“Are we there yet?
“Sorry Connal” his father replies, his eyes never leaving the road before him, it is dark and a little mist is beginning to rise from the streams and rivers around them insinuating its way between the trees and rocks around the road, “it is a long drive to your gran’s house as she lives way out in the highlands”
Slumped in the back-seat Connal has slept for a while as mountain passes were traversed, streams forded, forests flitting by on either side, the trees dark and menacing. Connal never even woke when his father had to swerve across the carriageway to avoid an errant Badger that was creeping slowly across the road it’s darkness and white stripes blending with the night and the median of the road.
Now he sat up and began looking at the road ahead just as his father was doing, the white lines passing, the glitter of lights in the middle of the road mesmerizing. He hoped that his father would not fall asleep as he had. It was dark outside and difficult to see anything clearly, only the lights of the car stopped it from feeling dangerous.
For a while Connal looked out the side windows but there was little to see other than mist and darkness, the lights of the occasional village they passed through as they headed North.
Connal saw the black against grey foot hills become hills, the crags rising, the hills becoming mountains and those growing ever more forbidding. It was then, awake for some time now Connal asked the question that would change his life forever. “Dad, why are there lights in the middle of the road?
His dad gave a quiet laugh and said “They are not lights, just little reflective patches to let you know where the middle of the road is. So you do not stray onto the other carriageway where there may be oncoming traffic. They are called “cats eye’s”.
Straightening in his seat Connal looked out in front of the car at the little passing lights. In a way they did look like cats eyes though they were much too bright. Even when you shone a torch at a cat and the light was reflected, a cats eyes were never that bright. Connal likes cats, especially kittens and try’s to pat them whenever they stay still long enough. He has never seen a cat whose eyes looked like these lights in the road.
“Why are they called cats eyes dad? Connal asked. His dad knew everything after all, or at least he did to Connal’s forming mind where his father and absent mother knew everything.
Connal’s dad Robert was a solitary man, a writer, a teller of tales, difficult to read and more difficult to tell of, he sat night after night telling stories to people he did not know at the expense of his family; his mother, his wife and little boy. It took time for him to become dislocated as he was not a bad man, there was no violence, no egregious arguments but his solemnity, his detachment took a toll and first his mother stopped speaking to him and then his wife spent fewer days at home; her job taking her far and wide. In truth, apart from seeing her young son she had no reason to go home at all. Robert had become a coolness, a chill that she slept beside when she had to be at home. She no longer thought of him as a lover, a friend, a confidant, a husband. Today she had told him that she was leaving him. Not for another man but simply because she did not wish to be with him any more. Robert hardly reacted though he did ask her to reconsider.
As any boy no matter his age may do; Robert called his mother for the first time in months and explained the situation. Unsurprised but still solicitous of her son his mother suggested that he visit her. His mothers remote croft in the Highlands of Scotland was a place to get away from all your worries and as Robert was trying to get away from everything, that was what he decided to do. so began the long trek into the highlands, Robert and Connal together in the car.
On any other day this story may have had a different ending, a different moral but this was not a good day for Robert the story teller, the writer and so he told a tale to his young son.
“On a night just like this, the mist rising from the trees, the darkness simpering around the vales and glens a family, much like our own, a loving mum and dad with their young daughter drove into the highlands. The faint howl of the wind was all they heard inside the car, the occasional scent of woodsmoke all they smelled as they passed each lonely cottage and the night was black as the grave.
All they had to do was follow the road ahead and the headlights of the car.
Nights in the highlands can be treacherous, the moon and stars occluded by clouds, the darkness is astonishing. A hand held six inches from your eye cannot be seen but the reflection from a cats eyes can be and this poor family heading north saw just that. A cat crossing in front of them, invisible apart from its eyes. The driver, a lover of cats turned sharply to avoid killing the poor beast but he ran the car into a ditch which was deeper than it at first appeared to be and all but one of his family died.
His little girl that sat quietly in the back seat whilst all this was happening survived.
It is said that she still stalks these hills finding cats and cutting the eyes from them, she places them in the middle of the road to stop others suffering the fate of her family.
Connal does not remember the crash that took his father, he remembers little of the circumstances, an animal in the road before them, swerving, hitting the signpost. Blood. Little more than that impinges upon his consciousness until the girl pulls him from the wreck. Takes him to her cave, to warmth, to rest. The cave is warm the entrance covered with a thick fur pelt and he lies there for sometime healing, the girl feeding him and bringing him water.
Connal does not mind the cold and the cave though it smells. He is warm at night cuddling into Mirielle, he shuffles a little now as the bones in his leg, broken in the crash did not heal right.
Killing the cats, eviscerating them, Mirrielle tells him that it is necessary to save other children from the darkness and Connal agrees. Two cats eye balls in the centre of another road. Another family that does not have to experience all that he has.
Connal is happy.