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The ghaist lichts

Ma mither wis fae the North-East o Skye. A clachan cried Stenschol at Staffin. She aye mindit me o ae nicht in the 1930s, whan she wis a lass o mebbe 25. Her auld mither caa’d out tae her an the ither young fowk that war ben the hous that nicht: “’Mon ower an see this!” Her mither — ma grandmither — wis pyntin out the scullery windae.

The hous they bade intae leukit out ower the Trotternish ridge, a muckle formation o black craigs an braes o staney rickles that lours ower the north o Skye.

Doun the daurk face o Ben Edra, whaur naebody wad be in the nicht, wis a stream o lichts. Wee dottit ghaist lichts comin doun the side o the law. It wis like a fairy airmy wis on the mairch fae the glen tae the plains ablo.

Queer tho they maun seem, thae lichts war real eneuch. A wheen o Skeanachs saw them. Mony o them ar alive tae this day. Gin ye’re in Staffin, speir efter Lachie Gillies. He’s lívin still, an he saw it aa.

In thae days, fowk creditit the tales o ghaists an siclike supernaitural things mair nor we dae the day. Fowk gied mair room in their herts an heids tae the naitural warld.

Aabody wis sayin efter the lichts war spottit: “Something’s gaun’ae happen. Thae lichts war a sign, or a warnin.” A sign o whit, naebody could claim tae ken.

A few weeks gang by and they appear again. “Come here till you see this,” says ma grandmither ance mair, an ance mair the bairns keek out the windae ontae the daurk Trotternish ridge. The ghaist lichts ar back, streamin aff the law like a fiery flottila doun a muntain burn.

Time passed. The 1930s turnt tae the 1940s. Fowk aye spak o the lichts, but the war in Europe cowpit the naitural runnin o things, an mair pressin maiters cam tae the fore.

But ae still nicht in 1945 nae far fae the end o the war, a course haar smuired the hale o the isle. The lift ower Skye haed been chowkit outthrou the war years wi American planes fleein tae Europe, or back hame. An this nicht wis nae different.

Ma mither felt the plane gangin owerheid, an thocht tae hersel: jings, thon’s awfie low. It wis a plane stappit fu wi young Yankie pilots heidit tae Italy. She didna hear the explosion. She didna ken the plane haed crashed on the Trotternish Ridge till she noticed the hale clachan in a rammie outside.

The plane didna hae the hicht tae mak it ower the ridge, which wis lost in the haar. The plane breinged intae the heid o Ben Edra. Aabody on board dee’d on impact.

Ma faither, wi mair nor a dizzen ither chiels fae the district, went up wi the polis tae tak the corps aff the glen. The carnage, aa the body pairts strewen ower sic a dulesome airt, wis ower muckle for ony man tae thole. It affectit ma faither deeply.

I mind hou he telt us about ae American sodger laddie that dee’d. This puir craitur haed a gowden locket about his thrapple. The heat aff the explosion haed sort o meltit it intae his flesh abuin his breist. The whummle o the crash haed garred the locket open. On the left side o the locket wis a photae o a bonnie lass — the deid sodger laddie’s wife. On the richt o the locket wis a photae o twa bairns. The twa newly orphaned bairns o this puir sodger.

Thon aye stuck wi ma faither.

The carnage wis sae hellish that it teuk the polis an the local chiels a hale day tae gaither thegither the bits o airmen. The gloamin wis upon them afore they war fínisht.

The wifies doun in the clachan war fashed wi the days’ events an steyed watchin the muckle law as nicht fell, feart for their husbands an brithers an bairns awa up there in the daurk.

The menfowk made their dulesome wey doun the path o Ben Edra by torchlicht, humphin the bitties o deid airmen wi them. The torches they cairit war vísible fae the clachan ablo.

Aa the wifies watchin Ben Edra saw the same thing. They saw the black o the Trotternish Ridge daurk agin the sky. An they saw these torches as a trail o dottit lichts runnin doun the law. They war fleggit hauf out their minds: these war the ghaist lichts back ance mair!

Ma mither saw it aa an she garred me ken: the lichts this nicht buir by the menfowk war the same pattern, pace an nummer as the anes as she haed seen a puckle year syne, whan her grandmither haed caa’d her tae the windae tae see the inexplicable lichts on Ben Edra.

A wheen o Skeanachs buir witness tae these lichts. Ma grandmither saw it, wir neebours in the clachan saw it. Lachlan Gillies saw it. Tae this day fowk at Staffin still speak about the ghaist lichts, an hou they predíctit the demise o thae puir American sodgers.

Telt by Alec MacDonald tae Alistair Heather.

Glossar

ghaist spirit/phantom; law hill; clachan hamlet/village; muckle big; wee small; Skeanach (Gaelic) somebody from the Isle of Skye; chiel man

Whit’s that wird?

gang ..?; licht ..?; burn ..?; smuir ..?; bairn ..?; whummle ..?