
‘Don’t be modest, Reagan. Time and space do not matter; you know it very well’ interrupted Jacob. Then, he took out an envelope he had hidden in his jacket and drew a photograph from it. ‘Do you know what this is?’
The girl looked at the image for a few seconds.
‘I would not know exactly…’ she replied hesitantly.
‘Now you are being shy. Take a chance,’ said MacMallad.
‘Well, it is clearly an instrument of navigation,’ examined the young lady, ‘but those symbols… those intertwined ones engraved on the edges… You may think I am crazy but…’
Jacob didn’t wait for the girl to finish the sentence. He already had what he wanted. He stored the photo quickly.
‘Where did you find it?’ asked Reagan who could not contain her curiosity.
‘I insist that my work is filled with gaps deliberately empty of information that you have been able to wade through and fill with admirable success, with the same intuition that you have just demonstrated,’ the professor continued, ignoring the girl’s question. ‘I must add that you are the only one who has dared to argue a possible relationship between the 1985 disappearances and the mystical aura inherent to the temple of Yewhill. That is why I have chosen you to accompany me on this final stretch. I feel the imperative need to share it with someone who can understand it and can take over me in my research.’
‘Was that it? My hypothesis about the “Ten Children of Graiport”?’ asked Ms. Moore, adding some (a bit forced) emotion, to her voice. ‘But Jacob, You talk like you are going to quit now. Like it is all over now.
‘Partly yes and partly no. And on the other hand, I don’t know,’ Jacob whispered to counteract the young woman’s sudden outpouring. ‘Yes, it was an interesting point where our research had found a common link. A mysterious connection I never expected to find. However, no: your hypothesis has let go of a small detail that for me is, let us say, crucial, but for the rest of the world, it is something completely unknown. The children of Graiport were not ten.